WRITING TO LEARN

 

Each semester I introduce poetry to students by having them write a 15 minute reflection on what they have experienced, in both their formal and informal education, with poetry up to English 102. Students always come up with objections and whine, “Why don’t poets just say what they mean?” This exercise will provide both explanation and justification for the distillation that poetry exemplifies as a more dense art form than either short story or drama. It also illustrates the justification and value for discussing literature in groups and supports the idea that what one takes away from any experience of literature depends on what s/he brings to it.

 

Purposes:

 

- to allow students to provide answers to the question, “Why don’t they just say what they mean?”

- to underscore the idea that what one takes away from a work of art is dependent on what one brings to it.

- to emphasize the value of discussing literature in groups.

 

Instructions:

 

            1. listen to the poem as it is read.

 

            2. read through the attached poem.

-         carefully

-         according to poetic elements and devices

-         armed – define words with which you are not familiar and bring your own experience and understanding into your analysis

 

3. select three stanzas from the poem to analyze, choosing the ones about which you have the most to say.

 

4. unpack them – write for fifteen minutes, providing as much detail as you can muster.

 

5. discuss and defend your interpretation.

 

 

 

 

Nothing Is Lost

 

Nothing is lost.

We are too sad to know that, or too blind;

Only in visited moments do we understand:

It is not that the dead return ---

They are about us always, though unguessed.

 

This penciled Latin verse

You dying wrote me, ten years past and more,

Brings you as much alive to me as the self you wrote it for,

Dear father, as I read your words

With no word but Alas.

 

Lines in a letter, lines in a face

Are the faithful currents of life: the boy has written

His parents across his forehead, and as we burn

Our bodies up each seven years,

His own past self has left no plainer trace.

 

Nothing dies.

The cells pass on their secrets, we betray them

Unknowingly: in a freckle, in the way

We walk, recall some ancestor,

And Adam in the color of our eyes.

 

Yes, on the face of the new born,

Before the soul has taken full possession,

There pass, as over a screen, in succession

The images of other beings:

Face after face looks out, and then is gone.

 

Nothing is lost, for all in love survive.

I lay my cheek against his sleeping limbs

To feel if he is warm, and touch in him

Those children whom no shawl could warm,

No arms, no grief, no longing could revive.

 

Thus what we see, or know,

Is only a tiny portion, at the best,

Of the life in which we share; an iceberg’s crest

Our sunlit present, our partial sense,

With deep supporting multitudes below.

 

Anne Ridler, 1994