Monday, May 09, 2005

Those Are Pearls That Were His Eyes

Those Are Pearls That Were His Eyes

I woke up to the realisation that a week today I'll have started my finals. And I'm not entirely sure if that scares me or not. Well, ok, that's a lie, I know it scares me. What I mean is I'm not sure how much that scares me. After all you need a little bit of being scared. It's only helpful. But beyond that?

Sitting in the library you can pick out the finalists. They're the ones with white faces despite the miny heatwave we've been having and hardly brushed hair. The ones with the huge piles of books, markers pens and colured paper. They're also the ones who the librarians tidy up around just prior to kicking out time. I think it's rather telling as to how much work we're supposed to do that my college library extends its opening hours on a Friday and a Saturday night to midnight during Trinity. Surely, whatever the reason, there is no need to be in a library at midnight on a Saturday night? Someone, somewhere down the line, obviously feels differently.

Maybe the reason that I'm not feeling overwhelmingly terrified is the fact that I really feel that over the past two months I've worked harder than I ever have. I've accepted that I'm not going to know everything, that I should have started revising earlier [some time in 2002 should have done it] but I do know some things. I've covered every topic I want/may have to ramble about. So now it's honing and learning all those quotes that I can't quite sing in the shower on a morning.

In some ways, it's rather sad to be at this point. To be approaching something that means as of the 26th of May I'll be at a full stop. I maintain that I didn't learn how to write an essay, or rather how I should write an essay, until Michaelmas of this year. So that was three years of not being able to write an essay. And at one point I was having to write two 2,000 word essays a week. I think it may also have something to do with how my writing has changed, maybe even how I've changed. There are basically two ways to write an essay: argumentative or exploratory. I've moved from being someone who wrote intensely argumentative essays to being someone for whom the journey is more important than the destination. Indignant, crusading, ethical Corinne is still there but maybe that voice mellowed. And in freeing myself from the 'how on earth do I write this essay' fear it's inspired something of a new love for all those bits of literature that I'd been short-tempered with. Middle English, baby. Some of it's bloody good. And I know that I'm looking through all this with rose-tinted spectacles because I've, largely, been able to drop those odd authors who I don't like. And I'm not having to go into two tutorials a week to argue my point against someone who has been arguing the point for the last three decades. But still.

I'm not sure exactly when I decided to do an English degree. Certainly it wasn't clear cut; when I came to an Oxford open day near the end of my first year in sixth form I hadn't decided, I went to the history talk. And while I was tossing up ideas of other universities, subjects other than english and history raised their heads. In the end I picked English...because I read T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Seriously. And as I read the poem again, and again, and again I kind of realised that there was something in that poem that touched me. I imagine that I could have been more than happy doing history, or politics, or numerous other arts/social science subjects. I'd have got excited about them, just as I get excited about English. But would it have been the same? No. And whilst I don't think this holds true for everyone, for me studying literature , just as I did when I was 16 and read The Waste Land, opens up whole new worlds. Ideas, people - something beyond what you experience day to day. For me it's probably as close to a religious experience as I'll ever get.

Last week I re-read Hamlet, and for some odd, untouchable reason, I felt it and I cried. And I'm a self-confessed Lear girl. 400 years after it was written, in a room in Oxford I was reading and crying. I can't express how much that affects me. Byron, after Woolf and Gatsby possibly my greatest obsession, declared in one of his earliest poems "My epitaph shall be, my name alone". His name is now such that the editor of my Oxford World edition of his selected works can proclaim "Byron seems never to have died". And the reason? Not because of the scandal he caused, which would have petered away long forgotten, but because he was a writer. Writing touches immortality. And I find that rather magical.

So, as I stand in limbo for the next week, I suspect I had better say thanks to Mr Eliot. I owe you a drink.

1 comment:

Shona said...

Now I need a tissue