Wednesday, 13 March 2013

A poem for students

Like every other academic who ever lived, I get weekly emails from students innocently asking if they 'missed anything important'. The simple answer, of course, is 'yes'. Otherwise I wouldn't have held the class. 

Now I can just send them this poem and let them work it out for themselves. I found it here.


Tom Wayman
From:   The Astonishing Weight of the Dead. Vancouver: Polestar, 1994.
                                                        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

        but it was one place

        And you weren't here


Historian on the Edge said...

I have this poem on my office door.

Anonymous said...

I find this too sarcastic/futile and would never send it to a student.
So many students miss classes and, in my many years of teaching, don't bother to email. Surely those who do are perhaps a little concerned?

The Plashing Vole said...

I see elements of sarcasm in there as the narrator's voice swings between annoyance and disappointment - it ends on a note of sadness as the narrator's better side overcomes his sarcastic impulse - something with which I can empathise.

Yes - a student who emails is always better than those who just don't care.

Anonymous said...

I meant the 'sarcastic' action of the academic who sends the poem rather than the poet/poetical content of which I appreciate and fully understand.

The Plashing Vole said...

Oh OK, I didn't quite get that.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Vole,
I'm not critical of you in particular. Your blog inspires me to think further politically and what you write is overtly interesting. So, no more of said poem and (annoying) students who send emails but often don't really care!