Following on from introducing Ozymandias ( see yesterday’s post) I decided to make life much more difficult. The students had reacted positively and I suggested that Romance, Love, Death, Betrayal and all round Mayhem, all locked up in a poem that would take about three weeks to read would be a simple next step.
The Idylls of the King is the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. This was written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in the 19th century and is very very long. It is made up of twelve narrative poems and I chose the story of Geraint and Enid. I chose this one because I like it and I wasn’t going to spend a month casting pearls before swine without there being something in it for me. Geraint and Enid get married. Geraint is so much in love with her that he stops going out with his mates and hangs around the castle with Enid.
Where, thinking, “that if ever yet was wife
True to her lord, mine shall be so to me”,
He compassed her with sweet observances
And worship, never leaving her, and grew
Forgetful of the tilt and tournament,
Forgetful of his glory and his name,
Forgetful of his princedom and its cares.
And this forgetfulness was hateful to her.
And by and by the people, when they met
In twos and threes, or fuller companies,
Began to scoff and jeer and babble of him
As of a prince whose manhood was all gone,
And molten down in mere uxoriousness.
And so Enid wonders if she should tell her husband that everyone was laughing behind his back. Then one morning she wakes up and looks at Geraint lying asleep and she goes all gooey and loves him so much and she wonders if she should tell him. Not only that, she starts to think that it is all her fault that he has become such a laughing stock. And in the end she says to herself, but out aloud, not knowing that Geraint has woken but hasn’t opened his eyes;
And yet (I do) not dare to tell him what I think,
And how men slur him, saying all his force
Is melted into mere effeminacy?
O me, I fear that I am no true wife.’
But Geraint, the stupid, only really hears her last words – I fear I am no true wife – and thinks she means that she has been unfaithful to him. At this point the whole story gets really mixed up and Geraint sets of with Enid to his own castle but she is not allowed to talk to him and he treats her badly and then bad things happen and we go from The Marriage of Geraint to the travels of Geraint and Enid.
This second part begins with;
O purblind race of miserable men,
How many among us at this very hour
Do forge a life-long trouble for ourselves,
By taking true for false, or false for true;
Here, through the feeble twilight of this world
Groping, how many, until we pass and reach
That other, where we see as we are seen!
This is too important to miss. So this is my version;
You poor stupid half blind men! How many of us here today have got ourselves into a life of trouble over a woman because we didn’t believe something we should have known was true, and the other way around…..
At this point I was interrupted by the boy who had been a bit of a trouble last time. He said that there was no mention of women in the lines so why did I put that in. I said that was because it becomes evident in the whole story. “Then don’t put it in. Let us find out for ourselves.”
“So who wants me to add little bits in and who wants me to do as Daniel asks?” The general feeling was that they preferred Daniel’s way rather than mine.
Now we didn’t have books with the poem in it for each member of the class, so I photocopied enough for each student and gave then one page at a time and they collected them and placed them in a loose leaf folder. At the end of each lesson they were to write down what they thought would happen next. Before I gave them the next page we discussed their forecasts. There was considerable argument. I usually sat back with my eyes closed, coffee in hand, and let the arguments proceed.
But one important point; I would read each verse out aloud. By doing this I could make it clear whether someone was talking or whether it was the storyteller speaking. I could also use inflection of voice to help explain some points that a first reading would not make clear.
Now at one point in the story we get to a place where Geraint has to make a fundamental decision; does he go this way or that way. The general discussion was that he would go one way until Daniel, who had been very quiet for a most of the lessons suddenly interrupted everyone.
“Don’t be stupid. He hasn’t got a choice. He must make (such and such) a decision.”
I asked him why he was so certain. He then told the whole class, including me, to turn back to the second page of this second chapter where it clearly says that when he gets to a certain point he must do this specific thing.
And it was obvious and the whole class turned to him, the outcast, and clapped. And he became a real and important member of the class.
And there is more to Daniel when I talk about going from Tennyson to Shakespeare.