Steve Daunt has little sympathy for the poor little rich kids in Yale and their issues with dead poets.
As I’m writing this, thousands of students are either silently screaming with delight or despair as Paper One of the English Leaving Cert rolls into town.
My only memory of my adventure is I went for bust and cogently argued that Black Lace's 'Agadoo' was the best song ever written.
The Leaving Cert was my gateway into studying English in college and the first and second years, as with any degree, were a survey from the year dot up until the present day. In technical terms, we were learning ‘the canon’. Lots of dead poets. Lots of weird poets.
Did I really sign up to translate an Anglo-Saxon poem on a piece of wood, dreaming it was the crucifix? Did I really need to read another Shakespearean 'Comedy'? And as for muddling through renaissance rhetorical manuals...
That was until the tail end of fourth year when a new Head of Department arrived in with highfalutin ideas about Marxism and Feminism. He scared the hell out of us as he gave a pep talk about a general paper you sit as part of your finals. He threw so many post-modern French critics at us, we thought we were all doomed. He also tried to get rid of my friend the tree.
All these memories came flooding back to me as I read of ructions happening in Yale. The students are revolting. Nothing new there. What wayward cause are they on about now? What faraway land is attracting their ire? What exotic food do they want us all to eat? Actually, it’s nothing like that at all.
Geoffrey Chaucer. Image: Wikipedia/Commons
They want to stop reading poetry.
No, not the crappy angst-ridden student-penned variety, they want to throw out a whole course: 'Major English Poets'. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Chaucer? Gone. Shakespeare? Gone. Most of the Mad Romantics? One last sniff of Laudium and away you go.
All those dead poets out the window.
Of course, the poor dispossessed students say it far more eloquently in their petition:
"In particular, we oppose the continued existence of the Major English Poets sequence as the primary prerequisite for further study. It is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors. A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity. The Major English Poets sequences creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color."
I think I have a pretty solid record on equality, so what follows is an equality-proofed take down of that piece of teenage angst.
Where did I learn about anti-Semitism first? Why, that would have been in the Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare. Themes of racism? Well, Othello might tick that box. Love, in all its forms? Take your pick; John Donne always rocked my boat.
Even that weird tree offered an insight into how 12th century English society viewed religious practice.
I may be old-fashioned, but there is something universal in great works of art. Yes, I have just made a dangerous value statement there. Still, those works are great works of art. They tell us something about the human condition. That might be why we turn to our favourite poem in times of need.
Perhaps I’m just getting on a bit, but ditching so many great poets just seems juvenile. Is childish a better word? Am I being cruel in thinking the poor children are finding offence in everything? Would I be burnt on a stake or sent to my own safe zone to contemplate my sins? Quite possibly. Who knows, I might end up reading one of those nasty dead men and reflect how their work can be interpreted by me. Interpreted not rejected. A mad idea there, kids.