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Did I Miss Anything -- Tom Wayman

(Poem #1940) Did I Miss Anything
                             Question frequently asked by
                             students after missing a class

 Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
 we sat with our hands folded on our desks
 in silence, for the full two hours

     Everything. I gave an exam worth
     40 per cent of the grade for this term
     and assigned some reading due today
     on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
     worth 50 per cent

 Nothing. None of the content of this course
 has value or meaning
 Take as many days off as you like:
 any activities we undertake as a class
 I assure you will not matter either to you or me
 and are without purpose

     Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
     a shaft of light descended and an angel
     or other heavenly being appeared
     and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
     to attain divine wisdom in this life and
     the hereafter
     This is the last time the class will meet
     before we disperse to bring this good news to all people on earth

 Nothing. When you are not present
 how could something significant occur?

     Everything. Contained in this classroom
     is a microcosm of human existence
     assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
     This is not the only place such an opportunity has been gathered

     but it was one place

     And you weren't here
-- Tom Wayman
Being a teacher has its rewards, yes, but it has its frustrations too, as so
perfectly summed up by this marvellous poem. For sheer, undiluted annoyance,
"did I miss anything" has to rank up there with "will this be on the test?",
and Wayman surely speaks for every teacher, everywhere, when he replies with
this dryly sarcastic, amusing and yet heartfelt monologue.

And I love the power of the ending, where the tone changes, the flow of
words slowing and sarcasm giving way to deeper emotion, as the narrator has
one, final attempt at the possibly hopeless task of explaining just what the
student *did* miss...

     This is not the only place such an opportunity has been gathered

     but it was one place

     And you weren't here



Wayman's homepage [including biography and writing philosophy]:

The Wild Swans at Coole -- William Butler Yeats

Guest poem sent in by Radhika Gowaikar
(Poem #1939) The Wild Swans at Coole
 The trees are in their autumn beauty,
 The woodland paths are dry,
 Under the October twilight the water
 Mirrors a still sky;
 Upon the brimming water among the stones
 Are nine and fifty swans.

 The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
 Since I first made my count;
 I saw, before I had well finished,
 All suddenly mount
 And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
 Upon their clamorous wings.

 I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
 And now my heart is sore.
 All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
 The first time on this shore,
 The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
 Trod with a lighter tread.

 Unwearied still, lover by lover,
 They paddle in the cold,
 Companionable streams or climb the air;
 Their hearts have not grown old;
 Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
 Attend upon them still.

 But now they drift on the still water
 Mysterious, beautiful;
 Among what rushes will they build,
 By what lake's edge or pool
 Delight men's eyes, when I awake some day
 To find they have flown away?
-- William Butler Yeats
I am surprised that we haven't run this before. I think the line, "And
scatter wheeling in great broken rings" is what does it for me. It is as if
Yeats is part of the picture with the swans and yet remains a mere onlooker.
The line describes the image in my mind perfectly.

The idea of returning to a place time after time and contrasting the changes
in oneself with the (apparent) constancy of the surroundings is not exactly
novel. But this poem does it justice. Perhaps the popularity of the idea
stems the fact that we are all practitioners of it, though not always



1. Coole Park and Gardens are understandably pround of their connection to

2. I am also reminded of this poem/song
Men reminiscing by the water.

Oh! Ever Thus, From Childhood's Hour -- Thomas Moore

(Poem #1938) Oh! Ever Thus, From Childhood's Hour
 Oh! ever thus, from childhood's hour,
   I've seen my fondest hopes decay;
 I never lov'd a tree or flower,
   But 'twas the first to fade away.
 I never nurs'd a dear gazelle,
   To glad me with its soft black eye,
 But when it came to know me well,
   And love me, it was sure to die!
-- Thomas Moore
   (from 'Lalla Rookh, An Oriental Romance')

There is about "old" poetry - particularly that of the Romantic and Georgian
periods - a quality that I find sadly absent in more modern verse: the
underlying sense that rhymed and metrical verse is a *natural* medium in
which to express one's thoughts and writings. Today's excerpt is a wonderful
example of this sort of unselfconsciousness - the verse flows easily and
naturally, but the primary focus is the dialogue between Moore and the
reader, and at no point do we stop and feel that what he has to say is in
any way constrained by the requirements of the form.

While "Lalla Rookh" itself has faded into relative obscurity, the above
quoted lines - particularly the second quatrain - have remained both
well-known and popular. (In particular, no fan of Wodehouse can fail to be
familiar with the "dear gazelle"!). And though it is a verse that has
inevitably attracted its share of parodies, this is more due to its
distinctiveness than to any inherent mockability. (That said, some of the
parodies are truly delightful, such as Tom Hood Jr.'s

  I never nursed a dear gazelle,
     To glad me with its dappled hide,
  But when it came to know me well,
     It fell upon the buttered side.

or Henry Leigh's

  My rich and aged Uncle John
    Has known me long and loves me well
  But still persists in living on -
    I would he were a young gazelle.

I've remarked, about some of Moore's other works, that their salient feature
is their musicality; today's piece does exhibit the same wonderful sense of
the sound and flow of the words, but it is more of a background quality.
Also, the fact that this is not a standalone poem but part of an extended
epic lends it a very different character (and indeed, by choosing to excerpt
such a small piece, I have inevitably sacrificed some of that character). To
convey some idea of the tradeoff involved, for instance has a longer
excerpt that loses some of the distinctive beauty of the shorter piece, but
gives far more of the flavour of its setting.




Full text of "Lalla Rookh"

A bit about Lalla Rookh:
  [broken link]