i wrote “Too Long” in 1966. It was most likely the period of my life when i was at the height of my literary prowess (and that ain’t too high up the ladder, folks). i was midway through my second go-round of college after flunking out of Vanderbilt, one “F” keeping me from being the first to flunk out of that wonderful university without failing a course, 14 “D’s” in four semesters, which also might be a record. But that is another story.
i had spent nine months working for Fred Russell at The Nashville Banner and was planning to become a sports writer. But when i enrolled at Middle Tennessee, i quickly met Dr. Scott Peck, the Dean of English, and Dr. Bill Holland with whom i became a close friend and he created the good student in me, or at least as good as i could be.
Dr. Peck, who got his doctorate alongside Robert Penn Warren and the other Agrarians at Vanderbilt, was simply brilliant and obviously loved his work as a professor. In one Shakespeare class, i had turned in a paper critiquing a play of another dramatist in the Bard’s era. i compared the play to an oater. When it was returned, a red A+ was at the top and below was scrawled, “See me immediately after class.”
Thinking he was going to praise my work, i walked up to his desk as the other students filed out of the room. Looking up at me from his desk, Dr. Peck said, “That was an innovative approach to the assignment, and you did an extremely good job. However, if you had turned that in to several other professors here, you might be hanging from that big oak tree just outside this building.”
Dr. Holland received his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh. His doctorate traced the themes of Chaucer through the lions of British literature and assessed those themes in the Romantics, primarily Wordsworth. He gave me the opportunity to learn to love Wordsworth. We spent many hours together, mostly in his office, discussing many off the wall connections such as symbolism in Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” and Bobby Vinton’s “Butterfly of Love.” We discussed how Plato’s account of Atlantis could have been miscalculated by a decimal point, and instead of being in the Atlantic could have actually in the Adriatic Sea. In 1966, this was not a well known theory, but has since been championed as most likely.
But these two professors certainly rivaled, equalled, if not surpassed the English professors at Vanderbilt, and they allowed me freedom of expression and challenged me to succeed.
In those seven semesters. i was finally getting my act together, but it was also a dark period. i was often despondent about losing my scholarship at Vanderbilt. i was working two jobs, deejay and Banner correspondent, which amounted to about 50 hours a week, taking a full load of courses straight through, living at home with my parents and commuting to the Murfreesboro college.
It was in this period, i wrote some of my best poetry…i think. Here’s one:
The world is a beautiful thing;
if not in it,
i could sit,
go by for hours;
but the seat is hard;
it’s a pain in the ass
to sit on the cold concrete