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In Praise of School Teachers

Bobi Jones lifts up an anthem of praises to school teachers. Drawing from a rich reserve of past Welsh icons, he compares them to the ploughman, the soldier, a preacher, and Orpheus.

As warrior people, the ancient Celts wrote warrior poems in praise of battles, great fighters, kings and triumphs. In the middle ages, a Welsh poet used to the warrior epic to write a poem of praise the ploughman. The ploughman is worthy of praise for his faithful tilling of the land that produces food for a nation and provides the very stuff of the Eucharist. So the ploughman ultimately unites the people together under God by his faithful labor.

Bobi draws from both images to write a warrior poem in praise of the exploits of teachers:

Ploughman of the daily children! Solider of a nation!
I will praise the chalk of your hair while I have breath.

The image of ploughman, soldier and preacher combine in the teacher as one who tills the soil of the young hearts, wars with ignorance and the threat of losing the Welsh language and identity, and the preacher who connects the student of the present with the great communion of saints in the Welsh past. By telling the stories, by remembering, the teacher keeps alive a people who survive as distinctly Welsh against the onslaught of the surrounding culture.

…The clichés of education
Are charmed into adventure by your modest cherishing,
Our country’s past turned into the following day.

In this beautiful poem of praise, I encounter the exalted role of the teacher who fights daily in the rich battle of the Welsh people to preserve their story, their language, their life-blood from generation to generation. The teacher’s words create the future through the children. Creating the future may mean change but it also means connecting the generations.

The teacher is connecting the students to the soil of their being that will inspire them to move forward with the vision of their people in new challenges and contexts:

A land’s in a man; and through it he opens out lands
Like dawn reaching a pageant of fingers toward them.
You’re the river across their ears as well; the waterfall that carries them,
Sparks for a sun, earth and water of their searchings.

In a world where the pressure of homogeneity constantly threaten the identity of the faithful, the poem resounds as a clarion call to keep the vital life of memory alive in our stories, in our classrooms, in our children. It reminds me of Eugen Rosenstock Huessy’s exclamation that our present action is created by looking back to the past and forward to the future.

We are a forgetful people. We forget our names, our landmarks, our stories, our heritage. Without the stories of our past, we face a storyless future or a future filled with stories that submit to the demands of the trends that drive our culture from moment to moment. We need the bards to come forth and sing us awake into the memory of our heritage and our call forward:

A wraith’s in a river; you are Orpheus, rippling
Before each little life, bubbling up
Towards a free world of men, leading them from the dark
Without once looking back to their empty well-spring.

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