Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Garden of Courage

I've been working on a short piece for about a week now. It's got to be ready for a March 1st deadline, so I can't agonize over it for too much longer. First I had to pick a poem that I have used for inspiration with my students as well as myself. That wasn't too hard. The call for submissions is for the 3rd edition of an anthology of teacher writing. I've had good luck in the past with getting my ideas and experiences out there, but this one is a bit different. This new book is about courage and teaching. Rather timely in my view because jobs are scarce and pressures are escalating. The new collection seeks the kind of anecdotes that feature teachers reaching into their pockets for the crumpled copy of the poem they always carry with them. Not literally, but you get the picture. Reality check...maybe some folks really do keep a poem handy. I know many who keep a photograph to look at when things get tough.
I carry poems in my head. That's where my first obstacle comes in. I have decided to write about using and admiring the Rilke poem "The Carousel." I've used it for years in teaching The Catcher in the Rye, but the themes are so universal that it not only applies to that novel, but to my students, my student teachers and to myself. This wonderful little chunk of Rilke's wisdom is readily available, but the problem comes in the translation. I've read at least four different translations this past week and not one of them is the one I used. That means that there must be at least five versions out there. I've decided to go with the one by Edward Snow in a wonderful (and expensive) newer volume simply called The Poetry of Rilke. The line that is most problematic describes the faces of the various brightly colored animals on a old carousel in the Jardin du Luxemborg. Rilke apparently spent a good deal of time in this garden watching kids ride the merry-go-round there and musing about life and love. In the translation I'm using he writes that the animals are "hitched to carriages, yet all have courage in their faces." Some versions say they "have valor in their eyes." The one I originally read referred to "mettle in their mien." What's the difference between valor and courage anyway? I've decided it doesn't matter. What struck me as I was writing the little essay to accompany my submission is that this poem applies to both students and teachers. It worked well with the loss of innocence theme in my classroom and like a good jazz classic sung after many years, it works well in my life not. Courage is always in short supply.

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