Wednesday, September 07, 2016

September 7, 2016--The Fly (Part One)

I was all excited as my classmate English majors and I stumbled out of Professor Jim Zito's class on Shakespeare's Late Plays.

He had just finished his Lear lectures, this most desperate of tragedies, citing Gloucester in Act 4's most desperate of utterances--
As fles to wanton boys are we to th' gods. 
They kill us for their sport.
This gave me a reason to approach him. Something I had never done, intimidated by his brilliance.

Somehow finding my voice, I called to him, "Mr. Zito. Mr. Zito."

At Columbia, with Oxbridge-like unpretension, even the most esteemed professors were always addressed as Mister.

"What is it Zwerling?" he said, though born in the Bronx, with his academic version of a modified British accent.

We were all known by our last names, if known at all. I was struck that he recognized mine. I had never  felt secure enough to speak in class or even pose a question. Those student colleagues who did were already ready for graduate school--they were geniuses--or even professorships. I was still struggling to find something at which I could excel.

And so how did he know who I was? I supposed it was yet another example of his brilliance.

"Sir, I was wondering about the Gloucester quote.  Act 4, Scene 1."

"The one about the gods and wanton boys?"

"How did you know that . . . ?"

"Among the most vivid."

"I was wondering about William Blake. About the Song of Experience, his poem, 'The Fly,' and how . . ."

Looking up, over all of our clustered heads, he recited--

Little Fly
Thy summer's play, 
My thoughtless hand
Has brush'd away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink & sing
Til some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength & breath;
And the want 
Of thought is death;

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live
Or if I die.

"How did you . . . ?"

"Not Blake's most nuanced. But, yes, I can see that it might refer to Gloucester."

"For Romantic Lit I'm writing a paper about . . ."

By then Mr. Zito had turned away surrounded by the chattering of his groupie geniuses.

This close encounter helped me realize that I too might have academic potential. If Mr. Zito hadn't seen the connection between Gloucester and Blake, then perhaps, maybe . . .

Though I was far from ready for graduate school, like Morris Dickstein or Sam Cherniak, both a year behind me, I began to imagine myself ten years hence on the faculty of an out-of-the-way state college or two-year community college.

These memories flooded back this past weekend when an actual fly flew into my life.

To be continued . . .

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