Saturday, March 7, 2015

Learning from Literature: Oh, Earth, You Are Too Wonderful (#SOL15, Day 7)

It May Not Be Written (M.A. Reilly 2015)

I.

In the final act of Our Town, Emily who has died in childbirth discovers that she can "return" to observe her former life.

Emily:  I'll choose a happy day.  
Mrs. Gibb:  No! At least, choose an unimportant day. Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough. 
Emily:  I can choose a birthday at least, can't I?

So she selects her twelfth birthday and upon returning to see herself  finds watching is unbearable. She has gained the type of distance that allows her to note the significance of each motion, each glance, every word said and not spoken.  This is what literature does for us as well.  It recasts our ordinariness. It allows us distance from our own lives so that we may see  and know differently, more astutely, often with a certain rawness or unspeakable joy.

So when Emily returns to her town, she observes her mother making breakfast for the family on an inconsequential day and even that banality is too beautiful to observe.

Emily: Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I'm dead. You're a grandmother, Mama! Wally's dead, too. His appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it - don't you remember? But, just for a moment now we're all together.
Mama, just for a moment we're happy. Let's really look at one another!...I can't. I can't go on. It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another.
I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. 
Take me back -- up the hill -- to my grave. 
But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners....Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking....and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute? 
Stage Manager: No. (pause) The saints and poets, maybe they do some" (Wilder.)

II.

We learn from literature. And feeling bold I would say that the most important learning we glean at school are those lessons that are preserved in the words of others--words we try on like a comfortable sweater our father used to wear.


11 comments:

  1. beautiful...it always brings tears, doesn't it? "Oh, earth...
    we need to realize it!!! xo nanc

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes it does. A compelling ending. Thanks for taking time to read the post:)

      Delete
  2. The whole way you crafted this sets such a vivid tone, the poem, the reflection on "Our Town" and your summary observation. So though provoking, especially this..." This is what literature does for us as well. It recasts our ordinariness." Really lovely.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's these small moments that don;t get noticed as we live that Emily most shows us.
      Thanks Kim for taking time to read the post:)

      Delete
  3. This post means a great deal to me, especially because I taught this play. As an English teacher, I always hoped that my students would connect with something they could learn from one of the character's lives (or deaths). This scene meant so much more to me after I became a parent. It's so strikingly true, it's almost painful to contemplate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aileen, I so agree. It is a play that stays with you especially if you taught it. t also is a scene that well might change with parenthood. It is too painful to understand that we move through life often without seeing.

      Delete
  4. I haven't thought about "Our Town" in a long time; I suppose this is because I teach senior English. I love Emily's goodbye speech. When I did teach the play, I would create a new version of Emily's speech from a survey of favorite places in our hometown. Then I'd present it to my students. It would bring on the water works as they began realizing the importance of the places they spent with family and friends The idea isn't my own but something I found in "Notes Plus," which was a publication of NCTE.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love the idea of creating a relevant goodbye speech based on local places. Id want to ive kids cameras and have them see those places and represent that seeing visually alongside the new words.

      So much power to that revision.

      Delete
  5. I always burst into tears when I hear these lines recited or when I read them again. I remember reading this with my eldest daughter, and causing her much embarrassment. Years later, she said she had read it again, and was beginning to understand my reaction. That Wright poem just completes this arc of thinking, Mary Ann, and it reminds me of the final scene in the movie "Boyhood". Make every moment count...especially the small ones.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I always burst into tears when I hear these lines recited or when I read them again. I remember reading this with my eldest daughter, and causing her much embarrassment. Years later, she said she had read it again, and was beginning to understand my reaction. That Wright poem just completes this arc of thinking, Mary Ann, and it reminds me of the final scene in the movie "Boyhood". Make every moment count...especially the small ones.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I used to teach Our Town many years ago and find that as I reread the end of the play, those lines still resonate. In one end of the year exam I made, Thoreau had rowed Emily, Holden, & Bigger Thomas into the center of Walden Pond. Emily begins by saying, " Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute?" and then students completed the dialogue selecting one of the characters. They worked in groups of five to craft a scene that explored the idea of seeing and not seeing; visibility and invisibility.

      Delete