"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

8.18.2006

"living for poetry, i live in light"

"The bells rang every hour from the tower in the trees
In the springtime every day. A bell said, Go,
And we went, from gym to Greek to chlorophyll,
To coffee at ten in the morning, back to the Bible,

...The bells rang every hour from the tower in the trees.
What was it going to be like, we had asked ourselves?"

-John Holmes, Map of My Country

Ann Miller read this poem to most, if not all, of her classes. If you didn't go to Baylor, and if you didn't attend English classes up and down that giant staircase in Carroll Science or work in a tiny office on the third floor, you wouldn't know that the building is right next to "the tower in the trees" from which the bell tolls. You wouldn't know that a building with "Science" in its name is actually the English department. And you wouldn't know that it feels as though you are living among the treetops in that building which was built on a slope and stands tall above the Daniel fountain below. You wouldn't know that those bells ringing every hour from the tower in the trees marked the passing of each hour of your class, fifteen minutes at a time, and that the sound of the chimes on the hour could lift you even higher in times of exhiliration, or break your heart in despair.

The seventh part of the poem is Baylor for me, because of Professor Miller and because of all those afternoons in Carroll Science and Draper and so many other people and places. Baylor is not like other schools. "Tell us the real meaning of life, and how to live," writes Holmes, and that was what Baylor was about, at least before some decided that they might have the whole answer to that question. "The secret of civilization was ours to ask for" - I felt that, I knew that with all of my being when I was at Baylor. And it wasn't grounded in simplistic overstatement that said "Jesus is the answer and that's all you need to know." It was complicated, difficult to wrestle with, and "Yes, worth it" every bit.

That kind of college experience is rare now. My students are certainly more concerned with their picture on MySpace than "talking everywhere about new ideas." Maybe that era - now that we can all communicate with each other in a totally impersonal manner - maybe it's over. The Daniel fountain is gone, and now Ann Miller is gone, too. But tomorrow we will say good-bye in Waco, and remember "the professor whose B was precious, as some A's were not." We will be grateful, for the way she challenged us and the poetry she gave us. We will listen to the bells ring every hour from the tower in the trees, and we will give thanks.

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