All sorts of things get stuffed into my College and Departmental pigeonholes. Some get piffed into the wastebasket instanter. Others get arranged into 'to do' piles in the hope they'll disappear. Some things are good.
I get bills, letters from publishers, institutions, copies of mycology magazines, book catalogues, postcards, invitations to this or that. At the end of term such things are joined by much nicer things: gifts from students saying thank you for their supervisions. Bottles of wine are much appreciated, by the way. Chocolates too.
The best of all are presents that relate to the subject I've supervised. A tiny, glossy porcelain penguin, for example, a gift from a Masters student I'd supervised on the media/religion debate over March of the Penguins, still sits on my office mantelpiece, looking quite at home on the chipped white gloss of the shelf.
But this is the best present ever. I supervised this student for his Masters' dissertation, which dealt broadly with the subject of the technological aesthetic and the concept of the technological sublime in an American context, and contained some rather beautiful analysis of that extraordinary poem by Hart Crane, To Brooklyn Bridge. You know the one? It starts:
How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty--
Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
--Till elevators drop us from our day . . .
I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;
And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,--
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!
Today I met this student for lunch and he gave me a little parcel wrapped in soft, printed Japanese paper. I unwrapped it, and a stone fell out. This.
It was his very own, home-made clay cuneiform tablet, upon which he had written -- translated into Akkadian, the lines "The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him". Or "coast bird" because that was the closest, according to our department's resident expert in the history of mathematics and Iraqi archaeology. She had helped him write it, translating the lines and correcting his cuneiform script.
I love it. It is on my mantelpiece. It will last forever.