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A Poem for Graduates and Soon-to-be-students

The last few days were a series of graduations on campus, and today were the 148th Commencement Exercises at my alma mater, Vassar College. This time of year always brings to mind a poem by Nancy Willard, from A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for innocent and Experienced Travelers. It’s a book I particularly associate with Vassar.

Willard is a lecturer in the English department at Vassar, and I had the great good fortune to take a class with her during my senior year. More importantly, my copy of A Visit to William Blake’s Inn was bought for me by my father at the Three Arts, a bookstore across from campus, in 1986, when he was at Vassar for a conference. The inscription on the flyleaf, in (now faded) blue ink, reads “For Megan, Aug 86 Vassar College.”

It it therefore unsurprising that the Inn and the College (or college in general) have blended together in my mind: a “holy hill,” in the words of the poem, where lucky souls sojourn for a little while.

Epilogue

My adventures now are ended.
I and all whom I befriended
from this holy hill must go
home to lives we left below.

Farewell cow and farewell cat,
rabbit, tiger, sullen rat.
To our children we shall say
how we walked the Milky Way.

You whose journeys now begin,
if you reach a lovely inn,
if a rabbit makes your bed,
if two dragons bake your bread,
rest a little for my sake,
and give my love to William Blake.

Nancy Willard, A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers. Illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1981.

(Coda: trying to find a link for the book led me to this blog post from a class at Duke. There is one typo, “fathered” for “gathered”, but it is a good overview of the poems.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing this! For others reading, I am also a Vassar alum, I know Megan because I worked at Vassar during the time she was there, and I continue to work there now. So, this resonates similarly with me. In fact, to be honest, it made me cry.

    I did not go to Vassar commencement today. I had a good excuse, as I was out of town and came home just this morning for my daughter’s dance recital. However, I have to admit I avoid going to commencement. I hate goodbyes in general, and saying goodbye to my students is just too hard – I have watched them grow so much, and they have become my friends. It also reminds me too much of my own commencement, and how bittersweet I found that trip down the “hill.”

    It’s bittersweet also to contemplate this at a time that I am becoming a student again myself. Becoming a formal student, I should say – I have been and will be a student all my life, of course. But as I start the formal path this summer toward yet another degree, an MLIS, I’m realizing how different it will be this time. For both my BA and my MFA, I definitely had that beloved adventure upon the “holy hill” – years at a time devoted to intense study and little else. This time however, I will be studying part-time, as the rest of my life goes on as normal – family, work. I will not be able to stay at the “inn” for more than a few cherished hours each day. In fact, the “inn” will be even more virtual, as I take my courses online. Even so, I certainly will not take my time there for granted.

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