Over Christmas break I dusted off a book of poems by a Norwegian writer named Olav Haugue—a book I’ve owned for years but never read cover to cover. What a serendipitous move on my part. I came across a number of tiny but illuminating poems, including this one:
Don’t Come to Me with the Entire Truth
Don’t come to me with the entire truth.
Don’t bring the ocean if I feel thirsty,
Nor heaven if I ask for light;
But bring a hint, some dew, a particle,
As birds carry drops away from a lake,
And the wind a grain of salt.
(translated by Robert Bly)
We might consider this a revision, or at least an updating, of Dickinson’s savvy advice: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant— Success in Circuit lies.” She ends her own thimble-sized poem with these plain but oracular words: “The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind.”
What does this have to do with your studies? Too often we’re waiting for some grand truth, some scintillating conversation, some giant, about-face paradigm shift to rattle our bones when something small will do. As you settle into new classes, with their constellation of fresh readings and classmates and (cross your fingers) remarkable professors, cultivate the ability to be moved in the smallest of ways. Nibble, experiment, explore. And let this new alertness leaven all aspects of your life. Who knows, perhaps that thing you most need is already within your grasp, as it was with me: let me see, a little to the right, one shelf up, huh, I wonder what’s inside that forgettable cover?
Lance Larsen, Chair
Department of English