Recovering from the Semester

Daniel Maclise, “Morte d’Arthur”


When I turned in my final grades yesterday, I felt not so much triumphant as exhausted, as though I were a warrior gazing around at the smoking ruins of a conflict he had technically won but was in no position to appreciate. I’ve been intensely engaged with final essays for two months now—proposals, rough drafts, polished drafts, student conferences before and after, and optional revisions—and that doesn’t include the weekly reading journals that I assigned throughout the entire semester. All this while recovering from an episode of pericarditis and myocarditis.

I’m not complaining as I know how lucky I am. Even after 37 years of teaching, I remain in awe at how literature opens in my students rich avenues of thought and self-awareness. Still, the image that comes to mind at the moment is Arthur surveying the wreckage of his last battle in Tennyson’s “Morte d’Arthur”:

So all day long the noise of battle roll’d 
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur’s table, man by man,
Had fallen in Lyonnesse about their Lord,
King Arthur: then, because his wound was deep,
The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him,
Sir Bedivere, the last of all his knights,
And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,
A broken chancel with a broken cross,
That stood on a dark strait of barren land.
On one side lay the ocean, and on one
Lay a great water, and the moon was full. 

When I was recovering from trips to the emergency room and an on-going fever, my wonderful case manager Susan Mann gently chided me for not taking more time away from my classes. I thought that it was sufficient to withdraw from committee work and faculty meetings, but in truth one expends a lot of energy teaching. Susan insists that I spend the upcoming weeks getting the rest I have been putting off.

I don’t have the three women from “the island-valley of Avilion” who care for Arthur, but I have Julia, whom I have joined after a long absence. She is living with my mother, and between them I am getting my version of the three queens:

Three Queens with crowns of gold—and from them rose 
A cry that shiver’d to the tingling stars, 
And, as it were one voice, an agony 
Of lamentation, like a wind, that shrills 
All night in a waste land, where no one comes, 

Or hath come, since the making of the world.


But she that rose the tallest of them all
And fairest, laid his head upon her lap,
And loosed the shatter’d casque, and chafed his hands,
And call’d him by his name, complaining loud
And dropping bitter tears against his brow
Striped with dark blood…

Okay, so it’s not quite this dramatic. Still Sewanee, Tennessee is as close as I need to Avalion,

Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard-lawns
And bowery hollows crown’d with summer sea,
Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.

I will bounce back—I’ve always done so in the past—but right now I need time to heal.

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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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