A Thought on Gratitude

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These are dark times. Frightening, horrifying, in so many ways. Yet teachers of writing continue to teach, which is itself an act of hope. In these times, we could do worse than take a tip from poet Mary Oliver’s poem “Gratitude.” It begins with the following stanza:

What did you notice?

The dew-snail;
the low-flying sparrow;
the bat, on the wind, in the dark

Oliver’s poem goes on to pose a series of additional questions: 

  • What did you hear?
  • When did you admire?
  • What astonished you?
  • What would you like to see again?
  • What was most tender?
  • What was most wonderful?
  • What did you think was happening?

Asking our students to answer these questions, taking time to do so with thoughtfulness, grace, and humility may bring them to feel some of the gratitude Mary Oliver’s poem embodies and evokes. Doing so certainly led me to observe, listen, and think most carefully, yielding a series of memories and images that left me full of thanks, often for such small, everyday occurrences that turn out to be full of meaning to me. I hope you and your students may have the same experience.

You can find Oliver’s poem here.

I hope you all have had a wonderful Thanksgiving.


About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.