On Thursday, I spoke with an engineering professor at the university where I work who was an undergraduate here in the early nineteen-sixties. He was sitting in the campus football stadium on Sept. 12, 1962, when President John Kennedy vowed the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. And he was here 14 months later when the president was murdered in Dallas.
“The next day, most of the professors gave us a ride – no classes. Not Grob,” said the professor, referring to Alan Grob, now retired after 40 years teaching English literature.
Instead, Grob delivered his lecture on Milton’s “Lycidas.” The memory is almost 43 years old, and the professor’s eyes, I noticed, were wet. “That was one of the most memorable events in my life. I’ll never forget it,” he said, and I wonder, do students still hear these words?
“Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear,
Compels me to disturb your season due:
For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer:
Who would not sing for Lycidas?”
How many English majors, not to mention engineers, can still conjure these lines when someone dies, whether or not a national leader?
“But O the heavy change, now thou art gone,
Now thou art gone, and never must return!”