i was a good ole boy, a young good ole boy to be sure, but essentially a Southern small town boy still unaware of what lay out there in the magical world of the written word. The now sadly defunct Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennessee gave me a look see into literature courtesy of Majors Harris, Donnell, and Wooten.
i was titillated by the joy of fiction by Vanderbilt’s Dr. Sullivan in the course we called “Novels.” — i was not really supposed to be there, but it was my last shot to bring my civil engineering major grades up to a C average. Prior, the engineers and the Navy would not allow me to wander from the rigors of math and science to pursue my whims, but that summer of 1963 gave me liberty to choose my courses. So i had to retake “Statics,” the one course i flunked in four semesters of 19, 21, 20, and 18 hours of courses which that civil (oh, what a terrible description of my course load) engineering department and the Navy ROTC scholarship minions demanded while i was dumb enough to think i was smart enough to attend all sports events, party damn near every night, gambol at every chance, and play cards and drink beer until the early mornings, stopping only on the day before exams to cram one night on coffee and “No Doz” to make passing grades even though each ensuing semester signaled a continuing slide down the academic flunk out tunnel until i finally came to within one course of flunking out without failing a course. Fourteen D’s in four semesters (in addition to that one F, taken over that fateful summer and raised to a C). But that wondrous summer i took Drama 101, Philosophy 101, the dreaded Statics (2 something), and Sullivan’s Modern British and American Fiction (4 something: it was a senior and graduate course).
i didn’t make it but the beauty of Carson McCullers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and of course, my hero and Vanderbilt’s own Robert Penn Warren took me away to another planet. i was then undeniably, officially in love with writing, albeit a rather naive love of the monster i adored.
But nine months under one Mister Fred Russell, erstwhile and nationally known sports editor of The Nashville Banner, whetted my appetite for writing, especially sports writing. Feeling my oats once again, i entered Middle Tennessee, the “rather parochial” (as described by Dean Richard Peck) bastion of teaching education, and more stubbornly pursuing a BA even after the Dean of Arts and Science, my academic counselor, stunned, questioned my sanity with “Are you sure? You know you must take a foreign language (Spanish: that didn’t take either). You know you would be one of the first ever to major in English as a BA, not BS?” and “hmm,” i thought, “How strange?” and “BS just doesn’t sound right or literary enough to me.” And so i took to my pursuit of writing, sports writing to be exact.
i wandered through a rather bizarre world. i moved back home. i continued writing for the Banner, now as a county and sports correspondent. i began my brief but very enjoyable career as a radio man, deejay at WCOR AM/FM. i commuted to Murfreesboro with my buddy Jimmy Hatcher, Ken Berry, Clifton Tribble, and other friends in the early morning, traversing back and forth on Murfreesboro Road, more formally known as U.S. 231 and more informally as road kill trek, getting home in time to have dinner (that’s the noon meal from where i come) with my father, usually a baloney and American cheese slice sandwich with iced tea before laying down on the two couches in the den for a joint midday nap. i took required classes like physical science because the chemistry and physics D’s didn’t transfer, and later trigonometry, which i had taken under Colonel Brown in CHMA’s advanced math program. And i passed both with A’s without ever opening a book, and becoming the lab assistant for the physical science professor, which let me flirt with a lot of pretty coeds. AND i took wonderful literature courses where i was challenged and others like English Literature where the old lady professor, Dr. Emily Calcott read Percy Bysshe Shelly’s nine cantos Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem; With Notes verbatim in class. All of it. Seems like that summer course took about two dozen years.
And then i took Dr. Peck’s Shakespeare class, and i began to see the world, or at least my small literary part of it, differently.
And finally, i met Dr. Bill Holland. Bam! We became friends. He took me under his wing and revealed a whole new world. He was from Mississippi, been a surveyor for the Army Corps of Engineers. Got his Romantic Literature doctorate from the University of Edinburgh. Yeh, that one in Scotland. Wrote his dissertation on the common thread in literature from Chaucer through Shakespeare through the Romantics, especially one Mr. William Wordsworth. i was told he received a “first class” doctorate, one of ten awarded in the history of that university. Yeh, that University of Edinburgh.
So we talked about Mr. Wordsworth, and i compared “time” of WW and RPW (Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798” and Warren’s “The Ballad of Billie Potts”). And he liked it. And we talked some more. And i cut other classes to discuss deep things in his office like the symbolism in Bob Lind’s Top 40 hit, “Elusive Butterfly (of Love),” and what was it Billy Joe McAllister and that strange woman threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge in Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe,” and did Plato err when he got the decimals from Egypt wrong and Atlantis consequently was really in the Adriatic, not the Atlantic, and more and more and more.
But before Holland, i was not into Romantics. i mean why would a good ole boy be concerned about some Englishman who wrote about daffodils? Now, i like daffodils and even more to the point, i think writing about daffodils and butterflies can be manly. Caring but manly. i like that.
Two days ago, i learned it was William Wordsworth’s birthday from “The Writer’s Almanac.” i had known that but forgot. To honor him, the writers and editors of the “Almanac” included a Wordsworth poem.
i read. i’m so glad Dr. William Holland, my friend, introduced me to that guy who wrote about daffodils.
It Is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free
by William Wordsworth
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year,
And worship’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.