For the Final, We Shall Be Tested on Love

Edmund Blair Leighton, "Abelard and his Pupil Heloise"

Edmund Blair Leighton, “Abelard and his Pupil Heloise”


Now that my students have completed their exams, they can turn their attention to life’s other tests. Here is Thomas Centolella applying the language of testing–ironically of course–to that which gives life meaning. How do you think you will score?

In the Evening We Shall Be Examined on Love

By Thomas Centolella

And it won’t be multiple choice,
Though some of us would prefer it that way.
Neither will it be essay, which tempts us to run on
When we should be sticking to the point, if not together.
In the evening, there shall be implications
Our fear will change to complications. “No cheating,”
We’ll be told, and we’ll try to figure the cost of being true
To ourselves. In the evening, when the sky has turned
That certain blue, the blue of exam books, books of no more
Daily evasion, we shall climb the hill as the light empties
And park our tired bodies on a bench above the city
And try to fill in the blanks. And we won’t be tested
Like defendants on trial, cross-examined
Till one of us breaks down, guilty as charged. No,
In the evening, after the day has refused to testify,
We shall be examined on love like students
Who don’t even recall signing up for the course
And now must take their orals, forced to speak for once
From the heart and not off the top of their heads.
And when the evening is over and it’s late
The student body asleep, even the great teachers
Retired for the night, we shall stay up
And run back over the questions, each in our own way:
What’s true and what’s false, what unknown quantity
Will balance the equation, what it would mean years from now
To look back and know
We did not fail.


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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.

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