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Assigned Thurs. 9/1
Due: Sun., 9/4, by 5 pm. local PDT.
Note: you may not have been able to finish the class exercises in the time allotted for class work – 1 hour 20 minutes. If you did not finish them, you may finish the work as homework
1.>Read Emerson’s Essay (below) “The Commencement Speech” from “The American Scholar”
2.>Read “My Friend Walt Whitman” by Mary Oliver (below)
3.Complete a “Read, Listen, and Write” 5 points exercise for Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” (below at the bottom))
>>HERE IS HOW TO DO A “READ, LISTEN, AND WRITE” EXERCISE: = 5 points
>Read the poem, twice if you wish, and write your immediate responses, aka first impressions
>Listen (& watch), go to YouTube and type Mary Oliver reading Wild Geese in the search box. Write your impressions of her reading.
> Write a comparison of the two ways you experienced the poem
This is the Emerson homework reading: from “The American Scholar,” “The Commencement Speech.”
This address was delivered at Cambridge in 1837, before the Harvard chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, a college fraternity composed of the first twenty-five men in each graduating lass. The society has meetings, which have been the occasion for addresses from the most distinguished scholars and thinkers of the day.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,
I greet you on the recommencement of our literary year. Our anniversary is one of hope, and, perhaps, not enough of labor. We do not meet for games of strength (Links to an external site.) or skill, for the recitation of histories, tragedies, and odes, like the ancient Greeks; for parliaments of love and poesy, like the Troubadours; (Links to an external site.) nor for the advancement of science, like our co-temporaries in the British and European capitals. Thus far, our holiday has been simply a friendly sign of the survival of the love of letters amongst a people too busy to give to letters any more. As such it is precious as the sign of an indestructible instinct. Perhaps the time is already come when it ought to be, and will be, something else; when the sluggard intellect  of this continent will look from under its iron lids and fill the postponed expectation of the world with something better than the exertions of mechanical skill. Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close. The millions that around us are rushing into life cannot always be fed on the sere remains of foreign harvests. (Links to an external site.) Events, actions arise that must be sung, that will sing themselves. Who can doubt that poetry will revive and lead in a new age, as the star in the constellation Harp, which now flames in our zenith, astronomers announce, shall one day be the pole-star (Links to an external site.) for a thousand years?
This is the assigned essay by Oliver
My Friend Walt Whitman by Mary Oliver
In Ohio, in the 1950s, I had a few friends who kept me sane, alert, and loyal to my own best and wildest inclinations. My town was no more or less congenial to the fact of poetry than any other small town in America—I make no special case of a solitary childhood. Estrangement from the mainstream of that time and place was an unavoidable precondition, no doubt, to the life I was choosing from among all the lives possible to me.
I never met any of my friends, of course, in a usual way—they were strangers, and lived only in their writings. But if they were only shadow-companions, still they were constant, and powerful, and amazing. That is, they said amazing things, and for me it changed the world.
This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody but I will tell you.
Whitman was the brother I did not have. I did have an uncle, whom I loved, but he killed himself one rainy fall day; Whitman remained, perhaps more avuncular for the loss of the other. He was the gypsy boy my sister and I went off with into the far fields beyond the town, with our pony, to gather strawberries. The boy from Romania moved away; Whitman shone on in the twilight of my room, which was growing busy with books, and notebooks, and muddy boots, and my grandfather’s old Underwood typewriter.
My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds.
When the high school I went to experienced a crisis of delinquent student behavior, my response was to start out for school every morning but to turn most mornings into the woods instead, with a knapsack of books. Always Whitman’s was among them. My truancy was extreme, and my parents were warned that I might not graduate. For whatever reason, they let me continue to go my own way. It was an odd blessing, but a blessing all the same. Down by the creek, or in the wide pastures I could still find on the other side of the deep woods, I spent my time with my friend: my brother, my uncle, my best teacher.
The moth and the fisheggs are in their place,
The suns I see and the suns I cannot see are in their place,
The palpable is in its place and the impalpable is in its place.
Thus Whitman’s poems stood before me like a model of delivery when I began to write poems myself: I mean the oceanic power and rumble that travels through a Whitman poem—the incantatory syntax, the boundless affirmation. In those years, truth was elusive—as was my own faith that I could recognize and contain it. Whitman kept me from the swamps of a worse uncertainty, and I lived many hours within the lit circle of his certainty, and his bravado. Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!And there was the passion which he invested in the poems. The metaphysical curiosity! The oracular tenderness with which he viewed the world—its roughness, its differences, the stars, the spider—nothing was outside the range of his interest. I reveled in the specificity of his words. And his faith—that kept my spirit buoyant surely, though his faith was without a name that I ever heard of. Do you guess I have some intricate purpose? Well I have . . . for the April rain has, and the mica on the side of a rock has.
But first and foremost, I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple—or a green field—a place to enter, and in which to feel. Only in a secondary way is it an intellectual thing—an artifact, a moment of seemly and robust wordiness—wonderful as that part of it is. I learned that the poem was made not just to exist, but to speak—to be company. It was everything that was needed, when everything was needed. I remember the delicate, rumpled way into the woods, and the weight of the books in my pack. I remember the rambling, and the loafing—the wonderful days when, with Whitman, I tucked my trouser-ends in my boots and went and had a good time.
Here is the poem for the R.L.W. exercise
Here is the poem for the R.L.W. exercise
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.