Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Whitman's Song of Myself canto 2

Today in AP Lit my students were discussing canto 1 & 2 of Whitman's Song of Myself (one of my favorite poems, by the way), and I wanted to speak more about a couple of lines in canto 2.

"Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor
          feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self."

If only. I mean I teach AP students. They are some of the brightest and best our school has to offer, but I often ask questions and then sit there waiting. Some wait time is appropriate, but I often get the feeling that my students don't want to suss out the meaning of poems for themselves. They want it fed to them in nice, small spoonfuls. They want to know what I think the poem means, because that is obviously the correct answer. And more so this year than in years past it seems. But as Whitman says, these students have practiced so long to learn to read. They know how to read a poem, they know what to look for. The trouble is getting them to do it. And there is something to be proud of in that, like Whitman says. Do it for yourself and it will feel better than if I feed your poetry to you. Be a free thinker and suggest a possible interpretation. We will all be the better for it because we don't want a would populated by automatons. We need you to think for yourself, or else how I am going to get my self-lacing high tops.

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