Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wolfeboro Opening Faculty Meeting June 26, 2012

On June 26, 2012, I did a brief reading for the opening faculty meeting of the 103rd session of the Wolfeboro Summer Boarding School, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, Ed Cooper, Head of School.

As you might guess I've attended quite a few opening faculty meetings over the years and am flattered to be included in this one. I'd like to read three pieces, two by me, one by someone else; two about the opening of school, the other about our setting here on Rust Pond. 

Summer School


Next to our cottage is a tutoring camp;
My father taught there summers ago.
I walk along the lane behind the tents
They use for classrooms
And listen to the commingled voices
Of young teachers and their kids.
Much of it is new and strange, of course,
But some I recognize:
Third person plural, active voice…
What Gatsby really means…
And I am carried back to
Forty years in schools:
A mug of hot coffee
To put my hand around on cool mornings,
A smile for the 14-year-old,
Embarrassed at his mistake,
Wanting to try again.


I came upon my father’s grade book today,
On the cottage shelf
Where we put it when he died,
Twenty years ago now.
I wish that he’d retired
While his memories were all good ones.
I see him in his classroom by the pond,
Leaning forward, wanting to tell a boy or two,
Sullen, not unkind, needing credits,
About the Generation of ’98,
But struggling with the preterite, I think.
Then the meaning comes to me:
A tutor is someone who keeps you safe.

In my head of school days, I always read this poem by the late American poet Howard Nemerov at the opening faculty meeting. I hope it will speak to you as it always has to me.

September, The First Day of School  (Howard Nemerov)
My child and I hold hands on the way to school,
And when I leave him at the first-grade door
He cries a little but is brave; he does
Let go. My selfish tears remind me how
I cried before that door a life ago.
I may have had a hard time letting go.

Each fall the children must endure together
What every child also endures alone:
Learning the alphabet, the integers,
Three dozen bits and pieces of a stuff
So arbitrary, so peremptory,
That worlds invisible and visible

Bow down before it, as in Joseph's dream
The sheaves bowed down and then the stars bowed down
Before the dreaming of a little boy.
That dream got him such hatred of his brothers
As cost the greater part of life to mend,
And yet great kindness came of it in the end.


A school is where they grind the grain of thought,
And grind the children who must mind the thought.
It may be those two grindings are but one,
As from the alphabet come Shakespeare's Plays,
As from the integers comes Euler's Law,
As from the whole, inseparably, the lives,

The shrunken lives that have not been set free
By law or by poetic phantasy.
But may they be. My child has disappeared
Behind the schoolroom door. And should I live
To see his coming forth, a life away,
I know my hope, but do not know its form

Nor hope to know it. May the fathers he finds
Among his teachers have a care of him
More than his father could. How that will look
I do not know, I do not need to know.
Even our tears belong to ritual.
But may great kindness come of it in the end.

The meadow begins here at the lodge and runs past the girls' campus, ending at the Greenwood property. In another poem I wrote of it this way: "That it is a pleasant scene, no one disputes/To call it beautiful, a matter of memory and hope..."

By the Meadow: June 2007

Betsy Winbourne, now eighty,
Rakes hay in the meadow at midday
You would not do this a month from now;
Up from Boston, opening the cottage.
No sign of the Woodleys;
They say his tumor has come back,
His fields thick with timothy and clover,
In need of Seth to mow,
If one knew where Seth had gone.
I walk along the lane
Gathering the winter’s news:
Someone’s cellar flooded,
Someone’s well has failed,
Bears in the woods, taking out bird feeders.
And yet:
The young leaves, the greens, the light,
So various, so fresh with innocent hope:
It is early June in New Hampshire
And the world seems possible.

May your world and the worlds of those you serve this summer be possible, and may great kindness come of it.

Bob Demaree
June 26, 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment