2202242  Introduction to the Study of English Poetry

First semester, 2007

Assignment 1 Remarks




In ethics class so many years ago

our teacher asked this question every fall:

if there were a fire in a museum

which would you save, a Rembrandt painting

or an old woman who hadn’t many            5

years left anyhow? Restless on hard chairs

caring little for pictures or old age

we’d opt one year for life, the next for art

and always half-heartedly. Sometimes

the woman borrowed my grandmother’s face            10

leaving her usual kitchen to wander

some drafty, half-imagined museum.

One year, feeling clever, I replied

why not let the woman decide herself?

Linda, the teacher would report, eschews            15

the burdens of responsibility.

This fall in a real museum I stand

before a real Rembrandt, old woman,

or nearly so, myself. The colors

within this frame are darker than autumn,            20

darker even than winter—the browns of earth,

though earth’s most radiant elements burn

through the canvas. I know now that woman

and painting and season are almost one

and all beyond saving by children.            25


--Linda Pastan (b. 1932)



1.   1.  (1 point)  Who is Rembrandt?  What kind of painting is he famous for and what is his style of painting?


You should look up some information about this painter and have some idea of what his paintings look like.


2.  2.  (1 point)  According to the speaker, why do she and the other students give their answers half-heartedly?


Because the question asks "According to the speaker," line 7 is key: "caring little for pictures or old age."  Stay in the classroom situation/scene and the youthful state of mind. Do not yet move to the end of the poem where Linda's views have changed or provide a conclusion or moral of the poem.



3.   (1 point)  Do you share Linda’s view of what the teacher’s report on her would be?  Explain.


Several of you misunderstood this question.  The question asks whether you agree with Linda that the teacher will say ("report") about Linda the way the poem presents it.  That is, do you agree that the teacher will say this about Linda: she "eschews / the burdens of responsibility"?  In other words, do you agree that the ethics teacher will say that Linda is avoiding responsibility (the responsibility of making a decision) in her clever reply that year?


If you answer yes, you can say

-  I agree with Linda because I think the teacher would see Linda's reply as an evasion of a problem, not taking on the responsibility of making the decision herself.


If you answer no, you can say

-  I disagree with Linda because the teacher may not want a clear-cut answer. The teacher may be aiming for discussion (of the ethical implications of each answer) rather than desiring one "right" answer.


4.   (1 point)  a)  Explain the metaphor in lines 22-24.


You must identify the metaphor.  Several of you did not mention what is "burning," nor did you mention color or fire.



      (2 points)  b)  What are the possible meanings of the word “radiant” (l. 22)?


bright, valuable, important, exuding warmth, powerful, alive



5.   (2 points)  What does the speaker mean in the last 3 lines?


You should mention how women (“woman”), art (“painting”), and time (“season”) are very similar ("almost one").  What do they share despite their being three separate categories of things?



6.   (2 points)  Is the poem a comment on the teacher’s approach to ethics?  Why or why not?


Make sure you understand that the question is asking you about the "teacher's approach," and whether the poem is critiquing the way the teacher is teaching ethics.



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Last updated August 17, 2007