Back in high-school chorus days, my daughter and son were singing Randall Thompson’s setting of Robert Frost’s “Choose Something Like a Star”:
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,Someone piped up: “What’s Eremite?” And the teacher explained that it was an element Keats had discovered.
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It could be that this teacher was passing on misinformation that had come his way. Or he could have been winging it. From what my children have told me, the second possibility sounds more likely. He might have been working from so-called context clues: the poem’s reference to chemical elements (“Tell us what elements you blend“), perhaps the strange capital E (though it’s chemical symbols, not the names of elements, that begin with capitals). Either way, the teacher was leading a chorus in a song whose words he had not taken the time to understand. He had not practiced what I like to call defensive reading: reading that requires a sure grasp of details, because somebody might ask you a question.
Eremite of course has nothing to do with chemistry. Frost’s poem makes reference to John Keats’s sonnet “Bright Star” (one of my favorite poems of eros). The poem’s speaker wants to be both like a star and not like a star— as “stedfast” as a star, but not a solitary contemplative:
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the nightThe speaker of “Bright Star” would prefer to be “still stedfast, still unchangeable” with his head resting on his beloved’s breast, where he can remain “Awake for ever in a sweet unrest” or swoon to death. What the speaker doesn’t want to be is alone. He doesn’t want to be an eremite. From Merriam-Webster:
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human
noun er·e·mite \ˈer-ə-ˌmīt\The only good response when a student asks a question that the teacher cannot answer is something along these lines: “That’s a good question. We should know that, shouldn’t we? Let me see what I can find out.” Sending the question-asker in search of the answer teaches students that they’re better off not asking questions. Offering to find out is an appropriate combination of curiosity and humility. Nobody knows everything. But yes, the curiosity that might prompt a search for keats eremite should have been there to begin with.
: hermit; especially : a religious recluse
I wish the question-asker in my children’s story had followed up the malarkey about a scientific discovery by asking, “Keats who?”
Keats’s “Bright Star” : Frost’s “Choose Something Like a Star” : Randall Thompson’s setting of Frost’s poem