The Professor Introduces the Syllabus


(Warning: This poem contains irony, and suggestions that some literature may be disturbing.)

A welcome to you, class of Twenty-Three,
Commencing now your literature degree,
About to voyage in those realms of gold
Wherein the world’s great stories have been told.
How proud today I am to be inviting
You all to explore the wondrous world of writing.
That rich and lovely world – together we
Can savour its sweet fruits – responsibly.
This course is noted for its depth and rigour,
But be assured, there’ll be no texts that trigger
Anxieties. We promise – nothing will be taught
That might conceivably leave you distraught.
We are the leaders in such matters, scorning
Those colleges that merely flash a warning
When they teach texts that touch on harmful themes,
Spread prejudice, or spark unpleasant dreams.
No such half-measures here. With us
No text’s allowed to reach the syllabus
That might unsettle – that is our priority.

King Lear might have canonical authority
For old-style critics, but the the clear intention
Of certain scenes (whose nature I shan’t mention)
Is to upset the reader’s peace of mind.
What’s more, upon analysis, we find
That when that mentally challenged King  goes quite ballistic
His speech gets blatantly misogynistic -
And therefore unacceptable today.
Our course, don't worry, does without this play
Shakespeare, despite his often-praised abilities -
Rides roughshod over modern sensibilities.
But then, most work past centuries have admired
Leaves on inspection, much to be desired.
Take Keats, that sexist brute. I can't believe
Some colleges still teach St Agnes Eve,
A disgusting  poem where the male gaze plays
On a woman’s body in upsetting ways.
Some universities, too, still scrape the barrel
By teaching Dickens’s A Christmas Carol,
A text that thinks it fine to introduce
A family that feasts on a dead goose -
A scene all vegans must find most upsetting.
Such texts are fit for nothing but forgetting.

We’ve moved beyond those relics of the past,
And after much research we have at last
Contrived a syllabus that fits the bill.
In this, our first semester, students will
Study in depth a genre of poetry
That never touches irresponsibly
On nasty topics, or provokes anxiety.
I mean the always safe and nice variety 
Of rhymes displayed in Hallmark greetings cards
For birthdays, or for sending kind regards
On passing school exams or like achievements.
(We shall avoid cards mentioning bereavements
Until the second year of your degree.)

And so we start, and I can guarantee
That you will get right through this course without
Being once provoked to question or to doubt.

George Simmers
Illustration by Bruno Vars.

If you have any thoughts on this poem, George Simmers would be pleased to hear them.