When my youngest daughter was about four years old, she had the misconception that an expert was a person who knew everything there was to know. As amusing as this is, most of us are prone to variations of this sort of thinking at different points in our educations. Only through the proverbial lens of hindsight do we see the limitations of some mentors and appreciate the wisdom of other ones.
Although its subject is an encyclopedia instead of a teacher, the poem “Book of Knowledge” addresses this natural human tendency with rich, nostalgic humor. I was lucky enough to discuss this work with the poet, Russell H. Strauss, former educator and current President of The National Federation of State Poetry Societies. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:
“As a child, I thought everything would have to be in that set of books, and in that way, it affected my life. Today, we’ve made access to information more readily available to children, and yet in doing so, I think we’ve lost some of the sense of wonder.”
Russell added that he believes the poet’s job–above all–is to transport the reader. On that note, let’s travel back to another era, and another phase of life through this warmly humorous poem.
Book of Knowledge
By: Russell H. Strauss
When I was eight, my parents
purchased this source of compounded wisdom.
It was not one book, but ten
In dark red binders trimmed with gold.
No one told the editors to alphabetize
or to organize the collective knowledge of humanity
into any form useful to research librarians.
I would pull out a volume, lie on my belly
across the gray oriental living room carpet,
turn to any page where my fingers happened to roam
and enter a level of enlightenment I had never before attained.
I might find state birds and flowers, flags of exotic nations
or an article on that new postwar invention, the electric eye.
It never occurred to me that anything I would ever need to know
could not be found in those volumes.
When time conquered naiveté, I discovered
that information is a universe
expanding into infinity,
but, in those black and white years,
whenever my mind was thirsty
it could refresh itself by sipping
from the deep springs Of the Book of Knowledge.
Russell H. Strauss is a native of Memphis, Tennessee. Since 2010, he has served as the president of The National Federation of State Poetry Societies, an organization dedicated solely to the furtherance of poetry on the national level.