Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
Faculty committee on teaching
Faculty committee on teaching
Professor Abbott said, "Nobody ever taught me how to teach,
Except one man: Go into the classroom with three times more
Than there's time to say, he told me, and forget yourself."
Abbott was Chairman of the Committee. We met in September,
Late in September, when the first campus leaves were being raked,
But after the freshmen, and before the new instructors, young,
With new tweeds and degrees.
The Faculty Committee on Teaching.
He said, "I used to tear up my lecture-notes, and try never
To give the same lecture the same. Now I don't even make notes.
Students talk to me. They come and sit in my office, and talk.
For my dullest but necessary lectures, I wear my brightest tie."
Seven instructors had been summoned. Half an hour from now
The Committee would discuss with them teaching.
Dr. Clement said, "Study-plans. Frequent examinations. Tell them,
When they come in, that this only is safety, order, and policy."
The autumn grew later as he spoke. "There are," said Spinney,
Socio-economic evaluations to be made boom-boom of literature."
October seemed much nearer, and the bare trees of November.
I lend them books," Abbott said. "They usually bring them back."
"I had a professor-" Rockwood said, and stopped. Abbott said,
Yes, Mr. Rockwood? We all did."
"I thought I'd like to be like him.
It's a funny way of earning a living," Rockwood said, "teaching.
But sometimes, up on the third floor, when we're between classes,
Grabbing a smoke, or talking, someone says, 'What about Haley,
Do any of you have him?' and yes, and someone says, 'Good man.'"
Outside the office window, trees were still leaved, unleaving,
Dappling in the cool air a shouldering shadow-pattern on the walks.
The columns white, the bricks red, the grass green, the girls
And books and cars moving, sky over all. September. The new year.
"What about the dumb damned, and the deans, and papers, and the pay?"
Uncomfortable was the word for Smith, at lunch or in a meeting.
What about the book I'm not writing? About no sabbaticals?"
Abbott reamed his pipe, combed his sandy hair with his left hand.
"Professor Abbott, do you remember reading the first books you read?
Do you remember the feeling? I almost do, but I'm for-getting.
Now that I'm on this committee, I'm trying to think back, way back,
Past footnotes." Abbott said, "Yes, Mr. Rockwood, I remember.
Why do you think I put you on this committee, in your third year?"
Dr. Clement said, "In five minutes, the newly appointed instructors
Will appear before us semi-colon what rules are to be laid down?"
Spinney was also knocking and hissing like a classroom radiator.
Abbott stared out the window, and the golden leaves spoke, saying
In the voice of William Butler Yeats, for the Committee,
When I was young, I had not given a penny for a song
Did not the poet sing it with such airs that one believed
He had a sword upstairs."
And Henry Vaughan, "I saw Eternity
The other night, like a great ring of pure and endless light."
God keep me," Melville cried,
"God keep me from ever completing
Anything. This whole book is a draught, nay, but the draught
Of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!"
The tower bell struck, and rolled another slow and iron stroke
Through trees, and another following. Sun in the tall shadows
Of the falling sound stirred to look.
This was John Donne, darkly,
As our blood labours to beget spirits, as like souls as it can,
Because such fingers need to knit that subtle knot which
Makes us man: so must pure lovers' souls descend to affections
And to faculties, which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies."
Dr. Clement looked at his watch,
Spinney at some scribbled note-cards, and Rockwood at his hands.
The yellowing leaves fell, a few, then more, down the window,
And September sun-slant patched the floor. Here Abbott
Interrupted Donne, Melville, Henry Vaughan, and Yeats,
And his Faculty Committee on Teaching, because the door
Opened, and the new teachers came in, to be told how to teach.