May 23, 2005

Understanding Keats

I bent slightly at the waist and peered apathetically through the tiny window of CPO #1134. After two weeks of eagerly checking the mail three and four times a day, I couldn't handle the disappointment anymore. And, true to form, as soon as I stopped expecting my package slip to be waiting, there it was. I calmly carried it up to the front desk and immediately used my CPO key to tear into the box they handed me in return.

Packing peanuts went everywhere in a spray of white foam, floating listlessly to the floor of MSC-1, but I barely noticed . . . There it was: The long-awaited purchase. The coveted UPS package. My own personal cloth-bound, dust-jacketed, shrink-wrapped Holy Grail, Flannery O'Connor herself smiling up at me from the shiny black cover, her last name sprawling under her picture in large, flowing white script . . .

Collected Works

Wise Blood
A Good Man Is Hard to Find
The Violent Bear It Away
Everything That Rises Must Converge
Essays and Letters

I read carefully over the titles listed under the name before gathering up the scattered peanuts, tossing the box, and removing the shrink-wrap. A quick glance over the table of contents told me that I held over 1200 pages of pulchritudinous prose in my hands, while a quick glance at my watch told me I had just ten minutes to get to Philosophy class. I do believe I floated all the way over to Longview Hall . . .

I was extremely distracted during the first hour of class, barely able to wait to show off my new treasure. I briefly discussed it with Ashley (who was gratifyingly appreciative) at the beginning of our ten-minute break . . . then made a beeline for the office of Dr. Coppinger. I breezed by the secretary (distracted by a phone call) and ducked inside his door.

He was looking quite casual today as he moved about his office tidying up, decked out in a blue Hawaiian shirt punctuated by tropical yellow flowers. I greeted him and we talked for a second or two before he spotted O'Connor under my arm. He took it reverently in both hands and admired it for a few moments. Opening to the table of contents and leafing through a few sections for closer inspection, he declared himself to be officially jealous. He owns numerous O'Connor works, but no handy single-volume version of them all. My Collected Works also contains about nine short stories and an essay or two not published in most collections . . . and, of course, The Letters.

He wanted to know where I got it and we talked a bit more about that and other related matters, then I noted that my break would soon be over and moved towards the door. He saw me to the outer office door, as usual, and with the usual pleasant farewells, but I thought I detected a slight anomaly of tone. Just before I exited, he made the oddest repressed-strangling noise . . . sort of as if he were physically forcing his hands to his own throat in order to resist the urge to hit me over the back of the head with the nearest blunt object and abscond with the book. The image amused me so much I laughed to myself all the way back to class.

During the second half of Philosophy, even Dr. Batts noticed my O'Connor sitting out on the desk as he handed out a quiz. "Oooo!" he exclaimed, pausing for a moment to stare. "Lucky you!" I could only nod in agreement. I think I'll sleep with it under my pillow tonight.

Suddenly, I think I understand John Keats a lot better . . . My somewhat bemused English Lit journal of last February comes to mind. Does increased identification with a Romantic poet make me a healthy English major or a lost cause? (Please don't say "Yes.")

Posted by Jared at May 23, 2005 11:48 PM | TrackBack