D. H. Lawrence and Me
Ages ago, in college, I believed that I was destined to write. I was a sophomore then, 1973. As a student at St. Philip’s College, located in San Antonio, Texas, I wrote my themes with such aspiration that I always expected my English professor to acknowledge my skill, to give me the nod I craved.
The bob came – several, in fact.
On a golden autumn day my professor requested that I see her after class. She wanted to discuss our latest assignment. My paper! I’d written on Lawrence. His poem, “The Snake,” had stirred me. Certain that I’d really outdone myself this time, I fancied her praise.
Oh, it’s nothing … nothing.
Which is precisely what she thought. I stood before her. She sat behind her desk. As the dean of the school’s English Department held my paper, dangling my masterpiece between thumb and index finger, I suspected that she had something else on her mind.
She explained that plagiarism is a serious offense. It’s no different than common thievery. Did I understand that the school, meaning she, could expel me? In truth, I don’t recall how I reacted. I know I was confused. I recall she showed me a sentence of my work circled in red ink. Then it all came into place. She wanted to know my source.
I wrote it myself.
She didn’t believe me. Doctor M___ asked that I talk a little on Lawrence’s poem. Okay. In “The Snake,” I said, after the protagonist has unexpectedly met a serpent, he admits that his first instincts are to kill it. I said that D. H. Lawrence criticizes prescriptive thinking – which is, precisely, when my professor began to bob her head. To back my interpretation, I quoted from the poem:
“I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.”
Dr. M ___ thought.
Naively, hoping to save myself, I added something to the effect: Lawrence probably grew up fearing snakes.
As she studied me, seeking judgment, her accusation of plagiarism burned hotter – and I resented it. I withdrew. I retreated into my young shell. Offended, knowing that I hadn’t stolen anyone’s words, I chose to say none.
My professor yielded. Saying that she’d give me the benefit of the doubt, which snubbed me more, my professor offered me a ‘C.’ I took it. She advised, moreover – with one final and emphatic nod – that I learn to cite sources. She was right, I secretly acknowledged, I knew nothing about documentation yet.
Still, I gloated.
When starting my VW bug, however, its pitted muffler popping like firecrackers, I felt an added implication in her accusation. She’d judged me incapable of thinking anything like Lawrence. I was a dolt! It led to another thought. How must she see me?
During my ride to work, I recalled the poem and compared myself to the snake. An exhilarating idea then fired my mind. My instructor, I thought, may very well have judged me through the voices of her own education.
It didn’t matter, though, as I now felt pretty good about myself. Knowing that I’d interpreted D. H. on my own, that I actually shared a thought with him, I felt I was in pretty good company. Maybe I would write someday?