Trauma Journal

In the coronavirus crisis, a Sewanee English professor, alumna, and mother of a member of the Class of 2020 finds echoes of tragedies past.

March 5, 2020: At 8 and 11 a.m., I taught my two classes, then had conferences with five students, walked from Gailor to duPont for a meeting, and rushed home at 3:45 to drive to Chattanooga for a birthday dinner.

In the 11 o’clock Modern American Poetry class, we’d just finished T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. I explained to the class of seniors that Eliot’s poem was not just about his personal life and the psychological consequences of World War I. It also responded to the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1920 when 50 to 100 million people died. It seemed distantly relevant at this point. I promised that after spring break we’d read Eliot’s more uplifting poem, The Four Quartets.

I still use the same worn copy of The Four Quartets that I first read in Bill Clarkson’s Modern American Poetry course in the spring semester of 1980, 40 years ago. You say I am repeating / Something I have said before. I shall say it again.

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