The Dedicatory Blog Post
I like to wake up early and read. The children are still sleeping, so is my wife. Not even the dog joins me. Even if I didn’t know the date school started, I’d suspect it was close, because the summer sun that rose so early to light the pages I read isn’t up anymore, and I have to turn on a light. Lately, I listen to the crows call in the dark, wondering what the commotion is about. The past few weeks I’ve been reading ancient Greek and Roman dedicatory poems. They’re strangely hypnotic. One of the more common themes, a man or woman, no longer young, no longer able to make a living according to the tools of his or her trade, dedicates them to a particular god. The hunter of birds hangs his net in a temple, a wanderer hangs his hat from the branch of a holy tree, a fisherman leaves his hooks to Poseidon or the ocean nymphs, a weaver leaves her spool. There are other forms: a mother leaves her maternity garments at the stone foot of Artemis, thankful for the safe delivery. A lover leaves oil for a lamp to burn long into the night at the naked foot of Cypris. A man who, finding a serpent about to bite his baby, shot it with an arrow, dedicates his bow to the god that steadied his trembling hand. My favorite: a brilliant young student, winning a prize for poetry, hangs on the wall of the classroom a mask of Dionysus dedicated to the same, whose open mouth seems to yawn as he listens to the class recite lines from Euripides Bacchae, so bored is the god by his own story. And, of course, there are those dedicatory offerings left to the god to ask for larger blessings in the future, as does the poor man leaving a grape, but promising, should the god allow it, next year a goat.
An odd way to begin, I know. But I come to the first week of classes thinking that some dedication should be made. I don’t know quite how to do it, so I’ve avoided the effort. But now it seems right. There’s more to celebrate than usual. An incoming class of 16 students spread between poetry and fiction. A new faculty member, Andrew Altschul, whose presence already comes gracious with energy and vision. And a return to our far more colorful building, newly renovated, Eddy Hall.
But what to offer?
Well, as I unpacked my books and files, arranged the furniture, I came to the sad realization that one box of books had gone missing. In it, my much loved copy of Moby-Dick, read more times than I can recall, whose thin margins were filled with notes written over decades, in pencil, blue ink, and black. My first copy of Emerson, too. Rather than mope or throw a tantrum (both of which I considered doing), I’ve decided to offer the box of books as a dedicatory offering on behalf of the Director of Creative Writing that all in the Program have a bright year. Lacking the books to leave anywhere, I’ll trust they’ve found their way to the proper divine tutelage, though if I had my choice, I might leave them at the foot of a painting of Cupid drawing back his bow, found in the ruins of Pompeii.
And for dedication, this sentence from Emerson’s “Circles”:
The simplest words,—we do not know what they mean except when we love and aspire.
Such is my hope for us all this year—for each of us trying to write a poem, a story, a line, a sentence, an essay—such understanding.