Friday, May 28, 2010

Across the Finish Line

Jenna graduates from Scituate High School next Friday. However, today is her last official day of classes. It still amazes me to think about this fact.
I called Jenna this morning to wish her a good day. I assumed that she would be on her way to school - perhaps with a coffee - to sit out the next few hours in barely-contained glee.
I should have known better.
When she answered the phone, Jenna was already partying in the high school parking lot. In the background music and laughter filled the air. I could barely hear what she was saying but the joy in her voice was unmistakable. I laughed out loud and congratulated her on making the most of this day.
As I thought about my daughter and her friends celebrating this momentous occasion I couldn't help but think about my high school days with my friends. I wish that we had done something like this when we graduated from high school so many years ago.
Still, it seems that high school kids are the same in any era and from anyplace. The world is at their feet and their futures are months away. For now, there is just this moment; this final goodbye from the world that she has known for twelve academic years. I do not know what friends Jenna will bring with her from high school as her life moves forward. I do know that she will never forget this life that she leaves behind.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Farewell to the Riddermark

My last class in "Tolkien as Translator" is tomorrow night. My final paper is nearly complete; just some minor edits and a final read-through and it will be done. I have re-read "The Lord of the Rings" and studied the languages of Middle-earth; all under the watchful, knowledgeable gaze of Dr. Marc Zender.
Dr. Zender jumped right into things on the first night of class. I listened intently, concerned that I did not have an anthropological language background and that I would not be able to follow along. This notion was was slowly dispelled over the next 1.5 hours. Then, something miraculous happened.
Dr. Zender was talking about the Riders of Rohan, and how Tolkien infused his languages and cultures with the linguistic echoes of our own Old World cultures, now lost to time. Then, Dr. Zender started to recite - from memory - the Ride of the Riddermark. His confident recitation started slowly at first and gathered in intensity as the passage continued on. Suddenly thoughts of Beowulf crept into my mind. Is this Tolkien or Beowulf? This sounds just like some passages from Beowulf.
As Dr. Zender finished the passage, we applauded. Never before had I heard Tolkien read aloud yet I realized now that it should be. Or, at least, some of it should be. Dr. Zender now spoke about how Tolkien altered his writing styles based on the source-culture or literary material and that, yes, there is much of the Anglo-Saxon world - and Beowulf - to be found in the passages concerning Rohan.
And I was hooked.
Dr. Zender has both impressed and inspired me. Once I was content to simply be a teacher of English lit. I now find that I want to specifically study Old English literature. I had an inkling of this notion after I finished "Beowulf & Seamus Heaney" with Professor Daniel Donoghue. Later, my heart stirred when I heard Benjamin Bagby's presentation of Beowulf and I knew that something about this moved me. Then there was " Tolkien as Translator: Language, Culture and Society in Middle-Earth". I have learned so much in this class. Mostly I have learned that I have so much more to learn.
Here, in it's entirety, is the passage Dr. Zender read on the first night of class. Read it aloud (particularly the text in italics) and listen for the alliteration as you do so. See if you can feel the sense of doom and destiny for Théoden as he leads his men to war. It may not change your life; but it changed the way that I look at mine.

“On down the grey road they went beside the Snowbourn rushing on its stones; through the hamlets of Underharrow and Upbourn, where many sad faces of women looked out from dark doors; and so without horn or harp or music of men's voices the great ride into the East began with which the songs of Rohan were busy for many long lives of men thereafter.

From dark Dunharrow in the dim morning
with thane and captain rode Thengel's son:
to Edoras he came, the ancient halls
of the Mark-wardens mist-enshrouded;
golden timbers were in gloom mantled.
Farewell he bade to his free people,
hearth and high-seat, and the hallowed places,
where long he had feasted ere the light faded.
Forth rode the king, fear behind him,
fate before him. Fealty kept he;
oaths he had taken, all fulfilled them.
Forth rode Théoden. Five nights and days
east and onward rode the Eorlingas
through Folde and Fenmarch and the Firienwood,
six thousand spears to Sunlending,
Mundburg the mighty under Mindolluin,
Sea-kings’ city in the South-kingdom
foe-beleaguered, fire-encircled.
Doom drove them on. Darkness took them,
horse and horseman; hoofbeats afar
sank into silence: so the songs tell us.”

— JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Bk. V, Ch. 3, ‘The Muster of Rohan’ (p. 803)