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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.

Stanley Kunitz, 1905–2006

— A residential college should be filled with opportunities for teaching with-out the curriculum, and one of the most important vehicles for informal education within a residential college should be the weekly newsletter issued by the college office. The newsletter shouldn’t be a recitation of rules and deadlines, though it may occasionally contain those things. It should instead be the bearer of accomplishments, discoveries, dreams, visions, and examples. One newsletter feature that can serve this purpose especially well is a poem of the week, chosen either randomly or with an eye to current events in the college and the world. Brief literary acknowledgements of the state of the world around us—acknowledgements that might fit awkwardly into an established curriculum—are right at home in a weekly newsletter that is simultaneously rhythmic and ephemeral.

The American poet Stanley Kunitz—former Poet Laureate of the United States and like me a native of Massachusetts—died yesterday at the age of 100. Few of us are lucky enough or wise enough to be able to write our own epitaphs, but Kunitz was that lucky, and one of his best poems, The Long Boat, belongs in many a residential college newsletter this week:

The Long Boat

When his boat snapped loose
from its mooring, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
that caring.
He was content to lie down
with the family ghosts
in the slop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
endlessly drifting.
Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn’t matter
which way was home;
as if he didn’t know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021