Juste une fable n° 14
once again the bleuet. little blue flower, you came to me first all scrunched up in my hand, just as i'd left you several days before. i was on my way across the street, talking with a colleague about the summer program in italy, about whether i'd have to teach on tuesdays. things like that.
and i decided i'd begin my poetry course on you, whether it was graduate or undergraduate, a seminar or a beginning language course. anyone who likes french should be interested in you, because i am, and because you are such a simple, such a beautiful blue flower, and i have plucked so many of you in my hand.
now that i am awake, i'm beginning to realize some might think you're a berry. but it matters not. you're still something only to look at and to pick for beauty's sake. and i'm sure many people have written poems about you.
last night i was willing to stake everything on the fact that i'd find you right away in a poem by verlaine, a poem which everybody could know, from day one, so to speak. there was no doubt in my mind that in words and in between the pages of a book, the book i had waiting for me on my desk to bring into the classroom, you were there, for the taking, just like out in the field.
even so, i was surprised to see my office, which had somehow been transported back to philosophy hall, so full, so well-appointed with my stuff, as though all through these decades, since i'd left, i'd been preparing for this day, storing furniture - beds, sofas, lamps, even tables. who knew i had such a conception of what an office was or could be? and before any students came in, or colleagues, i busied myself about straightening it, and plugged in a pretty lamp.
i also opened my computer.
but i knew what was most essential was opening the book of poems by verlaine, the book with which i could confidently march into the classroom and communicate one more time in a very public space my love for poetry, my love for children of all ages, and most of all my complete dependency on something that comes from above, in whose hands i put myself each time i walk through the door. it sounds very bombastic, but it isn't. not at all. it's as simple as the little blue flower that i received this morning, just before waking, on my 56th birthday, the flower i am talking about.
so it was there, of course it was. i flipped first through two, maybe three spots in the book, to see if i could find it by osmosis, which is my favorite way to work. but then i also scanned the table of contents, the way my mom taught me to do. or maybe it was the index? since i was looking for the word bleuet.
and there it was, not surprisingly, given the poet in question. but the stranger thing was that it was married to the word grises. grises raised a red flag, a very definite grammatical problem, since it is plural, and feminine, which doesn't go with the word i was looking for at all. so it made me see right away i was not "on the money" or the mark, but rather, indeed, in a gray area. maybe i wasn't quite sure what i was looking for at all.
all the better, i thought, and think. for that is what poetry is, a process of discovery, so, confident that i would find something, i turned nevertheless to the page in question, and sure enough there was my flower. yes, here, where synesthesia reigned, the exchange of lines, shapes and colors for sound, touch, and odors, there was a drawing of the tiny flower, which stood out from the page. and there was also a little play of the graphic, so that the letters followed along the curve of the stem. and i thought, perfect, this is me, this is everything i know compacted in a few words, ready for the plucking, on the page, for day 1.
but then things got a little complicated, because although the poem was there, and i could analyze it with no problem, and thought it was very pretty, very appropriate and accessible to all, i still didn't know exactly what this little blue flower i had found was. you might say i wasn't prepared to tell the students what the exact equivalent of its name was in english, or how they might make one for themselves. and this bothered me quite a bit. i saw i was still not ready.
i would have to go down the hall, hunting for pipe cleaners and dark blue tissue paper again, and also ask a colleague for a dictionary, not just any dictionary, but one that could reconcile all the contradictions, the complications in my mind, so that i could finish by coming back to the same word i began with, even though taking into account everything i'd learned along the way...
so perhaps it makes sense that when i opened the first door on my way down the hall to see the secretaries, what i saw first was a young girl in bed, who was hiding, under her pillow, a bunch of flowers, which she had inherited from another student, who had meanwhile left the dorm.
naturally, one of these flowers was blue. so i asked her if i could have it, buy it for five dollars, because if i could just take that material blue flower to class i would save myself and my students, the secretaries and the staff, everybody, a lot of time. after all, since what i'm trying to accomplish is to present reality, to put my fingers and other people's fingers on what blue flowers are, why bother anymore with all these indirect methods, with this pussy-footing around with words, with books, with drawings?
unfortunately, the girl seemed nonplussed by the whole situation. and she was unwilling to sell me the flower, since it was technically her roommate's, not hers. but when i offered to rent it instead, still for five dollars, she crumbled, or rather i should say, she handed it to me, as i promised to bring it back. then out i walked of this antechamber, this little room that separated my office from the main hall, and thus me all the more from the place where i would have to teach.
but then i realized, as i was holding this flower that was going to save me and everyone else lots of trouble and time, that it was not, in truth, the one i was after. it was large, it was more like a lily, it was withering, and it was fake.
so i'd rented it, i had my hand on it, but it wasn't going to do me any good. the only solution would be once again for me to throw myself into the hands of whatever comes from above. there was no dodge, no preparation possible, i'd just have to take the book of poems, my courage, my own sense of this little blue flower, and walk, ready or not, through the door of the class.
Mary Shaw est professeure de littérature française des dix-neuvième et vingtième siècles à l'Université de Rutgers (New Jersey). Outre ses travaux universitaires, elle a publié deux livres pour enfants ainsi qu'un recueil de poésie intitulé Album Without Pictures (2008).