“It’s Really Baffling”

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the one thing I would love to teach about writing, if I could.

I was thinking about Flannery O’Connor’s advice: “Wouldn’t it be better for you to discover a meaning in what you write than to impose one? Nothing you write will lack meaning because the meaning is in you.”

It takes a lot of courage to write like that. To be really truthful – especially when you’re in over your head.

And then a friend of mine who teaches 5th graders sent me a paragraph, composed by one of his students, that shows so perfectly what I was trying to express about good writing I was absolutely amazed.

Here is the poem this student was writing about:

A Patch of Old Snow

by Robert Frost

There’s a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I’ve forgotten —
If I ever read it.

One is tempted in all sorts of literature to over-analyze, to impose, to project–but most of all to do such things (to) poetry, because it’s so elusive. So many high school students (I was one myself) dislike poetry because of its difficulty. As my favorite UD professor says, poetry demands you to develop “the skill of life” which is “the capability of always acknowledging that condition of dereliction out of which alone we can know the preciousness of what we love” (Gregory, “Lyric and the Skill of Life”).

Good writing always comes from humility before what is true.

What would you say if you had to write a paragraph about Frost’s poem?

This is what my friend’s 5th grade student said:

Untitled copyI think (I don’t know) that Robert Frost is trying to remember a day in the past. The simile “It is speckled in grime as if small print overspread it” doesn’t mean a lot until it said “the news of a day I’ve forgotten if I ever read it.” It gave me the idea he’s trying to remember the past. It’s almost as if he has lost his mind and can’t remember anything from that day. It’s really baffling though. That’s what I think about the poem.

I think that is so beautiful. Flannery would be proud. So would Frost.