LES BELLES LETTRES
There are many reasons for encouraging scholarly studies of poetry, literature and the humanities and social sciences in general. As Helen Vendler pointed out in her Jefferson Lecture1 such studies establish in human beings a sense of cultural patrimony. In western countries like Canada and Australia where I have lived, for example, I am one of the many heirs of several cultural patrimonies: a world patrimony of which we are all becoming increasingly conscious; a Western patrimony from which we derive our institutions, civic and aesthetic; and a specifically Canadian and Australian patrimony which, though great and influential, is established securely and insecurely in our schools. Although these specifically national patrimonies are often urged as pre-eminent, most nations like Canada and Australia have felt obliged to give their students an idea of the Western inheritance extending beyond their native production.
As time passed, colonized nations, although instructed in the culture of the colonizer, found great energy in creating a national literature and culture of their own with and against the colonial model. For a long time, Australian and Canadian schooling paid homage, culturally speaking, to Europe and to England; increasingly these countries began to cast off or at least delimit European and English influence in arts and letters, without, unfortunately, filling the consequent cultural gap in the schools with their own worthy creations in art and literature. And so it is that students often, if not usually, leave high school knowing little about Canadian or Australian art, music, architecture, and sculpture, and having only a superficial acquaintance with a few of the authors of their literature and poetry.
For this Baha’i, living as I have in Canada until my late twenties and, now, in Australia until my early sixties, another patrimony exists floating over me and immersing me, a symbolic representation that this particular religion, with its philosophy and history, its literature and its poetry has created, and all the interpretations and explanations of them that scholarly effort has produced. –Ron Price with thanks to 1Helen Vendler, “The Ocean, The Bird and The Scholar,” The Jefferson Lecture 2004.
It was a seed-time for my soul as I grew up
in a comfortable smalltown favoured birthplace,
yes, small, safe and familiar—and very white.
It was a good town in which to live, play, go to
school and the movies on Saturday. And if God
died--and it was said He did—you thought it was
from the boredom on hot summer days. And there
was fear: of acne, of your dad’s temper, of getting
caught stealing stuff from stores, of girls, but they
were not big fears. We were dust and our immortal
spirits grew with discordant elements reconciled.
Whatever literary patrimony I had when young
I have my mother to thank and my grandfather
who lingered on the periphery of my life with
his calm existence, his even-temperedness, his
pipe, his little room, his books. Somehow it got
through my young skin and active energies
seducing me unbeknownst to les belles lettres.
-Ron Price 11 March 2007
married, living in Australia, teacher and a Baha'i--all for over 30 years.