Monthly Archives: June 2010

A Nurse with a Literary Background

When you are dying, would you want a former English major caring for you? You would want Sarah Tennant Simmons, a former student of mine who is now a hospice care nurse.  Sarah dropped by for lunch this past Monday and told me about the work she is currently doing.  While we may think of […]

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Managing Midsummer Madness (i.e., Sex)

Midsummer Night’s Dream provides good instruction for the parents of teenagers. First of all, don’t think that you can tyrannically dictate your children’s choices (say, by threatening them with execution). On the other hand, they need guidelines and guidance. There’s no telling how they’ll behave once they are set loose in the forest of their […]

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June Weddings, Elizabethan Style

Francois Boucher, mid 18th-century  As June is the month for weddings (Julia and I were married June 8), I will be looking at a wedding poem and a wedding play this week: Edmund Spenser’s gorgeous Epithalamion and Shakespeare’s magical Midsummer Night’s Dream. Writing about his own upcoming wedding, Spenser is so exuberant that he could […]

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Praying to God to Tune Our Hearts

Spiritual Sunday There are those who think it an impiety to question God. I find more honest, and true, those people who wrestle with their doubts. That’s why I esteem so highly the poetry of George Herbert, the 17th –century Anglican rector. He is constantly searching for God. In some of his poems he struggles […]

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Soccer Highs and Lows and a Tennis Epic

John Isner         Sports Saturday – “It’s incredible!  You could not write a script like this!” So proclaimed the announcer in the U. S. – Algeria World Cup match when Landon Donovan netted a stoppage time goal to avoid elimination and send the Americans forward to the next round. In other words, a sports announcer’s ultimate […]

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Toy Story 3: The Great Escape

Film Friday There were no good adult movies in town last weekend so Julia and I went to see Toy Story III. Any superlatives thrown Pixar’s ways are well deserved. Toy Story III is a gem. Like any good children’s story, it articulates a number of basic childhood fears, especially that of being abandoned, and […]

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Becoming the Hero of Our Own Life

David Copperfield  (1935)         “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show,” writes narrator David Copperfield at the beginning of the great Charles Dickens novel.  But why the uncertainty?  Can’t we just decide to be the hero of […]

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Opened up by a Fire of Roses

  I am writing today about an image that gripped me as a child and that has proved a comfort to me since losing my oldest son ten years ago. I encountered it in The Princess and Curdie, a Victorian children’s fantasy novel by George MacDonald.   I use it differently than the author does but […]

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Song of the Lark at St. Mary’s

St. Mary’s College of Maryland is very excited by our new president, Joseph Urgo, who joins us this week.  Among other things, Professor Urgo is a national authority on William Faulkner and Willa Cather.  I share with you here an excerpt from his program notes for the College’s Summer River concert series.  You’ll understand my […]

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When Nature Wreaks Its Revenge

Randy Kennedy has written a superb article in the New York Times that points out parallels between the Gulf oil spill and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Kennedy says that, in the 19th century, New England whalers had to venture further and further afield to find oil-producing whales (they had depleted the local stock). Melville’s apocalyptic vision is eerily prescient.

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A Spiritual Interpretation of Waterfalls

Spiritual Sunday I still haven’t gotten over the waterfalls at Yosemite—does one ever?—and so am sharing a spiritual interpretation of a waterfall by the 17th century mystical Anglican poet Henry Vaughan.  I’ve mentioned in a previous post  that I have mixed feelings about Vaughan (especially by how he sees the natural world cordoned off from […]

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Soccer, an Un-American Sport?

Landon Donovan, man of the match        Sports Saturday Years ago I read (I think in The Washington Post) a humorous article about why Americans are not great soccer enthusiasts.  The article said that Americans have problems with a game where a two-goal lead is practically insurmountable. Robert Frost would have something to say about that. […]

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Movies for Surviving Medical School

Film Friday A film doesn’t have to be masterpiece to help us at critical times in our lives.  For instance, La Bamba may be a so-so biopic about rock legend Ritchie Valens, but it opened my eyes to the difficulties of being a second child.  In Ritcie’s younger brother I saw my own younger brother […]

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Reading Literature under the Gun

This evening I will be moderating a Leonardtown Library conversation about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  It’s an enjoyable novel that is perfect for book discussion groups since it’s about a book discussion group. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is set up during […]

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How to Tell a True War Story

Two weeks ago I was honored to participate in two conversations with high school classes about the Tim O’Brien Vietnam War novel The Things They Carried.  Carl Rosin, an English high school teacher and regular reader of this blog, set up the occasion. I have taught O’Brien’s marvelous work in our College’s 20th century English-Language […]

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Nature or Poetry? Choose Both

