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Pulling Out The Savoy Truffle

sirpaulsbuddy
Date: 2007-03-05 15:07
Subject: Patterns
Security: Public
Mood:quixoticquixotic
Music:Steely Dan, "My Old School"
I was driving back to my home in southern Virginia from meetings in Maryland this past Saturday and was listening to XM (as I am always doing). I was on a channel called "Sonic Theater" that does original radio dramas and comedies and books on tape kinds of stuff.

And they took me back to ninth grade...

When I was in ninth grade, I was in my third year of being part of the pilot class for North Carolina's "academically talented" program. (It's since been named exceptionally talented and Gifted and talented - and may be named something else now - or discontinued as "insensitive" to the mass of dumbasses. More likely, it's gone as another casualty of the "test prep" that passes for education in America these days....)

I had this fantastic English teacher - Fern Ragan. She was young and energetic and thrilled to be working with the "smart kids," as we were known in the halls. She plunged us right into the world of English study, handing out grammar assignments like they were candy, assigning 25 vocabulary words a week (something she did for the entire four years she was my English teacher)...and introducing us to the magic of Modern Poetry.

Modern Poetry.

That was the name of our paperback text, an old one that they weren't using at the high school (we were a true "junior high" with grades seven through nine). For some reason, possibly her youth and naivete, Mrs. Ragan thought 14 year olds would like reading Vachel Lindsay, Sara Teasdale, and Hilda Doolittle - the immortal "H.D." 

And Amy Lowell.

Amy Lowell was an early 20th century poet, a contemporary of E.A. Robinson (remember "Richard Cory"?) and Robinson Jeffers ("Hurt Hawks" is still one of the best poems I've ever read) and, of course, of the ubiquitous Robert Frost ("Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..."). She's an early imagist poet, and she brought an interesting spin to imagist poetry both from her somewhat patrician New England background, and from her lesbianism.

Of course, Mrs. Ragan never would have mentioned Lowell's sexual differentness. She'd have been tarred and feathered in 1966 small town North Carolina.

Perhaps Lowell's most famous poem is called "Patterns." It's the story of a young woman, in perhaps the 17th century, dressed in a brocade gown and walking in a formal English garden.  The poem examines the woman's thoughts as she tries to come to terms with the death of her consort in a distant battle. It ends famously thus:

" In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ!  What are patterns for?"

The poem was performed beautifully with appropriate sound effects and musical background. It was an impressive sonic experience.

But I was taken back to a hot, dusty classroom on the second floor of an ancient school building in Eden, North Carolina, and the sound of an earnest young teacher's voice as she tried to get a classful of after-lunch-sleepy kids to find the beauty in the carefully spun words of a long dead bard. And how at least one kid heard something that formed the pattern of his life.










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