Books

“To be a teacher was an excellent thing.”

“Those grown children had, almost all of them, bent their heads over whatever work she gave them, even though their bodies were awkward and restless with the onset of adulthood, fate creeping through their veins and glands and follicles like a subtle poison, making them images of their parents and strangers to themselves. There was humor in it of a kind that might raise questions about the humorist.
Why do we have to read poetry? Why ‘Il Penseroso’? Read it and you’ll know why. If you still don’t know, read it again. And again. Some of them took the things she said to heart, as she has done once when they were said to her. She was helping them assume their humanity. People have always made poetry, she told them. Trust that it will matter to you. The pompous clatter of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” moved some of them to tears, and then she had to talk to them about bad poetry. Who gets to say what’s good and what’s bad? I do, she said. For the moment. You don’t have to agree, but listen. Some of them did listen. This seemed to her to be perfectly miraculous. No wonder she dreamed at night that she had lost any claim to their attention. What claim did she have? Could it be that certain of them lifted their faces to her so credulously because what she told them was true, that they were human beings, keepers of lore, makers of it? That it was really they who made demands of her? Her father taught his children, never doubting, that there was a single path from antiquity to eternity. Learn the psalms and ponder the ways of the early church. Know what must be known. Ancient fathers taught their ancient children, who taught their ancient children, these very things. Puritan Milton with his pagan muses. It is like a voice heard from another room, singing for the pleasure of the song, and then you know it, too, and through you it moves by accident and necessity down generations. Then, why singing? Why pleasure in it? And why the blessing of the moment when another voice is heard, dreaming to itself? That was her father humming “Old Hundred” while he shaved. It was John Keats in Cheapside, traveling his realms of gold. No need to be a minister. To be a teacher was an excellent thing. Those vacant looks might be inwardness. The young might have been restless around any primal fire when an elder was saying, Know this. Certainly they would have been restless. Their bodies were consumed with the business of lengthening limbs, sprouting hair, fitting themselves for procreation. Even so, sometimes she felt a silence in the room deeper than ordinary silence. How could she have abandoned that life? For what had she abandoned it?”

– Home, Marilynne Robinson (pp. 21-22)

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