Saturday, February 02, 2013

Keeping the tradition

I don't know if the Blogger's Silent Poetry Reading in Honor Of St. Brigid's Day is still done widely or not, but it's a tradition I like, so I will keep it up, even if I am the only one.

This year, I am doing this in memory and honor of someone.

Over Christmas, I found out that Dr. Pryce, who had been my French teacher in high school, had died. (He actually died early in the fall, but as I don't follow the school's Facebook page, I didn't find out until I saw the alumni magazine's obituary).

I always liked Dr. Pryce. He taught French, and later on, Latin. (I believe he spoke several other languages as well). He was British, and just seemed very educated and scholarly to me. (I was a bit in awe of him.) He influenced me in a positive way, in that, looking at him, I began to see that "the life of the mind" and being an educator could be an enjoyable - and even joyful - profession. (The obituary in the alumni magazine quoted a former-student's memory of him coming down the hall, swinging his briefcase full of graded papers and whistling as he did. I hadn't thought of that in years but, yes, that was Dr. Pryce.) He had a happy-go-lucky quality that I notice somewhat lacking in myself. 

You might think it funny that someone coming from a family of academics (my dad was a geology prof and later, administrator; my mom stayed at home but did some research) would have to look to her French teacher for an example of the joy of the life of the mind. But, I think that's two-fold: first, the life-of-the-mind is very different in the sciences than it is in the humanities, and secondly, and more importantly, my father and I are a bit too much alike in personality: we tend to let our responsibilities weigh on us, and even back then I remember my dad expressing frustration over students acting like goofballs in the lab, or his graduate students not finishing up in a timely way. (Just a couple weeks ago I was talking to my chair and I made a comment about how my graduate student - who is slow in finishing her thesis - is hard to motivate, and how I fear it may reflect badly on me if she does not finish. Which is exactly something my dad would have said).

And while I don't doubt that there were responsibilities that weighed on Dr. Pryce, he didn't seem to show it in the same way. (Or could it have been a generational thing? He was 10-15 years older than my parents, I think, and would have survived WWII in Great Britain....and I know a number of people who passed through terrible times during WWII, either as military men or as civilians in a dangerous area, and they commented about how they felt that every day that had after that was a gift....)

But anyway. I learned a great deal from him, and it was not just "avoir" and "etre" and how to  make that funny r sound in the back of your throat.

He was one of the people who required us to memorize poetry (This would have been in French IV: Language and Literature, which was the AP French course at my high school. And I will note in passing that I earned a 5 - the top score at that time -  on that exam, which got me out of intro French in college and fulfilled a big part of my foreign-language requirement)

One other little funny memory: the teachers at the Academy used to write comments on our report cards. I remember one semester he wrote to my parents, in French, "She deserves an increase in her pocket money." (because of my grades.) Which I had to translate for them. (No, I didn't get it.)

Anyway, Dr. Pryce, this is for you, the first poem I memorized for your class. You were a great teacher and you inspired me, even though I went into a very different field from yours:

Demain, des L'aube
par Victor Hugo

Demain, dès l'aube, à l'heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m'attends.
J'irai par la forêt, j'irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.

Je ne regarderai ni l'or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j'arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.

And for those who do not read French, a translation (I did not translate it; it would take me a while to get a translation that still captured some of the rhythm). It's a very close translation, however:

Tomorrow, at dawn, at the hour when the countryside is alit,
I will leave. See here, you know what I must do.
I will go through the forest, I will go across the mountain.
I will not remain far from you for long.

I will trudge on with eyes fixed on my thoughts,
Without seeing what it outside of me, without hearing any noise,
Alone, unknown, bent, with crossed hands,
Sad, and the day will be for me as night.

I will not notice either the golden sunset as night falls,
Nor the distant mist which descends over Harfleur,
And when I arrive, I will place on your grave
A bouquet of holly and heather in bloom. 

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