-A blissful, satori experience with Ted Hughes’ poem ‘The Laburnum Top’

I was to teach Laburnum Top by Ted Hughes. I made the children read the poem silently. It was a bright September morning and there was absolute silence everywhere. I kept looking through the window at the trees in the staff colony. As usual I was waiting for ‘magic of the moment’ to happen to start the discussion of the poem. When the students looked up after the reading, I gestured them to keep quiet and listen to the birds. They got excited about the idea and with a childlike smile kept looking out and listening. Slowly they closed their eyes and listened. We started smiling and laughing as the chirrup became more and more.

“Could you identify the birds?” I asked and some of them said, “Yes. Crows, sparrows,the lucky bird..etc.”

Each child’s face came so alive with a hitherto unseen freshness, of having done something which they have so insensitively overlooked. “Do you think poetry is there only in the book?” “No” came out emphatically having understood the question and its implications. “Then?” I was ben on getting it out of them. “There is poetry outside the classroom, in nature” said one of them and the rest nodded in complete agreement.

“Yes. What is there in the book is just a slice of what is already there outside. There is endless poetry in nature. There is endless music in nature. If we are not able to see it or hear it, it is because we are deaf and blind. We are disabled by mechanical habits. Rediscover it, children, come on, right now.”

They clapped thrilled by the idea. “Sir I would like to go and see the birds later”, said a student.

“Beautiful. Please do. Children, some of you might have been studying in this school for the last twelve years or less than that. Have you ever wondered about the variety of flowers we have in our garden, the kinds of birds that visit our campus every day and every season?”

“Nooo..” This came out with sense of guilt and the expression prolonged it. “Why don’t you take up a project? The flaura and fauna of our school campus? Anyone ready?” Many raised their hands motivated and convinced about its rewards.  I said, “Go on. Am with you for any guidance”. “now, keep quiet and read the poem again”. This time the silence was different. Some of them read a few lines and looked out at the trees. I could see a beautiful poem taking shape without any explanation. “Do you see the staff quarters where people live? Do you see next to that many trees where birds live?” I asked and I knew the magic is on and without delay they said “YES”.

Now we were not students and teacher. We had become one and it was blissful, transcendental. Such moments in the classroom are the most precious for both. The culmination of a teaching-learning process is the harmonious flight into higher realms of bliss.

“We give names to apartments, Galaxy, Prestige etc. Birds do have their own apartments, we can name them as Jackfruit tree Apartments, Mango tree Apartments where on different branches on different level families live in their nests”

You should have seen it, the happiness in their eyes. With raised eye brows they laughed. The laughter of awareness. Wow! What a moment! “Can we discuss the poem?” Before I looked for someone to come forward, there were too many fighting for priorities. Within no time, they discussed the poem from every angle. I just had to put a few questions to get some finer points out. The bell rang and I was about to leave. A student got up and said, “Sir, Can I say something?” “Yes, of course”. I was quite eager.

“Sir, like the goldfinch comes to the silent and still tree and makes the machine work filling the engine with fuel, you have come to the class and given us new insights. We really got enlightened. Now like the goldfinch, when you go out, the class will again subside to emptiness”.

Before I could compliment him for the brilliant situational interpretation of the poem, everyone clapped making me quiet. I just had to say “Thank you” before I came out after a magical poetic experience. -by Santhosh Kana