Lori's Book Nook

Oooh, spooky!

Posted on: July 28, 2006

Over on my other blog, I just posted about my 20 year high school reunion (in two weeks!). Then I popped over to Writer’s Almanac…lo and behold, the poem that got me into trouble in Grade 12.

You heard me right, I got in trouble over a poem in high school. It was the only time I ever did get into trouble in school — gads, was I ever a nerd!

Here it is…a classic, but powerful (and mercifully short!):

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

In Grade 12, I was in a small English Lit class, and our teacher was wonderful. He enjoyed what he was doing, we had great discussions, and he really challenged us to think for ourselves.

Then, something happened with him. I don’t know what it was (why is it that every time a teacher takes an extended break, everyone says “oh, nervous breakdown”??), but we felt the repercussions, ’cause we ended up with a cold cow of a teacher for the rest of the year.

Well, one day in class we were discussing this poem. No, not ‘discussing’, we were reading it, and then she elicited our analysis…and when we got to the line “The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed”, we deduced the accepted meaning, that it was the scultor’s hand, and Oxymandias’ heart. She said, “No, it’s this…” (can’t even remember what it was) We argued back and forth, and then the bell rang. My buddy and I went to the library and bloody well looked it up. We went to her after school, and were pretty vehement about saying Look here, this is it, we were right, because she continued to fight for her analysis.
She called my mother in for a meeting about me. Over a poem.

Turns out, as she explained to my mom, during the reading of the poem there in class, she was struck by an alternate meaning that she wanted to examine and discuss. Instead of approaching us as equals, she kept up the teacher-power armour up, and never just said: “Hey guys, I just thought of an alternate meaning. Want to discuss it?” So what she got from us, instead of a teachable moment, was anger, frustration, alienation, and a parent-teacher meeting.

As a teacher, I always learned my best lessons from what teachers I’ve known have done wrong.


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Book Discussion Pages

Here on the Book Nook you can discuss: The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, as well as the next two books in the Deptford Trilogy, The Manticore and World of Wonders, and if that's not enough for you, see what's up on the forums at BookTalk.org!
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