I thought readers of this blog might enjoy a recent assignment described for my seniors. They have started writing reflections on poems they find in our text, and I gave this guidance for their first piece; these instructions grow from a sentence in Seamus Heaney’s introduction to his Whitbread-Award winning translation of Beowulf. Enjoy.
For this first reflection, base your writing on a single poem from chapter one of Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Gioia’s Introduction to Poetry. In the previous assignment for this week, I asked you to pick a poem on which you would like to reflect. As you consider this poem, use the quote from Seamus Heaney, seen in the photograph above. His brief statement comes the introduction to his translation of the Old English narrative poem, Beowulf, which we will start reading in several weeks. I posted his passage in a prominent place because I admire and value the thought and feeling behind it. In his introduction, he describes a particular struggle he experienced during the translation project. He struggled to reconcile apparently disparate parts of his past. His perseverance eventually led to a discovery that produced the statement above our door: “my heart lifted again, the world widened, something was furthered” (xxvi). I would like to use this statement as guidance for your first reflection.
In other words, use any or all of the statement’s parts as guides for writing a reflection of approximately 200-400 words; this will be the typical length for reflections posted on your blog. Let me explain my thinking about how to use the parts to Heaney’s statement. “My heart lifted”: Consider a poem that lifts your heart in a small or large way. Perhaps the poem as a whole does this, or maybe a single line. You can read “lifted” loosely. In other words, something about the poem satisfied you, or rang true, resonated, or made you say “yes” in some fashion. It made you feel fuller. “The World Widened”: As a result of your heart’s lifting, your understanding of the world, which includes yourself and other people, has widened. To borrow from Rilke, another poet, your orbit has grown wider. You see more because of this poem or this line. “Something was furthered”: This sounds like the previous part of the statement, but it also suggests that the world evolved in some way because your world widened. Some problem was solved, some insight gained. Some larger value was added to the world because of this thinking or feeling you are doing. Admittedly, this last part is probably the hardest to apply, but feel free to give it a go, if you are so inclined.
As you write your reflection, use my explanation of Heaney’s passage as guidance–rather than as a set of questions all of which you must answer. The fun and beauty of such reflective writings is that they give you a chance to notice and follow your responses. Let the associations happen, while challenging yourself to be as clear as possible–to yourself and your blog readers.
Have fun. Enjoy the writing.