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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

These news items about residential colleges, collegiate houses, and the renewal of university life are posted for readers of the Collegiate Way website. For more about residential colleges and collegiate universities please visit the main Collegiate Way page.

Tip-of-the-Month: Poems or Quotations-of-the-Week

— The Tip-of-the-Month is to introduce a Poem-of-the-Week. (Or a quotation, book, or map, or any other item of choice that can be serialized.)

Every residential college should have a regular newsletter, either weekly or monthly. And though we all communicate through e-mail nowadays (or perhaps because we do), I feel strongly that a college newsletter should be a print publication, not an electronic one. A print newsletter—just one simple sheet of news about the members of the college each week—can be tacked on a door, preserved in a scrapbook, or sent home to mom for framing, and its very tangibility is evidence of the tangibility of the college’s life. How will anyone know you were here a hundred years from now?

A regular newsletter is part of the weekly rhythm of a college, and one way to build learning into that rhythm is by including in your newsletter each week a poem or quotation. Not a hackneyed slogan—“Every journey begins with one step”—but snippet of real literature. If you have a weekly poem or quotation that people are accustomed to seeing, you will find it easy to incorporate literary references to current events, and so demonstrate to your college members the unity of learning and life.

This past week provided a spectacular opportunity to do this, as many people at both the northern and southern ends of the planet know. A great solar flare, one of the largest in many years, gave us last Thursday a spectacular whole-sky display of the Aurora Borealis, and I trust it gave my antipodal colleagues a spectacular Aurora Australis.

If you were one of my residential college students, this week in the college newsletter I would be feeding you either a bit of Emily Dickinson:

Of Bronze – and Blaze –
The North – Tonight –
So adequate – it forms –
So preconcerted with itself –
So distant – to alarms –
An Unconcern so sovereign
To Universe, or me –
Infects my simple spirit
With Taints of Majesty –
Till I take vaster attitudes –
And strut upon my stem –
Disdaining Men, and Oxygen,
For Arrogance of them –

or a few lines of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Now so bad we are that the world is stripped of love and of terror. Here came the other night an Aurora so wonderful, a curtain of red and blue and silver glory, that in any other age or nation it would have moved the awe and wonder of men … and we all saw it with cold, arithmetical eyes, we knew how many colors shone, how many degrees it extended, how many hours it lasted, and of this heavenly flower we beheld nothing more: a primrose by brim of the river of time.

Shall we not wish back again the Seven Whistlers, the Flying Dutchman, the lucky and unlucky days, and the terrors of the Day of Doom?

And I would also be offering a piece of chocolate to each of you who could bring me another aurora poem—but you’d have to come to my office to pick it up. ;-)

To see more than a hundred examples of collegiate Poems-of-the-Week, start from any one of the Strong College newsletters I wrote over a period of six years and follow the readings week by week. And though these are all presented electronically here, the originals were in print, distributed to all the members of the college every week. A Poem-of-the-Week is a simple way to infuse college life with art, grace, and learning.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2016