Notes from my Knapsack 7-3-14
Carved in Stone, in Granville
My summer series of inscriptions around the village inevitably moves from the Granville Elementary building ("Education Strengthens the Nation") to Denison University.
Of course, their physical plant has a wide assortment of words carved in stone, not all of which we'll consider in detail.
For instance, Doane Hall has "Doane Academy" over the doorway, a reminder of the multiplicity of schools that came together to make Denison a university when most of their sort were called "College" – the academy was equal to what we'd call today a high school, in this case very much a college prep program.
But this summer, we're looking at statements, texts in stone meant to make us think.
There are four very intentionally chosen quotes placed to bracket the gateways most students would walk through on their way from the village (where not a few had their residences years ago, let alone on their way to classes on the academic quad).
One of the four "gateway inscriptions" has long drawn some of the most quizzical or cynical looks:
"Work, feed thyself, to thine own powers appeal; Nor whine out woes thine own right hand can heal"
The identity of the one selecting these quotes is a question and a story all its own, but this particular quote is from a now largely forgotten British poet, George Crabbe.
His lasting fame is due to one of his characters who was named "Peter Grimes," appearing in a lengthy poem called "The Borough, written around 1800. Crabbe was born and lived out his years not far from Aldeburgh, where Benjamin Britten was born in the 20th century and where he founded a still running music festival known by the town's name.
Britten, as World War II ended, wrote an opera based on "Peter Grimes," a character now largely associated with the composer. Just a few years later, in 1948, the Aldeburgh Festival began at the instigation of Britten.
But some forty and more years earlier, someone had read the long narrative poem Crabbe wrote before "The Borough," titled "The Parish Register," which had a section labeled (cheerfully) "Burials." In that section, talking about the question of accepting public assistance by one character, another says "Work, feed thyself, to thine own powers appeal; Nor whine out woes thine own right hand can heal."
In case you weren't ready to hunt up "The Parish Register" on line (and you can, reading the whole massive bulk of the opus), the point is what makes sense after you've given the text a moment to ferment.
You need assistance? You need monetary help? Go chop wood. Go help make piles of kindling. Go clean out fireplaces. You're fit enough, healthy enough, and as my mother-in-law has been known to say, "you're big and ugly enough to do it yourself."
Fend for yourself is in essence what this selection is meant to communicate, and to be fair to George Crabbe, the section in full makes it clear these family struggles can get complex, and sometimes there are reasons beyond what we know. But if you can take of matters for yourself, you really should. That's what a former president of Denison wanted to communicate, and if I've got the right one, he put his money where his mouth was.
Stay tuned for more info on these inscription in about two weeks! Five more to go, which should take me about ten weeks.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preachers; tell him about inscriptions that have caught your eye at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @Knapsack.