Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shiloh in Third Person

“Skimming lightly, wheeling still
The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
The forest-field of Shiloh…” -Melville

Spent the week showing images of American Civil War artillery weapons, old Confederate love letters, church graveyards in black and white photos, and drawing maps on the chalkboard of free and slave holding states… absorbing yourself in subject matter can sometimes do a trick on you.
“Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight…” -Melville

Sometimes I get so deep into my own head, into lesson planning, into thinking about what I’m going to show the kids and read to them and the connections I’m going to draw, that I find myself withdrawing from reality.
“Around the church of Shiloh
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan…” -Melville

I know, it sounds nutty… but there’s a danger in sticking your nose in books for days and not coming up for air. People need people, need to be in the group, need to listen to others… don’t you think? Well, we were reading Melville’s Shiloh and comparing the effects of third person on poetry, especially requiems, and we were standing up on the window ledge in the classroom looking out the beautiful bay windows five stories up… looking out over the city… looking in bedroom windows watching women iron and the shirtless man doing yoga on the back balcony and the old man sleeping on his sofa… and it was so intrusive…
“But now they lie low
While over them the swallows skim,
And all is hushed at Shiloh.” -Melville

Find people. Reach out. You can’t just walk through this world alone. You can’t just stand back and watch, or the only prayer people are going to be saying is the one for you.

(Shiloh is a Herman Melville poem that first appeared in a collection called the Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War, published in 1866. It is much different than the patriotic pieces of the time.)

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