Ulysses; for Prof. Kolb (1992)
Alexander "Sasha" Volokh
(on handing in my paper -- a critique of
The Idea of the Canterbury Tales, Donald Howard's book
about Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales -- to my
UCLA literary criticism professor, Jack Kolb
It sometimes happens that, Professor Kolb,
Inside your office, Rolfe two three three one,
Armed with correcting pen, you mete and dole
Unequal grades unto your English class,
That reads, discusses, writes (including me).
Now you can read my paper, all the ten
To fifteen sheets. At times I agonized
Greatly, I suffered greatly, both in front
Of classmates, and alone; at home, and when
On Rolfe's first floor, the English Reading Room
Was where I sat. I am become a name --
For always reading with a hungry heart,
Much have I seen and known: critiques by men,
Like Howard, Patterson, and Muscatine,
Pearsall of course, the greatest of them all;
And took notes on your lectures with my peers,
In that room where you teach 140A.
I am a part of all that I have writ,
But all my papers are an arch wherethrough
Gleams that much-longed-for A, whose prospect fades
Forever and forever as I write.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To stop unfinished, and to not conclude!
To write less than ten pages! Page on page
Were all too little -- but of unused thoughts
Little remains. For every page, I put
About that Chaucer's Pardoner, something more,
Which leads me to new things. And vile it were
For some three pages to say boring stuff,
And you, the reader, yearning in desire
To hear of Chaucer thoughts extending far
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my work, critique of a critique
Of Chaucer's book, The Canterbury Tales --
Well loved of me -- yes, now you get to read
This labor, by slow prudence comprehend
My paper's thesis, and through soft degrees
Become convinced to write the letter "A."
Most blameless is it, making only mild
Denunciation, doing all the tasks
You outlined in your handout, and I hope
It gives you pleasure as you read it through
And put a grade, upon this work of mine.
Here is your pen; my paper you can read
About Don Howard's book. Professor Kolb,
You that have toiled, and wrought, and taught this class,
That ever with a pointing finger took
My questions and gave answers, and opposed
Peacock to Shelley -- we are in tenth week;
Tenth week hath yet its trouble and its toil.
Exams end all, but something ere the end,
Some noble composition, may be done
Not unbecoming students of your class.
The lights appear and twinkle on my screen;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the text
Grows long with many footnotes. Yes, I know,
'Tis not impossible to get an A.
Push off, and sitting well in order turn
The blackened pages, for my purpose holds
To write of Chaucer's Pardoner, and the book
Written by Donald Howard, till the end.
It may be you will like what I have put;
It may be I have touched on obvious points,
And hackneyed commonplaces, which you knew.
Though much is wrong here, much is right, and though
I am not he who in the future might
Write splendid papers, what I am, I am,
One humble student in your English class,
Made weak by reading Kant, but strong in will
To read, think, write, critique, and not to yield.
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