13 Ways of Looking at the Humanities

U of All People's David Galef pens a poem on the humanities.

June 3, 2016

With few apologies to Wallace Stevens (“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”)


Among twenty time-honored subjects,

The only moving thing in the humanities

Is the Communications major.


I was of three minds,

Like a student with a business major

And two minors in the humanities.


The humanities whirled in the economic downdrift.

It was a small part of the budget.


A faculty member and a dean

Are one.

A faculty member and a dean of the humanities

Are bupkis.


I do not know which to fear more,

The shame of low enrollments

Or the cancellation of classes,

The humanities wheezing in 2016

Or the year after.


Frozen budget lines filled the Excel sheet

With rectangular blanks.

The shadow of the humanities

Crossed it, to and fro.

The mood

Traced in the shadow

A perfectly decipherable cause.


O well-heeled administrators of Harvard,

Why do you sit upon so much gold?

Do you not see how the humanities

Hobbles about the departments

Of the schools around you?


I sense heady speech from the STEM faculty

And mercantile rhythms from the business school,

But I know, too,

That the humanities are involved

In what I know.


When the humanities flew out of sight,

It marked the end

Of one of many defeats.


At the sight of the humanities

Bathed in the light of an awards ceremony,

Even the boards of universities

Would exhale sharply.


He passed through Yale

With an engineering major.

Once, a fear pierced him,

In that he mistook

The job prospects of his degree

For that of the humanities.


The general election is coming.

The humanities must be going.


It was a dark day all year.

It was a recession

And it was going to grow worse.

The humanities sat

And read Plato’s Republic.


David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book, Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, is forthcoming from Columbia University Press this fall.


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