Digging more carefully in the pile of angst-ridden poems by Baudelaire has been a neat experiment in January, February and March; however, the blossoming of April and May beckon Victor Hugo’s beautiful depiction of labor. While this master of French Romanticism (emotion, imagination, originality, etc.) concocted some really gorgeous poetry and prose, his incredible detail with the images of laborers really adheres. The reader can tell the character’s personality is complex, but the task ahead of them day in and day out is simple. It’s not questioned. It’s rarely spun over. Examples of these workers are M. Myriel of Les Misérables, the laborer in “Sowing Season. Evening,” and Satan in “Et nox facta est,” English translations by Mary Ann Caws. Methodological routine aside, each story has at least one raw outlying moment. Hugo himself had this, withdrawing of his own accord to Guernsey to flee perceived danger. Whether the danger was real or not, he thought his life would be extended elsewhere. I bear that same blessing in having had put in a two-week notice two weeks ago to quit administrative work and pursue the harder work of teaching.
It hit me well as I spoke with one of the younger professors, who is also leaving Mathematics at the end of the semester. “Yeah, you’re too young to sit behind a desk like this all day,” she replied in her elegant accent.
“I am!” I almost shouted back. “I love kids. I need to be around them always, and this job has been a wonderful opportunity but it’s not for me anymore.”
O.K., wait a minute. Isn’t this the blog that just posted a few months ago about not looking at your job as a way to define you?
Yes. I’m only defined by Christ, and what adventures I seek will not always include what people expect of me—what I expect of myself. We are allowed to change our minds and we’re also allowed to be changed by people—for the better, hopefully. If I can block out the voices in my head that say “You do this all the time, this isn’t different” I won’t be stuck listening to them at the crossroads of banality and fear. Deep breath, roll back those shoulders, and go. Dreams are dreams, and they help keep us alive.
“Sowing Season. Evening” is a new favorite poem, magnifying the good and the unknown:
“Sowing Season. Evening” by Victor Hugo
It is the moment of twilight.
Seated under a portal, I admire
This end of day illuminating
The last hours of labor.
In the fields bathed by night,
Deeply moved, I gaze on the rags
Of an old man scattering fistfuls
Of future harvest in the furrows.
Tall, his dark silhouette
Towers above the deep ploughing.
The fruitfulness of fleeing days
Forms visibly his belief.
He walks along the endless plain,
Going, coming, casting seeds afar,
Opens his hand once more and begins afresh,
And, a hidden witness, I meditate
While unfolding its veils
The shadows where sound mixes in
Seems to stretch up to the very stars
The august gesture of his sowing.
The sower in this poem does his work with the knowledge that it needs doing. He lets his silhouette tower “above the deep ploughing,” throws out the seed and “opens his hand.” As a reader, I already see the soft twilight turning into dawn, as this man continues on with quiet hope and also unspoken frustration. And the one who watches him is tender and awestruck.
I believe I’m past the point of expecting a perfect job. What I am expecting is to walk in my field, cast out seed everywhere, and get lost in the stars that lead the way. Even subbing is grueling work, and I’ll be an amateur in the classroom for quite some time. A few weeks of assisting and summer camps in college are not the same as being entrusted with the nurturing and guidance of young students through their school career. I’ve worked at a private school in administration, hoping to find involvement but the setting and timing weren’t right. Mom and Grandma, as teachers themselves, have talked me through what it’s like at its worst and best moments. Plus, North Carolina’s budget is scary right now and who knows what that means for the not-quite-licensed. But I also trust that the tiny, pent-up heart explosions and giddiness I feel when reflecting on how I can spend valuable time with children and teenagers through this non-lucrative task outweigh the risks. More than that, I trust the One who arranged so many circumstances and melted two hearts in particular to get to this place.
I think the seniors will really enjoy Hugo…