The Curiosity Shop

Steve and the "Solitary Reaper"

My good friend Steve and I met in our French class as Sophomores in high school. Steve is a most remarkable character, not only because he's a very bright and usually pleasant fellow, but also because of his extraordinary luck. His experience with a poem called "The Solitary Reaper" is a case in point.

As juniors in high school we were in most of the same classes. For English we had Mrs. Bushman, who was young, intelligent, and enthusiastic. She was also rather pretty, and I think that may have added just a little to our enthusiasm for doing well on the assignments she gave us.

One of our English assignments was to read "The Solitary Reaper" and write an analysis of it. We were allowed to work together, so one afternoon after school we started working. We knew that stories, and particularly poems, often have multiple meanings. Sometimes the words of a poem have more than one definition and, depending on which you choose, the poem can say different things. Steve and I looked up every word in that somewhat lengthy poem, even the ones we thought only had one meaning. We combined the definitions in different ways and I believe we found every hidden meaning in that poem and half a dozen meanings that weren't there at all. We wrote our papers on our own, based on our joint research, and both got As.

Steve and I both attended the California State University at Hayward after high school. While there Steve took an English class. Steve had a seat in the back of the room, and one day he was busy whispering to the person sitting next to him rather than listening to the professor. After a little while the professor had had enough of Steve's disturbance. He said, "All right, Steve, if you want to talk so much you can just come up here and finish today's lecture for me. I'll just pick something at random in our text and you can talk about that."

As luck would have it, the professor opened the book to "The Solitary Reaper". That may have been the only thing in the entire book that Steve knew anything about. So Steve got up in front of the class and proceeded to described the subtleties of the poem for most of an hour.

At the end of class Steve remained for a moment while the rest of the students left the room. When everyone had gone the professor said, "Well Steve, I must admit I'm impressed."

Steve replied, "Thanks, but I could have done better if I'd had a little time to prepare."

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