Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Because of one of my UCI linguistics professors, I have something special to look forward to.

My favorite linguistics course was on metaphor taught by Owen P. Thomas, who literally wrote the book on it. Dr. Thomas forged the intersection of transformational grammar and literary criticism: Noam Chomsky for English majors.

I wish I had a recording of our seminars; I bet I’d enjoy them even more now. Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot, e.e.cummings. . .we dissected various phrases of their poetry, producing increasingly complex syntax trees. And then came the course’s pièce de résistance, Gerard Manley Hopkins and his poem “The Windhover: To Christ our Lord.”

I had never read it before, but no matter. Our class toiled over it, syllable by syllable. And yet with Dr. Thomas, we never lost the forest for the trees (haha – he’d have liked that one). His enthusiasm, his respect, for the beauty of language, for the beauty of the language of Gerard Manley Hopkins, kept us in awe. Our attempts at analysis only reinforced our conclusions that this signature poem of his, like the mystery of his faith to him, a Jesuit priest, would remain a mystery to us. Over 30 years later, re-reading it tonight, I marvel anew at his intertwining of a bird in flight with the sacrifice and atonement of Jesus Christ.

This afternoon in the USC Bookstore while looking for something else, a new biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins caught my eye. I knew better than to stop to pick it up, like picking up the puppy in the pet store. With resolve I walked on. But two aisles later, I reminded myself that I could use a nice, thick book for next week, and I circled back.

And so the book sits here, its dark cover tempting me more than a box of chocolates. I wasn’t strong enough to resist its purchase, but I will leave it untouched until next Wednesday. Then I’ll open it in the day hospital as present to myself, consolation for enduring another day of needles, another round of steroids, another week of Rituxan house arrest.

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