My High School Teachers Were Right (Again)

By , January 3, 2012 5:16 pm

Vaughn Williams – A Sea Symphony (I. A Song for All Seas, All Ships)

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When, in high school, I had finished being enveloped in the fast-paced action of Jules Verne’s adventures on The Mysterious Island, I imagined another 19th century work of high esteem might satiate my continuing desire for literary escapism.

And so I began to read Moby Dick. There were even excerpts from it in our English class’ anthology textbook. My high school teachers quickly encouraged me to continue, and finish the endeavor of reading this story.

Unfortunately, about three chapters in, I realized I was bored.     B. O. R. E. D. Bored. Nothing was happening. “Call me Ishmael"?” Ok, fine. Then what? Nothing. I quickly put Moby Dick down and quickly forgot about it.

Fast-forward a decade. I’m in Barnes & Noble with a colleague (an English teacher) and upon spotting Moby Dick on the shelves, ask him if it’s really any good. “It’s amazing”, he says, to my utter shock. This did not jive well with my memories from the late 90s. “Really?”, I asked in amazement. I told him of my story of finding the text utterly un-amazing back in high school, to which he assured me that not only was Moby Dick great, but much more readable as one ripens in age.

And just like that, to my surprise, and to the sincere joy of my former high school English teachers, I began Moby Dick for a second time.

Fast forward 3 months. It’s now December, and on my 30th birthday, I finish what turns out to be one amazing story. Actually, it’s not so much a story as it is a 500 page poem in which yes, there are boats, yes there are fish (and whales), and yes there is action and drama, but more so, the story reveals the depth of hatred, perseverance, and utter revenge that drive captain Ahab mad. Simply put, in Moby Dick, not much happens. But with imagery like the following, not much needs to:

Aloft, like a royal czar and king, the sun seemed giving this gentle air to this bold and rolling sea; even as bride to groom. And at the girdling line of the horizon, a soft and tremulous motion — most seen here at the equator — denoted the fond, throbbing trust, the loving alarms, with which the poor bride gave her bosom away.

Tied up and twisted; gnarled and knotted with wrinkles; haggardly firm and unyielding; his eyes glowing like coals, that still glow in the ashes of ruin; untottering Ahab stood forth in the clearness of the morn; lifting his splintered helmet of a brow to the fair girl’s forehead of heaven.


So thank you, high school English teachers, whose perseverance certainly did not pay off a decade ago, but pays off down the road. My best hope is that my students will see the value in the education they are receiving, if not now, then when they turn 30.

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