On Keats, censorship and education

Hmm. I don’t know the state of censorship in schools elsewhere but the ways that the Internet has evolved into a major thread in the fabric of everyday life has me wondering whether censorship is a moot point in education. I mean, c’mon, unless a child/teenager lives in the jungle (and even remote regions are now served via satellite – we’ve got satellite TV and wireless Internet though we live in a desert town), any person can access what he wants online provided the government of the country where he/she is living does not restrict access.

So what prompted this introspection? My eighth-grader confided in me: Mom, I can’t use Bright Star. The teacher rejected it.

I was surprised. It’s a much-loved and well-known poem by the romantic poet John Keats. When my son told me that Keats had been assigned to him, I’d immediately responded by outlining the tragedy of his young life and pointed him to the Abbie Cornish-led film Bright Star. Which he immediately watched. I even informed him that the bright star that the poet was addressing was Polaris. For the life of me, I could not imagine what was so objectionable to the poem. After all, it had provided a chuckle or two when I read its sex rating over at Schmoop.

So I snooped: What’s the matter with it?

My son’s rejoinder: It’s got the words “ripening breasts.”

Aha! So the imagery conjures up a mood for sex … hmm … In our sex-saturated world, material that is so much more explicit in nature than Keat’s poem are regularly paraded in media. Isn’t it better to tackle them and their effects within the closed and controlled environment of a classroom? Then I thought back to my high school days when we studied Tennyson’s Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal which clearly is an invitation to sex written during Victorian times. Contrast the two poems and see how Tennyson’s is so much more explicit in its implicit suggestiveness even though Keats evokes a stronger imagery.

In any case, the hubby found the incident amusing when I narrated how our son has to replace Bright Star with another poem. He queried: What’s wrong with “ripening breasts?” They’re better than dry prunes! 

Hmmm … Methinks there’s another metaphor worthy of a poem … Metaphors be with you!

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
         Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
         Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
         Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
         Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
         Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
         Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

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