Nursery Rime

For all the folks who have been grasping unsuccessfully for a stanza from Rime of the Ancient Mariner in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene (naming and shaming no names; you know who you are and your number is legion).

The lines are:

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

Jesus, people, it’s Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. You took this in high school. Freshman English at the latest.

A little learning is a dangerous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring;

There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,

And drinking largely sobers us again.

That’s Alexander Pope, from An Essay on Criticism, which in turn takes me back to my high school English literature class. I had such a crush on Jill Koshure … OK, everybody had a crush on Jill Koshure. She was the prettiest girl in school, miles out of my league, a relatively recent transfer from North Vancouver and my regular tennis partner. So I let her have my essay outline (not the essay, just the outline) to use as the outline for her term paper.

Jill passed it on to Kim Harms, who passed it on to Linda Callens, who passed it on to … I don’t know. I didn’t even know Jill had passed it on until the day the marked papers came back. All I know is that it eventually wound up being used as the outline for 14 of 15 term papers. (Everybody except for Linda Frear, who had fiery red hair and an attitude to match.)

This was in the age before photocopies and we could hardly run it off on the mimeograph machine in the school office, so it was a hand-copied, imperfect reproduction in each case; a game of senior class telephone. In this era of Internet cheats it all seems hopelessly quaint and old-fashioned.

Apparently some of the changes wound up with the finished product being noticeably less coherent. I gathered this because the teacher handed out grades based on how far removed from the Platonic ideal each essay was. Fortunately he was able to track back the document, change by change, to me. So I got an A; Jill and Kim each a B+, then on down the line. Linda Frear also got a good mark; I forget what.

Kim kissed me at graduation to thank me for helping her get through that class and earn her diploma. Considering that I didn’t even know she was getting a copy of the outline, I figured I was ahead of the game.

Never did get that kiss from Jill Koshure, though.


5 thoughts on “Nursery Rime”

    1. You know Al, that’s one of the things I always liked (feared, respected) about your teaching. Your little multicolored notes would pop up in the margins of papers for other courses … freaked me out the first time it happened, looking over my shoulder like that.
      And hey, double-check Jill’s work, not mine. I did the original, I swear.


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