R. H. Blyth wrote, “Wherever there is a poetical action, a religious aspiration,a heroic thought, or a union of the nature within man and the Nature without, there is Zen.”
Prompt: Respond to one or more elements of Blyth’s perspective.
The teacher stood at the whiteboard, the Blyth quotation projected behind her. She had given the class four minutes to write an initial response.
A few students began to write immediately while most stared for a moment at the quotation as if it were in a language they only vaguely understood. Two students checked their cell phone messages.
“What do you think?” the teacher asked, after four minutes had passed.
Ben Johnson, a student always willing to begin a conversation, said, ““I don’t know what Zen is, but I think you like it, and you want us to like it too.”
“I would like,” the teacher said, “for all of us to be open to new ideas, regardless of their source.”
Emily Thompson raised her hand: “Is R.H. Blyth a man?”
“I don’t actually know,” the teacher said.
“I think we should know that. I think that would help us form an opinion.”
“What difference does it make?” Ben Johnson asked. “An idea’s an idea no matter who has it.”
“I wrote,” a student named Pat Conroy said, “that there’s no one meaning to any quotation, and that the quotation has as many meanings as there is people who read it and means everything and nothing at the same time.”
“That’s your opinion,” Ben Johnson said, “about everything we have to read. You would say the same thing about a menu in a restaurant, and Emily would say that she can’t understand a menu unless she knows if the cook is a man or a woman.”
“Actually,” Emily said, “that’s probably true. I think a woman does cook differently than a man. I know my mother and father are entirely different–”
“We may be straying from the quotation,” the teacher said. “Does anyone else have something to contribute?”
Raymond Iverson’s hand rose from the back of the room. “Poetry isn’t action,” he said. “If it was, it wouldn’t be boring.”
“What is poetry then?” the teacher asked Raymond Iverson.
“Poetry’s just what someone wrote, and it doesn’t matter who wrote it or who reads it; it’s just words on a page.”
“Perhaps,” the teacher said, “we should see if we can get the words up off the page. What if, by next class, everyone attempts to have an experience that could be called a poetical action?”
“Is that our assignment?” Raymond asked. “Because if it is, I have no idea what we’re supposed to do.”
“Neither do I,” the teacher said, “not exactly. But I think that’s a good thing. In a way, each of you get to invent the details of the assignment as you do it.”
“Are we supposed to write a poem?” a student near the window asked.
“No, you’re supposed to do a poem,” the teacher said, smiling. And before anyone else could ask a question, the teacher changed the image on the screen and moved on to the next item on that day’s agenda, pleased that she had no idea what students would be bringing next class.
to be continued