“The world is filled with the grandeur of God.” “The sounding cataract haunted me like a passion.” In my last two posts, I reported how poetry sprang to mind as I walked through some of California’s natural wonders, specifically Big Basin Redwoods State Park and Yosemite National Park.  Today I meditate on the relationship of […]

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The Cataract Haunted Me Like a Passion

Ansel Adams, Yosemite Falls          Julia, Toby (our youngest son) and I visited Yosemite National Park for the first time last week, and I am still vibrating from the stunning rock faces and gorgeous waterfalls.  It was remarkable to see what seemed, at a distance, to be thin, almost delicate, streams of water pouring from great […]

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The Grandeur of God

Spiritual Sunday Julia and I have been in Davis, California seeing our son this past week (he is a graduate student in English at the university there) and took the occasion to visit Big Basin Redwoods State Park.  As I walked through the silence of the forest and gazed up in awe at the mammoth […]

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The Perfect Game that Wasn’t

Armando Galarraga           Sports Saturday Even as we stand on the precipice of the World Cup—tragically I will be traveling cross country today when the U.S. is playing England—something has been happening in the world of baseball that invites comment.  Perfect games are breaking out all over. A pitcher pitches a perfect game if no runner […]

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Freeing Oneself from Past Trauma

Soledad Villamil (Irene), Ricardo Darin (Esposito)          Film Friday Warning: The following essay contains spoilers. Today I sing the praises of The Secret in Their Eyes, the Juan Jose Campanella film from Argentina that won the 2009 Foreign Film Oscar.  It is more than a gripping film about investigating a murder, although it is also that.  […]

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Epic vs. Ironic Heroes

On Monday I described my friend Alan as an Odysseus figure for the way he has coming back, time after time, in his battle with his cancer.  He appreciated the article but was taken aback by the comparison and asked why I hadn’t compared him instead with someone like Holden Caulfield.  He said he didn’t […]

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A Book to Read While Looking for Work

Can a love of literature help you find work?  Jody Costa, a former student of mine, had the opportunity to find out this past year. I asked Jody to write a post to provide insight into how literature enters into the lives of 20-something college graduates wrestling with the rough economy. She discovered, as you […]

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After 37 Years, Still 2 Lights above the Sea

You will not be surprised to hear that poetry played a big role in my wedding 37 years ago, on June 8, 1973. The outdoor wedding occurred shortly after Carleton’s Commencement ceremony (our good friends John Colman and Anne Smith got married shortly before).  Three days earlier, after an intense week finishing up my final essays, […]

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A Battle with Cancer: The Epic Version

From time to time I have written about my friend Alan, who has been assaulted by a series of cancerous tumors that the doctors keep on removing, either through surgery or through radiation/cyberknifing.  He has had tumors removed from his eyelid, his neck, both lungs (six in all from the lungs) and now, most recently, […]

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Finding God in Nature’s Church

The bobolink, Dickinson’s sexton and chorister  Spiritual Sunday “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy,” instructs the fourth commandment. How are we to keep it holy? Emily Dickinson, a writer who wrestled with the stern Calvinism of her day, observed the sabbath in her own way. She was a private person who was skeptical of […]

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The Prizefighter vs. the Yokel

Sports Saturday So my tennis idol, Roger Federer, is out of the French Open.  Before the semi-finals.  Federer’s astounding streak of 23 straight appearances in Grand Slam semi-final matches is one of the great streaks in sports and will never be approached.  (To get a sense of its magnitude, consider that Rod Laver and Ivan […]

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The Grand Illusion that We Fight Over

Film Friday I wrote Tuesday and Wednesday about Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” and the fences that divide us, both externally and internally.  Today I write about one of the great humanistic films about dividing lines: Jean Renoir’s 1937 classic La Grande Illusion. The final scene of the film reminds me of “Mending Wall.”  Two World […]

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Dr. Dolittle vs. the Oil Spill: A Fantasy

The news is so unremittingly grim from the Gulf oil disaster—I think that BP is up to Plan F in its attempts to plug the gushing oil– that I’m going to share a poetic fantasy about ending it.  Maybe it will help keep you from hardening over and becoming fatalistic.  The poem was written by my […]

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Mending Walls Can Save Lives

Robert Frost’s poems (as indicated by “Mending Wall,” which I wrote on yesterday) have the wonderful ability to move from the very specific to the universal.  One begins with a small incident (two neighbors fixing a stone wall) and, before one knows it, one is thinking deeply about the world–barriers between people, roads not taken, […]

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Fences, Good Neighbors, and Immigration

Will America’s most famous poem about fences give us any insight into the border problems we are currently experiencing with Mexico? Let’s take a look at it and find out. The poem I have in mind is, of course, Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” Here it is:

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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