Three Short Essays
from a Manuscript Titled
“Finding the Undercurrent”
(see another five essays in Innisfree 20
Professor Tolkien Talking
in W.H. Auden’s Sleep
A dominant poet and respected
critic in his time, W.H. Auden in both these professions was a student of
things medieval, especially of Anglo-Saxon language and literature. Throughout
his career, he paid special tribute to the influence of Professor J.R.R.
Tolkien, whose lectures he had attended in his student days at Oxford. Years
later Auden was the first important critic to regard Tolkien’s fiction as a
major literary achievement. But Tolkien’s influence cited by Auden is always of
the philologist and linguist, never of the author of The Lord of the Rings. . . .
[Read the full essay here: Professor Tolkien Talking]
believe there exists, in human experience and in language, a level of
awareness that is beyond the beck and call of the conscious intellect.
It has to do with what we imagine, with what we feel deeply that’s
beyond understanding, with what we dream. Even more, it has to do with
the associations that come shimmering off things when we let them
in—awarenesses that we don’t quite know how to state. Often they seem
related to a dark and distant human past. In the process of being made,
poems and stories, paintings and sculptures, concerti and jazz jam
sessions and symphonies, touch and use that level of awareness. I call
it mythic consciousness. . . . [Read the full essay here: Recovering
Wine into Water
In the study of poems in the schools, this is what’s often done. We turn slightly mysterious wine into kitchen tap water. More exactly, because poems are highly distilled, it’s the finest Courvoisier cognac, intensified beyond wine, that gets diluted and watered down until it’s only water. You know the drill: tell the teacher, in “normal, ordinary” language, what this poem “really says.” The students are graded on the quality of their prose, not on their receptivity to artful language. Enjoyment has long since gone out the window. . . . [Read the full essay here: Turning Wine into Water]
Rod Jellema, long associated with the University of Maryland and with The Writer's Center (Bethesda, MD), won the Towson University Prize for Literature for A Slender Grace. His most recent book, Incarnality: The Collected Poems (Eerdmans, 2010), includes a CD of his readings of many of them. Jellema was the subject of our Closer Look in Innisfree 12.