I do not like to drive through Hardscrabble Canyon. As I enter the canyon, I see a warning sign, “Falling Rock,” as if a mythical rock might appear now and then and fall. Just the past couple of weeks there was a rock slide that blocked traffic. There is little shoulder, and the road is winding, narrow, and steep. Signs warn of big horn sheep and deer. Sometimes they are standing the the road just after a hair-pin turn. Speed limit in areas is 20 miles per hour. In winter there are often blowing snow and ice and high winds. More than I usually am, I am cautious, I take it easy, I am alert.
This Week’s Note to Eva.
Dear Eva, You see on this card Van Gogh’s “Field of Poppies.” Here in Colorado, the wildflowers of August are yellow. I remember that you love small yellow flowers, and when I visit again I will bring you one or more. Thinking of you and sending love, Your friend, Bill
The Harvard Graduate and Influences from Wake Forest University.
I recently heard a graduate of the local high school talk about her four-year educational experience at Harvard. She earned her undergraduate degree last spring. Next year she will go to Cambridge in England for her Master’s Degree. She plans to continue education through a doctoral degree.
From her freshman year, she was allowed to specialize in areas of interest: medical anthropology and linguistics. During the rest of the years curriculum was based around these areas. She said she worked closely in small groups with professors who served as mentors.
I contrasted her experience with mine. Next year will mark my fiftieth anniversary of graduation with an undergraduate degree in English. At Wake Forest students at that time were required to take two full years of liberal arts courses before beginning a specialization, a major, their junior year. There were no minors.
What has remained with me? What were the courses that for me marked development in my world view, seen from the perspective of fifty years? There were eight. I describe each briefly below. The French course and the introductory philosophy were required for my degree, the three English courses were upper division courses for my major, the music and art and course in epistemology were electives my senior year.
From the English Department:
The Age of Pope (English literature, 1700-1740) Professor Alonso Kenion.
In the works of Addison, Steele, Defoe, Sheridan, Swift and Pope, we studied how the fiction, essays, poetry, drama, and journalism of the time were a reflection of or a reaction to events of the time, events often critiqued through humor and satire.
Professor Kenion’s formal style and sharp, dry wit and humor complemented the subject matter.
As I read contemporary literature and its reflections and criticism of our times, I remember skills of interpretation I learned in this course.
American Fiction, 1865-1915. Professor Thomas Gossett.
There was a different novel for each week. I grew to love the writers of this era, among them Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Bret Harte, Jack London, Hamlin Garland, Ambrose Bierce, Kate Chopin, Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Sara Orne Jewett, Edith Wharton, and Henry James.
I saw that the literary movements of local color, realism, and naturalism can bring both enjoyment and insight into the human condition. I enjoyed the subject matter and depth of visions that these writers brought to their works.
Whitman and Dickinson. Professor Elizabeth Phillips
We learned that free verse is an art form in itself. We saw how innovations in poetry influenced poetic movements in the twentieth century. We learned how the poets’ lives shaped the subject matter of their works.
From the Philosophy Department:
Introduction to Philosophy. Professor Vergilius Ferm
Professor Ferm, nearly dressed in turtle-neck sweater, with short white hair, saw at a table in front of our class and with quiet enthusiasm showed how philosophers worked, presented the main ideas of Western philosophy, and explained how he himself built a philosophy of religion. It was the most well-organized course I had. I learned to love systematic philosophic inquiry.
Seminar in Epistemology. Professor Robert Helm.
For 90 minutes twice a week, Professor Helm sat at the head of a seminar table and with great energy and enthusiasm entertained us with the theories of knowledge of major Western philosophers. We each chose a field in which to do reading and research and develop an original thesis to present in a 90-minute presentation toward the end of the course. I remember a presentation on film and how it is used to give knowledge about a subject. I analyzed poetic conventions and wrote a thesis, “The Poem as a Means of Knowledge: A Consideration of Certain Poetic Devices in Language.”
From the French Department:
Introduction to French Literature. Professor Eva Rodtwitt.
We read representative selection from the beginnings of French literature to the mid-twentieth century. Professor Rodtwitt taught a discipline of literary analysis, explication de texte, which is a thorough and systematic study for analysis and interpretation of language. That rigor taught me to read deeply and thoughtfully, not only in French, but also in English.
From the Music Department:
Literature of the Piano. Professor Christopher Giles.
We did not study piano literature in a chronological order. Professor Giles built recital programs which incorporated music from different historic periods and styles. In one class, we studied major works from the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic Periods, as well as from the twentieth century. Sixteen classes and programs introduced us to the music, the composers, and the performers on the recordings we listened to during the class period and returned to the music library to hear again during the week. The take-home exam was three philosophic questions about the role of music in our lives and the building of a recital or works we did not study in class with program notes about each piece we selected. It was a challenging, thought-provoking, and entertaining study which gave me perspectives that make me a better listener today.
From the Art Department:
American Art. Professor Sterling Boyd.
I am grateful for this course, because it taught me how to look at paintings. In addition to the historic survey of painting in the United States, Professor Boyd’s lectures explained how artists presented perspective, planned elements of composition, used brush for effect, and presented color and pattern. Going to an art museum is a much richer experience for my having taken this course. And I found two favorite painters, John Singleton Copley and Thomas Eakins.
Thank you for reading. I welcome comments.