Hark! the rushing snow!
The sun-awakened avalanche! whose mass,
Thrice sifted by the storm, had gathered there
Flake after flake, in heaven-defying minds
As thought by thought is piled, till some great truth
Is loosened, and the nations echo round,
Shaken to their roots, as do the mountains now.
Percy B. Shelley
from Prometheus Unbound
I know, I know. This semester’s mantra no doubt drips with hyperbolic idealism, but it nonetheless stirs something in me each time I reflect upon it. Shelley is, after all, the one who pushed me over the edge to become an English major. During the winter break of my freshman year, I visited Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, WA, hoping to find some clarity with regards to my intended major. I had read “Ozymandias” the semester before in an intro course, and so when I saw his book, I picked it up and stumbled immediately upon the following passage from “Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude”:
The day was fair and sunny: sea and sky
Drank its inspiring radiance, and the wind
Swept strongly from the shore, blackening the waves.
Following his eager soul, the wanderer
Leaped in the boat, he spread his cloak aloft
On the bare mast, and took his lonely seat,
And felt the boat speed o’er the tranquil sea
Like a torn cloud before the hurricane.
At the time, I had no idea what the “torn cloud” could possibly mean, but regardless, I sensed the imminent and overwhelming energy just prior to exploration, and Shelley’s passion was so palpable in all of his restiveness. I shut the book, and by the time I was at the cash register, I trimmed my sails toward a literature major. And I haven’t looked back.
Perhaps I’ll make the passage from “Alastor” a mantra in the future, but for now, let’s return to the avalanche. Through this epic simile, Shelley gives us a way of imagining the power of synthesis. One snowflake at a time, adding another, and another, until the potential energy becomes so great, the sun awakens an avalanche.
In all my courses this semester, I encourage students to actively approach each word, each line and stanza, each sentence and paragraph, as flakes upon flakes that end up being unleashed perhaps not as a book that shakes the nation, but rather as an essay that expands their consciousness and their readers’. Shakes folks up a bit. Reading and writing as a gathering and unleashing. *Pre-writing* as that mysterious and mystical “thrice-sifted by the storm” that is impossible to prescribe. To experience it, one must have the belief that it can and will happen if we let go and read/write with a little more abandonment.
So, this semester, from January on into Spring, I say, let it snow!