The Final Lecture

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I had my last lecture of the semester this morning, and how perfect it was that it was one of my favorite professor’s classes! And as per tradition here at Southern Virginia University, at the conclusion of the lecture, each student stood and gave the professor applause. And surely, Professor Cluff earned that honor this semester.

The western literature course I took this semester, abeit very intense, was my favorite class. Professor Cluff is most definitely one of my favorite professors. I love that nearly everything he says is applicable to daily life, and that he ties real-life (and in the majority of cases, a spiritual aspect as well) into the literature of centuries ago. The most recent work we studied was published in 1674 (John Milton’s Paradise Lost), and I think that few professors could take the literature and apply it so completely to life in 2010. It is not just a general application either, it is personal and applicable in a very profound way.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if a group of us students were to take no classes but those that Professor Cluff teaches, we could quite possibly rule the world (justly, of course, while writing our own less violent version of Virgil’s The Aeneid) as well as gain a good standing in Heaven. That’s just how he teaches. We have studied Homer and Virgil, Sophocles (Oedipus), Shakespeare (King Lear), and my two favorites, Dante (Inferno) and John Milton (Paradise Lost).

There are a few classes that I just take notes: copying down significant lines, noting dates and political events that were occuring at the time the author was writing. And then there are the classes that you realize that they’re called ‘epics’ for a reason: those are the classes you walk out in silence, dumbfounded and feeling like a bomb has exploded somewhere in your head, leaving you reeling in awe.

It was like the class where we studied Dante’s numbers. Numbers, arrows, circles and words covered the blackboard. Chalk dust flying everywhere and pens scratching quickly to copy whatever ended up on the board. It seemed as though Dr. Cluff wrote with one hand and erased simultaneously with the other, so many things we were trying to transcribe into already half-filled notebooks. What we bypassed, he had found to be genius: the Christological references in the numeric of Dante, a flurrie of threes, nines and ones, cantos, terza rima and tercets. Biblical exegesis appears from thin air to the astonishment of 28 students. Diagrams appear and disappear as scriptures are referred to and proverbs said. Slip in some symbolism, a few humorous quips and you’ve achieved the 10 am western literature class in Durham Hall.

And that is just Dante!

Paradise Lost had the tendency to be a little more intense, if a little less intimidating (lessen the numbers = lessen the intimidation factor). This was the work where we got a glimpse into Dr. Cluff’s mind, when he handed out a scrawled diagram he had done for his own sake and decided it would aid us as well. It was a diagram of Milton’s universe, complete with the retractable stairway and golden chain that suspended the universe. A chaos of notes surrounded the diagram itself, as well as my own scrawls as I tried to add to them from what he was saying. We examine the romanticism in Paradise Lost and discover startling truths that Milton conveys in his poem. It’s not so much fireworks and lightning as we saw in Dante’s Inferno, but just as startling and awesome (in every facet of the term) if not more so. We examine human nature in Adam and Eve, the very real symbolism of Eden and the sanctity of marriage. I learn just as much about the Gospel in Cluff’s class as I do sitting in Sacrament meeting on Sundays (dodges lightning bolt). And the thing is, Professor Cluff at times speaks as though things are an after-thought, a quiet revelation or some similar instance of remembrance. It’s not straight out of his own notes, it’s straight out of his head.

It’s terribly scary.

And quite amazing.

I know I’m making it sound like we’re pressed into our chairs, holding our pens with shaking hands while we sit wide eyed in terror as he sternly lectures us with no mercy. Not true.

There are so many hilarious comments that are said during our 50 minutes together. Because of the quiet atmosphere of the class itself, the comments are nearly always perfectly timed and quite humorous. Everything is well timed in that classroom. Here are my favorite comments of the semester. Not all meant to be funny, some serious, but all pretty great.

  • “When you’re dead, you lose your five senses… supposedly.”
  • “My gosh, I forget I don’t have hair on my head till it starts raining!”
  • (in reference to courtly love) “it’s utterly absurd…but it produces good poetry.”
  • “any more questions about the universe?… good.”
  • “he’s blind and dead!”
  • “do you feel smart?” (in reference learning Dante’s numbers)
  • “maybe chocolate wasn’t in the garden of Eden…” 
  • “early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise… and first line.”  
  • “photographers belong in the 11th circle of hell!”
  • (after drawing a crazy complicated diagram) “well, whatever your question was, I think that covers it.”

Needless to say, you can tell when it’s been an awesome class because Dr. Cluff’s quotes pop up all over facebook as his student’s statuses. They often actually spark continued conversation about the class itself, especially when we were studying Paradise Lost. Though my favorites are always when a status begins, “I love that…”

Because it’s true. I think all of us have a deeper love and/or appreciation for western literature, and literature in general.

And so, Professor Cluff, we stand and applaud you.

It’s been a great semester.

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