Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

April's Gold?

What was going to be short post featuring a picture of the golden buds on my maple tree and Frost’s poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay," has somehow turned into an English lesson. (I must be experiencing a flashback to my college-teaching days.) Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Warning: Educational content follows.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

A really good interpretation of this poem is Dana Gioia’s essay. A really bad interpretation is this piece of crap from a site that some students are tempted to use when they’re too (circle all that apply) stupid/stoned/drunk/dense/lazy/stressed out to write their own essays. And here’s another essay that even mentions the poem’s appearance in S.E. Hinton’s novel, The Outsiders (but it’s still crap). This mediocre one is slightly better, but it costs money.

When I saw the dreadful essay that Fratfiles offers, I couldn’t resist copying* the beginning and adding a few “Evil English Instructor”** comments (in red):

*Since this excerpt is copied for educational purposes, as a derivative work (my added comments take care of that), and not for profit—plus the link to the original the URL is available above, I'm not violating any copyright here. )

Robert Frost has a fine talent for putting words into poetry. [Well, duh!] Words which are normally simplistic spur to life [Huh? “Spur” to life? That’s even worse than “normally simplistic.”] when he combines them into a whimsical [Oh, come on! “Whimsical”???] poetic masterpiece. His “Nothing Gold Can Stay” poem is no exception. [Exception to what?] Although short, it drives home [No doubt in a BMW or perhaps a Porsche] a deep point [as opposed to a shallow point] and meaning [So the meaning isn’t the point?]. Life is such a fragile thing [Wordy. Why not say, “Life is fragile”?] and most of it is taken for granted [Can you prove that?]. The finest, most precious time in life [Which would be what, exactly?] generally passes in what could be the blink of an eye [It “could be,” but is it? And “blink of an eye” is a cliché.] “Nothing Gold Can Stay” shows just this. [Exactly what does it show? Does the demonstrative pronoun this have an antecedent? Do you know what an antecedent is?] Even in such a small poem he describes what would seem an eternity or an entire lifetime [Pick one. “Eternity” and “lifetime” aren’t interchangeable.] in eight simple lines. Change is eminent and will happen to all living things. [And the previous sentence contains a redundancy.] This is the main point of the poem and is shown consistently throughout the eight lines. [Someone’s English instructor failed to teach unity, coherence and emphasis—or else the writer of this flatulent dreck cut class on the day those concepts were taught.]

The sad thing is that the above selection is only part of the 750-word analysis. One can only speculate how bad the rest is. Did the writer continue to say nothing? If so, he could have said it in fewer words?

One of the classic essays taught in many freshman grammar & comp classes is “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words,” by Paul McHenry Roberts. Too many students (and, alas, too many writer wanna-bes ), working under the delusion that “more is better,” say nothing in as many words as possible.

If you haven’t read Roberts’ essay—or you haven’t read it lately—take a look here or here.
And if you loved “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words,” you’ll love this blog post about it:

OK. My English-teaching flashback has passed. You can go back to your ordinary lives now. Don't worry—there won't be a quiz.

The new leaves on the pin oak are also gold.

** I am a fan of Evil Editor.

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Blogger Amy Tate said...

You would have a hay day in some of my writing workshops. You see it all - and most of it you would rather not see. Gorgeous pics Miss Becky!

10:27 AM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

That's what I was thinking--really pretty pictures.

Can I say that I don't like poetry without getting an F?

8:34 PM  

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