Every window was open wide

I don’t often  do this but I am going to share a post from the Moving Dragon Writes blog which two friends and I run. This blog is to share and promote other people’s writing, and on this occasion it’s someone from one of my writing groups.

I suggested that the group might like to take a poem and use it as inspiration; they could write a poem, write about the poem, write something just triggered by the poem. I’ve mentioned that I used Wordsworth’s poem, ‘Resolution and Independence’ for my inspiration, and another member of the group also chose Wordsworth, his ‘Ode: on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’.

I’m sure we all remember teachers who were really significant in our lives – who weren’t just great teachers but who had an extra something which was really life-changing. I think of Mr and Mrs Varley and all my teachers at Milton Road School in Cambridge, and I think of Mrs Johnson and Miss Guyatt from when I was at the Cambridgeshire High School For Girls in Cambridge. Truly inspirational.

Here, Ann Bancroft shares her recollections:

Good afternoon, Mrs Dee

Every window was open wide but it made little difference. The air outside seemed even hotter than the air in the classroom. It was the end of Friday afternoon and the stifling heat made the poetry lesson ahead seem even less tolerable. I was in a class of fifteen year old girls studying for ‘o’ levels. None of us really liked poetry.

The English teacher arrived on time as she always did. She was the oldest member of staff or so it seemed to us. It feels disrespectful, even all these years on, to call her ordinary, but with almost grey hair, with little awareness of the fashions of the day, there was nothing that made her stand out in a crowd. She came in carrying her shopping bag. It was how she transported, from class to class, the books she needed for her lessons.

We all stood as she entered, a mark of respect that was routine in those days. ‘Good afternoon, class. ’Good afternoon, Mrs Dee’ we chanted in reply.

‘We will continue reading the next part of ‘Intimations on Immortality’. Open your poetry books at the right page.’ At least it was Wordsworth, the one poet I felt I could connect with. He seemed to use language I was able to understand.

Mrs Dee began reading. She always read first. We would discuss our thoughts on what we had heard, and then read the passage several times more, for further discussion. Out homework would probably be to learn by heart what we had been studying. She was very keen on learning by heart. We knew all the major speeches from the Shakespeare plays we studied – To be or not to be, The Quality of Mercy, Once more unto the breach and numerous poems. She always checked our homework so there was no escape.

She used no gimmicks in her teaching. She did nothing to try to impress us. She just taught and we listened. I cannot remember her ever having any trouble with us. She never had to call us to order, yet we were not the easiest class. It was suggested that our behaviour had helped our French teacher decide to go to Uganda as a missionary!

Suddenly I heard the words ‘Trailing clouds of glory do we come from God who is our home’. At that moment she lost me. The picture created in my mind, the beauty and joy that filled my thoughts took me to a place where the heat and discomfort of the classroom no longer existed. I have no memory of how I managed my homework that day. No doubt one of the other girls would have told me what I needed to do.

The last time I saw Mrs Dee was my last English lesson in school. The ‘o’ level results were in for the staff to see, but not yet published for our eyes. She stood and looked at us, and then she said ‘I am so proud of you all. You have worked so hard. Your results are amazing.  I am very angry because all that you will be told is that you have passed. I dare not tell you your marks, so I have asked that an asterisk be put by each of your names when the list of results is published’. It was the first time I had seen her so emotional. She heaped praise on us all as if she had had nothing to do with our results.

Over the years ‘Trailing clouds of glory…’ often comes into my thoughts and brings again the feelings it did the first time. With it come memories of Mrs Dee, that ‘ordinary’ woman who taught from somewhere deep inside herself and inspired us and enriched our lives beyond measure.

©Ann Bancroft 2016

Here is the passage Ann shared with us:

Trailing clouds of glory

(from ‘Ode: on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’)

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

William Wordsworth

Here is a link to our Moving Dragon blog – if you would like to share any of your work, please get in touch!


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