by Mr. Sheehy
We demand of a great poem . . . what I should call Deliciousness – what the older critics often called simply ‘Beauty’. The poem must please the senses, directly by its rhythms and phonetic texture, indirectly by its images.
-C.S. Lewis, “Williams and the Arthuriad”*
Rolland Hein did not stumble through his lectures on modern American literature, but neither did he deliver them as a rehearsed public speaker or a lecturer with notes that could have been printed and published as is thirteen years earlier. He conversed with his class, speaking about the intricacies of fiction and poetry, seeking our insight and lecturing with key pieces of our insight as support. Class was not a performance, but a conversation.
But to respect poetry, performance has a place in the classroom. When pertinent, Hein did not refer to a poem or speak through it, as if to cite it. He recited it, like his speaking it that moment carried the worth of the world’s greatest performances. Any stumble in his voice, that rhythm of the impromptu conversation, disappeared, as if Jesus had laid his hands on our professor like he had the lepers or the blind men, and he bellowed out the confident words of Frost, or Williams, or whoever had come up. And because Hein’s bass matched the quality of a voice-over actor, and because he chose so skillfully when to invoke the poets’ words, and because I was willing to throw my surprise aside, I experienced the awe of ephemeral art.
And so, I myself recite, never as affectively, always as passionately; hoping my students discover in those moments that poetry has power that prose cannot; hoping they too would like to recite these words that taste of deliciousness.
*Lewis qtd. in Ryken, Leland, Ed. The Christian Imagination. Colorado Springs: Shaw Books, 2002. 148.