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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dream schooling

Here's Auden by way of Alan Jacobs. It has been a very long time since I read The Dyer's Hand, and this excerpt is wonderful and rather impossible, given how our schools are structured. I like the focus on memorization, language, and finding a job that has little to do with writing. And I might just consider what my dream schooling would be, given the constraints of current education and times.

One of the unused images by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
made for The Foliate Head poetry collection
from Stanza Press in the UK, 2012.
The green man is an evocative image
of exuberance and natural abundance and,
I think, a good image for a poet.

In my daydream College for Bards, the curriculum would be as follows:
(1) In addition to English, at least one ancient language, probably Greek or hebrew, and two modern languages would be required.
(2) Thousands of lines of poetry in these languages would be learned by heart.
(3) The library would contain no books of literary criticism, and the only critical exercise required of students would be the writing of parodies.
(4) Courses in prosody, rhetoric and comparative philology would be required of all students, and every student would have to select three courses out of courses in mathematics, natural history, geology, meteorology, archaeology, mythology, liturgics, cooking.
(5) every student would be required to look after a domestic animal and cultivate a garden plot.
A poet has not only to educate himself as a poet, he has also to consider how he is going to earn his living. Ideally, he should have a job which does not in any way involve the manipulation of words. At one time, children training to become rabbis were also taught some skilled manual trade, and if only they knew their child was going to become a poet, the best thing parents could do would be to get him at an early age into some Craft Trades Union. Unfortunately, they cannot know this in advance, and, except in very rare cases, by the time he is twenty-one, the only nonliterary job for which a poet-to-be is qualified is unskilled manual labor. In earning his living, the average poet has to choose between being a translator, a teacher, a literary journalist or a writer of advertising copy and, of these, all but the first can be directly detrimental to his poetry, and even translation does not free him from leading a too exclusively literary life.
W. H. Auden, from The Dyer’s Hand


  1. This all strikes a chord for me. I certainly think that schooling needs to encourage the creative that exists inside us all. And yes, how to support that work.

    Maybe I would have been a better writer if I'd had this kind of education. Learning ancient languages would have been interesting though I did not have much luck with Latin, (two years did not nothing for me).

  2. Perhaps Latin helped you in some subterranean ways that you hardly realize! One hopes...

    It is sad that more creative disciplines are under the axe in our public schools.

    And I like the focus on a practical skill, rather than a path toward teaching. Of course, it's hard to tell a middle class or upwardly mobile parent that one is planning to be an electrician to support a vocation as poet!


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.