When I was a senior in high school in South Carolina, I had a particularly smart and talented English teacher–the same my junior and senior years. I remember that the summer before my senior year, this teacher required all of us to memorize 50 lines of poetry over the summer, to be recited on the first day of school. Of course, we all thought this was incredibly mean. Homework over the summer!
However, I have come to realize that that teacher actually gave me a great gift, as I still remember one of those poems, ‘XII’ by A.E. Housman. It still surprises me to this day as to *why* I chose to remember that poem, out of any other poem. Back then, I was a believer, raised Southern Baptist along with all my friends. Which makes my choice of this poem even more baffling to me.
‘XII’ by AE Housman
The laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I: let God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not as theirs
Let them mind their own affairs.
Their deeds I judge and much condemn,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Please yourselves, say I , and they
Need only look the other way.
But no, they will not; they must still
Wrest their neighbour to their will,
And make me dance as they desire
With jail and gallows and hell-fire.
And how am I to face the odds
Of man’s bedevilment and God’s?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
They will be master, right or wrong;
Though both are foolish, both are strong.
And since, my soul, we cannot fly
To Saturn nor to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man.
Do ideas germinate? Do they lie dormant in the mind for a good long while, and come to fruition under the right circumstances? As I travel back to the South for the Science Blogging Conference in Raleigh-Durham, NC, I decided to take a few days afterward to visit some old high school friends in Greenville, SC. I am still quite close with some of them, and some I think will be surprised to see what I’ve become, a stranger there, in a world I never made and was not made to be a part of.
John Wilkins remembers a poem as well, and has turned this into a meme. Want to let me know what poem meant something to you?