Friday, January 9, 2009

The Poetry of Admissions

This is a tough week for our candidates, as anyone who’s followed this blog already knows. First-deadline students are sweating out their decisions, which should arrive on or around January 15. Second-deadline students are sweating out their applications, which are due on the same day.

It’s probably naïve to think that we can do anything to relieve the stress that everyone’s feeling. But maybe we can at least distract ourselves—and since the subject of poetry already came up in my previous entry, maybe that’s as good a place as any to start.

Do you know of any poems that remind you of college admissions—that evoke the experience of searching for a school, writing an application, waiting for a decision? In my last post I mentioned “A Psalm of Life,” the overwrought poem by Longfellow that made such an impression on me in middle school. Can you think of any others?

How about the opening words of Roethke’s “Open House”—

My secrets cry aloud.
I have no need for tongue.
My heart keeps open house,
My doors are widely swung.

—which seem to capture pretty well the same longing to be known fully and fairly that applicants often seem to feel?

Or how about the last stanza of Yeats’s “Under Ben Bulben”—

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

—which some have read as a bracing expression of stoic resignation—the knowing peace that can come when we realize that our fate is out of our hands?

I’m sure others can think of better examples than these; why don’t you give it a try? At the least, we’ll have all gotten ourselves a few minutes closer to January 15.

Best wishes to all.

--Stephen Farmer