Posted in Lanscape of Loss, Markers, Poetry

The Ghost of Dr. George

That time of year thou mayest in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang.

~Sonnet # 73

IMG_1090This poem returns to haunt me each autumn in the voice of Dr. George–my freshman English professor from Saint Joes University in Philadelphia.

It’s only now, 25 years later, as I enter the autumn of my own life, that I begin to understand why George was moved to tears when he recited this particular Shakespearean sonnet.

That time of year thou mayest in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

At 18, I couldn’t understand how a poem could make anyone cry–let alone a grown man in a suit–who was old (but only generically so, like everyone else over 30.)

It was my junior year in London that I got word that Professor George actually died.

Upon whose boughs which shake against the cold,
bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

At 20, death was still so unexpected that it shook me to my roots, and also filled me with guilt for all the complaints I’d lodged against this stern professor: All those sonnets that he made us memorize!  The time he kicked me out of class after a “poor” answer!  The C he gave me on my descriptive essay!

I still have that essay. It’s grease stained because I ordered an Overbrook pizza for research. I couldn’t understand how something so relevant to college life could be dismissed with a C!

How then did his words, his spirit, his sonnet creep into my life?

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,

A few years after graduation, I sent this poem to my grandfather, and he responded with deep appreciation for the recognition of how little time he had left.

Which by and by black night doth take away,

In my thirties, I relocated to New England where I began to pay closer attention to the shifting seasons. I watched as the world outside my window moved from blush to green to gold to bare–and I was moved to write.  Poetry.

It is early October, when the Ghost of Dr. George comes to call; and I hush him, telling him it’s too soon to speak of bare ruined choirs; but he silently points toward the future.

            Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

Typically, he teases me, with the repetition of the first two lines. Which lets me know. It’s not my time.

And then I wonder, did he know?

Is that what brought tears to his eyes when he offered himself to the disdainful audience of immortal 18 year olds?

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

I’m not sure why Dr. George visits me year after year, but I’m glad he does. Once I thought of him as a tyrant, but now I know that he–and his tyranny–have something worth saying.

It was Dr. George who INSISTED that I KNOW the meaning of EACH and every WORD in each and every poem I recited; so that after his class, I could no longer say, I just don’t get poetry.

Dr. George forced an understanding, and with each year, it grows–until I am moved to tears by poems–which no doubt will be among my companion when at last my own time comes.

As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

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Author:

Lifelong educator, writer, yoga & yogadance instructor.

One thought on “The Ghost of Dr. George

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