Welcome to our new and returning students and faculty! I trust that everyone’s academic year is off to a good start.
I’ll take this opportunity to point our students to the Department of English’s two greatest assets: our faculty and your fellow students. Faculty and students are the heart and soul of any good university, and our English department is very fortunate. We have an outstanding faculty and terrific students. I would urge students to get to know the faculty, even if you haven’t had a particular faculty member in class yet. Check out their faculty webpages, and when you have the chance, introduce yourself. Students, especially those who are in or considering graduate school, should familiarize themselves with the faculty’s writing and areas of expertise. Our faculty consists of a wonderful collection of teacher-scholars. We have a relatively small department for a Ph.D. granting department, which lets us offer a more personalized education. Our standards for tenure and promotion of faculty are high—it’s a faculty of high achievers—and we take pride in our teaching and in our undergraduate and graduate students.
Your fellow students are another major asset. As an undergraduate and as a graduate student I learned a tremendous amount discussing literature and writing with my fellow students. English Society, the Graduate Student Association, and other organizations put together wonderful events, but informal gatherings in the dorms or at a pub also provide opportunities to discuss ideas in wide-ranging ways. Check out events at the Library of Congress, at the Smithsonian museums, at other DC area campuses, and get to know the DC area theater and music scenes. Ask your fellow students you aren’t in class with what they are reading and what they think about it.
Remember, great literature is about life, about what it means to be human.
“And Yet the Books”
Czeslaw Milosz, translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Haas
And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are,” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.
All my very best,
David M. O'Connell Professor of English
Executive Director, Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers
Chair, Department of English