Jun. 17, 2009

Farewell to Teaching

by George Johnston

Knowing what I now know
would I have consented
to be born? Next question.
When it comes time to go
will I go forlorn or
contented? Ask again.
Anything in between
should be easier. O
K, what made up my mind
to come to Carleton? Work.
My kind of work was not
easy to come by, I
came by it at Carleton;
it was simple as that
and lucky, plain lucky.
I cannot account for luck
but I can be grateful.
What was my kind of work?
Presumably teaching,
whatever that may be.
Teaching is a kind of
learning, much like loving,
mutual goings-on,
both doing each to each;
mutual forbearance;
life itself, you might say.
Whatever teaching is
did I enjoy it? Yes.
Am I glad to leave it?
Even of life itself
enough is enough. Good-
bye Dow's Lake, goodbye Tower,
essays, papers, exams,
you I can bear to leave.
Bur how shall I improve
the swiftly-dimming hour?
I shall deteriorate
amid bucolic dreams
and gather in my fate;
there's lots worse ways than that.

Goodbye good friends. Alas,
some goodbyes are like death;
they bring the heart to earth
and teach it how to die.
Earth, here we come again,
we're going our to grass.
Think of us now and then,
we'll think of you. Goodbye.

"Farewell to Teaching" by George Johnston, from The Essential George Johnston. © The Porcupine's Quill, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of graphic artist M. C. Escher, (books by this author) born in Leeuwarden, Netherlands (1898), best known for his drawings that contain tessellations, or interlocking shapes. His work is sometimes featured on men's suit neckties. He said, "Are you really sure that a floor can't also be a ceiling?" And, "We adore chaos because we love to produce order."

It's the birthday of poet and translator Ron Padgett, (books by this author) born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1942). He read a lot, and when he was 13, he started writing poems in spiral notebooks. In high school, he was known as the school poet, which made him a sort of outsider. He moved to New York City for college at Columbia, and after a stint in Paris on a Fulbright, he returned to New York, where he still lives with his wife of nearly 50 years.

He's the author of the collections Great Balls of Fire (1969), Tulsa Kid (1979), and Poems I Guess I Wrote (2001). Last year he published a book of poems called How to Be Perfect (2008). He says, the title poem of this book came from someone who was wistfully drunk and who said to him, "Tell me how to be perfect."

In "Song" from Tulsa Kid, Padgett wrote:
     Learning to write,
     be a good person and get to heaven
     are all the same thing
     but trying to do them all at once,
     is enough to drive you crazy

Also from Tulsa Kid:

"The Giraffe":
     The 2 f's
     in giraffe
     are like 2 giraffes
     running through
     the word giraffe
     The 2 f's
     run through giraffe
     like 2 giraffes

It's the birthday of novelist and journalist John Hersey, (books by this author) born in born in Tianjin, China (1914), the son of American missionaries. He was one of the first Western reporters to arrive in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945. He decided to structure his reporting on the bomb's aftermath through the framework of personal narratives, writing about how individual lives were affected, and he focused his stories on six people living in Hiroshima at the time of the explosion: a minister, a seamstress who had been widowed, two doctors, a minister, a Catholic priest, and a young factory worker.

The New Yorker devoted the last issue of August 1946 to Hersey's reporting. Later, the stories became the book, Hiroshima (1946).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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