i began this two months ago. At the time, it was planned to be the first of my series of two posts on Middle Tennessee State University. In the process, i decided Dr. Scott Peck, the Dean of English should be the subject of the first. After all, he was my introduction to my new school, and headed the department that led to my major.
Then, i decided i should write of the other professors who impacted my journey in literature. i suspected that decision was produced by reluctance to write about the subject of this last of the series. i did not wish to disappoint myself in describing my relationship with the remarkable subject.
But it’s time. The subject brought out the best in me and gave me the power to be the best, inculcating a love and understanding of literature beyond what i could imagine. He is one of the top heroes in my life. So, i hope this meets his standards.
Dr. William H. Holland, Jr.
A unique, interesting man, probably had more influence on my life than anyone other than my father. i never thanked him enough.
In January 1967, i began my penultimate semester at MTSU. i chose Romantic Literature for my English course that spring, thinking that would round out my literature course pursuits. i had read Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and was enthralled but thought Romantic literature in general focused on daisies and gibberish.
Then, i met Dr. Holland.
He was an unassuming man, quiet with a wry humor that could catch you unawares. He introduced himself in the first class, and i thought the course might be fun.
It was and more, oh, so much more.
He started us with William Wordsworth, a poet and man in whom Dr. Holland obviously had invested. In the back of my mind, i scoffed, thinking about daffodils and all that. But as i read, i became infatuated.
And then Coleridge, Robert Burns, Keats, Lord Byron, Shelley, and Blake, all proving i had not understood the depth, the beauty, the exploration into thought, love, life. Oh, i had become enamored with the Romantics (not rock bands or such). It was all due to Bill Holland carrying me there with an open mind.
To keep all of us from being bored, he challenged us with possibilities. Like one day in class, he veered off course, considering the Greek myth of Atlantis. Dr. Holland surmised that Plato, due to the differences in the Greek and Egyptian numbering systems, had missed calculating the size of Atlantis by a decimal point, therefore making it possible for the kingdom to be in the Aegean Sea, not the Atlantic.
He was mesmerizing. i went to him after one class to extend a class discussion and he apparently thought i might have some potential and befriended me. i began to spend my free time in his office, and often skipped other classes to spend time with him. From what he said, he had received his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh, a first class doctorate, only one of ten since the Scottish university was begun in 1583. His treatise traced a theme from Chaucer through the significant English literature greats, including Shakespeare, to William Wordsworth.
He told me at a previous university, he became friends with a math professor, and the two of them created a system correlating the English language to math equations.
We would listen to popular songs and analyzed their meaning and symbolism. i specifically recall Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” and Bob Lynn’s “Butterfly of Love.” There seemed to be no topic on which he couldn’t give me a different and fuller perspective.
Toward the end of the semester, i brought up my reverence for Robert Penn Warren, a classmate of Dean Scott Peck at Vanderbilt. We began a three-month discussion relating Warren, the Agrarian, the Fugitive to the Lake Poet. One of the best on-going discussions in my life.
As i ended my spring semester in 1967, i thought i had fulfilled all of the requirements to receive Bachelor of Arts in English at MTSU except for one more course in literature that summer to move on to the next phase of my life. At that time, i thought the next phase would be to become a sports writer for a major newspaper, hopefully The Nashville Banner under Fred Russell. My BA and major pursuits were only due to my bullheadedness, a reaction against my opting to pursue an engineering degree on my Vanderbilt NROTC scholarship. Completing the last English courses was just a means of moving on.
Choosing “Literature and Philosophy” as my last course was a no-brainer. Dr. Holland was the professor.
i cannot express how much that course impacted me. With Dr. Holland leading, we explored the depths of the major streams of philosophy and related them to the writers of the periods and how philosophy impacted their works. Those discussions extended way past class time for Dr. Holland and me as we walked the campus, ending up in his office, talking about deep things and relating those things to everyday events. i once again cut the other classes because (i hope) i was realizing how much i was learning from my time with him rather than the other courses. Toward the end, i wrote what i still consider the best thing i’ve ever written, certainly more academically sound than anything else i’ve written. It is literary and academic. i’m not sure how many folks would want to read it, but i will add it in a post later, just in case you do.
Dr. Holland and i kept our discussions going up to the day i received my degree in the middle of August 1967. When i went to my first ship, i ran across a new book about Atlantis, that supported Dr. Holland’s idea. i sent him the book.
It was the last connection we had. i kept making half hearted attempts because of all of the other demands on living. After running into a stone wall trying to reach him about ten years ago with someone at the university who, apparently, had a bad day, i finally reached someone who knew of Dr. Holland’s whereabouts. He had passed away in 2012, in Bastrop, Texas, where he had retired. i had been in Bastrop many times visiting one of my closest Navy friends. Had i been more diligent, i could have spent some more wonderful moments with Bill Holland.
He will remain one of the most significant individuals in my life. i often wonder if i had any sense at 23 and pursued a masters and doctorate at MTSU, how wonderful it would have been to be associated with Dr. Holland for many more years.
But i was young, headstrong, confused, and wandering through life like a stag rejected by a regale of deer.
It turned out fine.
i’m sure Bill Holland would approve.