Saturday, November 2, 2013

Shades of Green


(for my students in English IV, valiantly encountering Sir Gawain and the Green Knight)

Sitting forward, facing me, their futures in front of them
like the whiteboard littered with notes of a long-dead legendary king
and his knights with names not easily remembered through mnemonic games,
committed to memory, then to the memory-hole, and cremation, forgotten, and called
"boring," and "bewildering," and "befuddling," and "bullshit,"
I nevertheless quiet my mind and set forth on a quest of my own to quench
their cynicism so soon saturating their seventeen- and eighteen-year-old minds,
draining them of dreams and of a childlike desire to see the world as a young knight might.
A classroom of today's teenagers, taut with tensions recalled through times gone by
yet with fears all their own, not yellowed by yesterdays replayed but green as their own youth.
How do I help them, handing them a tattered copy of a poem, so haunted with age
and grown old with moss, like the great Green Knight of its title, gaming with its hero, Gawain?
I can try to tell them that time plays tricks with perception, and that the poem's "green" is
boundless in meaning, at once implying beginnings, like delicate buds on branches bowed low
from spring rains, but soon rife with the "green" of rot and the restless advance of years,
and pain, and the persistence of perpetual motion, and games played and replayed
with no winner but with, instead, a withering away of "green" to gray, wasted days of youth.
The different shades of green in verse--a hue of young desire, and slow decay, and lonely death.
                              I choose
                    instead--the teacher in me--
                    to suppress the poem's role of hues
                    and to talk of codes of chivalry
                    and of games one cannot help but lose.

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