Friday, November 12, 2010

By the Fire

I sit by the fire this morning, trying to rest.  I returned from West Virginia with a growing sore throat, and have been sick since then. Now the congestion has sunk so deep I can't cough it out, and it has a strangle-hold on my vocal cords. All week long I've continued (generally) to do my various responsibilities, but if I'm going to get well, I really need to rest. Finally, tonight, I don't have to go anywhere.

A sore throat can make one's voice lower. Wednesday night, at choir practice, Peter (who has a lovely, low bass voice) asked me to play the opening note of "Go, Tell It on the Mountain." It starts on a low G -- an octave and a half below middle C. Now, I have a rather big range, and although I'm a high soprano, I can usually scrape up a C below middle C.  But on Wednesday?  I could scrape up that LOW G with Peter.  It was insane.  I didn't think that was possible. The C that is usually scrapy? It was nice and rich.

This morning I made up a literature test for Anna. I've been teaching literature since about 1995, whether in private Christian schools, or to my own kids. I have more of my own curriculum written than anyone will ever read. For those of you who like literature, this morning I can across a fun essay question that I wrote for this test on Macbeth, a few years ago. Here it is:

"Consider the 3 types of bad wisdom that Bacon describes: the wisdom of the rat (self-preservation), the fox (self-advancement), and the crocodile (insincerity). Describe, with events from the play, how Macbeth demonstrates all of these traits. Bacon claims that “self-wisdom” is more acceptable in a King than in a General. Macbeth was both. Does the play prove, or disprove, Bacon’s assertion? How?"

To appreciate this question, you'd have to know a little Francis Bacon. (This reference is to his "Of Wisdom for a Man's Self.") I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE essay questions that take two apparently-unrelated literary pieces, and unite them. Here's another one I came up with, my absolute favorite:

"Compare the love-lives of the Lady of Shallot and the Duke of Ferrara’s wife. If Tennyson is right that “it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all,” then which of the women fared better? Explain how each woman is vindicated in death."

Oh, what FUN!!! Most of you know the Lady of Shallot. If you've never read it, but only heard it on the Ann of Green Gables movie, go read it! It'll take you 10 minutes, and enrich your mind. It's not very deep. The Duke of Ferrara is found in Browning's fabulous dramatic monologue, "My Last Dutchess," by far my favorite poem to study in literature. How many times have I strode back and forth the length of my classroom, belting forth those self-condemning lines? It's THE BEST.

When I write essay questions like these, which I know will force my students to bend their brains and draw together disparate writers and far-flung ideas, it's the closest I come to feeling deliciously wicked.

Anna's scribbling away on her test, and I'm going to rest now.


  1. Mary Kathryn, I am in high admiration of those wonderful questions! Brava!

  2. Ah, thanks very much, J!! I particularly like that from a fellow English teacher :)

  3. MK- I have to point out, that it is Anne with an 'e'- just because it was so important to her, not that I have any bias.

  4. Ah! Now, see, that's so weird. B/c as I was typing her name in the post, at first I did put an "e" on the end. And then I thought, "No, she WANTED an "e" on her name, but was sad that she didn't actually have one." So I took it off. And I can't recall if it's in the title of the books, but you would know! Thanks :)


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