Monday, June 2, 2014
Byron and Shelley and the Teenagers
Forced by circumstance to take teaching positions at a co-educational private school for what was at the time referred to as “junior high students”, Byron and Shelley found themselves subjected to the usual indignities of the modern education system. Not only were they required to teach English Literature, they were also assigned a physical education class, as well as recess duty.
Their separate reactions to these assignments could not be a more perceptive illustration of each poet’s character. Byron, whose club foot was more of a challenge than a handicap, threw himself into his physical education class and despised recess; while Shelley, who could not hold a ball, a bat or a glove for more than thirty seconds without dropping it, hated Phys Ed but found the insanity of recess to be an endless source of social and philosophical fascination.
“It is Society in miniature,” he said to Byron.
“It is a chaos of hormones,” Byron replied with disgust.
“And what is Society but the regimentation of hormones?” cried Shelley. “It is here that the Rules of Accepted Behavior are first apprehended, albeit dimly, by a mob of barely-sentient adolescents. Perceive the manner in which the boys run in packs. Observe the fact that the girls hunt in pairs, one beautiful and one plain.”
“Fascinating,” said Byron sarcastically.
“But it is, Byron,” said Shelley, with the enthusiasm he always displayed towards a really fine intellectual conceit. “Take that boy over there -- the one looking over his shoulder -- do you see him?”
“Mark, isn’t it?”
“Mark, Martin, Matthias -- what do Names matter? Watch him. I predict that within the next five minutes he will contrive to approach that knot of girls by the swings.”
“And you know this because?”
“He has a Crush on one of them. Observe.”
Byron complied with ill grace, but sure enough, less than a minute after Shelley had spoken, the boy Martin or Mark or Matthias sauntered towards the swings with his mates, and walking up to one of the girls, he firmly put his hands on her shoulders and moved her to one side before walking past her without so much as a word.
“Did you see that?” Shelley cried, pointing. “He does it all the time! The girl and he can be the only children in the yard, and he will still find an excuse to go up to her and push her out of the way. And all because he feels an indescribable Affection for her! Isn’t that remarkable?”
“Not very,” said Byron. “You always herd the one you love.”