Editor’s Note: This poem was written to honor James Walton ’59, professor emeritus of English, who passed away in 2012 after serving on the faculty for 40 years. Of Professor Walton, who instructed the author from 1965 until 1967, Hynes said, “The man, like all good teachers, can’t be honored enough.”
Dear Mr. Walton
Behind the smoke of your cigarette
you’d face our crowd of young men,
eighteen and full of brass, the hormones
of success wafting through the halls
and lead us into the mysteries
without the living to know
the stories we read would be our own,
the Copperfields and Heeps we would become.
You teased apart the threads of the older stories
hoping it might shed some light on our own
without telling us of course,
letting the teaching be in the process
with only the years left
to write the stories that would be ours.
Reading those old novels again
I realize how little I understood
but also how you planted seeds
like a farmer of the mind,
tilling our rough clod soil
perhaps hoping for the late rain
that would allow your work to take hold
even germinate in the summer days
our lives would become.
Don Hynes ’69 is the author of three volumes of poetry, Slender Arrow (1998), Out From Under (2001) and The Living Dark (2006) and is a longtime reader of Notre Dame Magazine. Read more of his work at his Poet’s Journal.