Death · Poetry

Good Night, Sweet Prince!

O Captain! My Captain! a.k.a Dr. Andrew Dillon
O Captain! My Captain! a.k.a Dr. Andrew Dillon

Yesterday, I found out that my former professor and mentor, Dr. Andrew Dillon, had passed away after a long battle with cancer. The news slammed me with steel door heft, although I’d begun mourning Dr. Dillon weeks ago, when I first heard that he was terminally ill. Recalling all his wit, insight, advice and encouragement over the years, I was driven to tears.

I’d planned to write him a letter, expressing how much he’d meant to me as an English professor, and detailing the impact his instruction and support had on my life. But the only words that would come were Shakespeare’s words of mourning: “Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” Poems of lamentation followed, but the praise, the gratitude, the marrow of all he meant to me were drowned out by my grief.

And then, weeks later, there was no letter written. No time left. The final exam was over. The blue book was closed.

There were just these words:

For Dr. Andrew Dillon

Grass stems,
frosted in strangled light,
remind me
of that day you stood in the bricked breezeway
shaped like a gravestone,
your fine white hair set ablaze
by the waning sun.
Even then, you seemed fragile, as if your bones
bore the weight of all tragic literature.
Still, you leaped like a mullet at the sight of the moon,
back arched, knees bent,
until your feet planted on the desktop
and Lear rolled off your tongue,
dripping the loss of Cordelia.
Now, cancer, guiltier than Regan and Goneril,
plots your demise and the chemo, follows suit
making promises it can’t keep,
in the sappy declarations you, our King Lear, long to hear.
And I fear I shall never again see the flames
that lit you from within:
Bill Stafford verse that made the vein in your temple dance;
the fictional, chicken-knuckled words you encouraged;
first stanzas you excised in bloody ballpoint;
their words trampled in a mad dash for the meat of it all.
Because, today, my constant star is dying.
I still see you there, a raging silhouette,
fists balled against the supernova,
and I clamp my eyes shut,
so as not to see the cruel moment,
when you become that strangled light
frosting the grass.

Miss Snarky Pants

15 thoughts on “Good Night, Sweet Prince!

    1. Thanks so much, Amie! If my poem is any good, it’s in part to the wonderful instruction I received from Dr. Dillon. I wish every writer could have experienced him as a professor. He was one in a million. Thanks for dropping by; please come back and visit again. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Carrie! Dr. Dillon was one of two English teachers I’ve had over the years who really influenced my decision to become a writer; their passion for teaching and words still invigorate me to this day. I just wish Dr. Dillon was still with us, writing poetry and bringing his wry humor to every conversation. 🙂

  1. I just saw my favorite English teacher last week. She couldn’t stop hugging me or telling me how happy she was at how I’ve turned out. I lost my favorite Science teacher less than 10 years after graduating. I was fortunate enough to write him to let him know that I used things I learned from him everyday as a nurse. Good teachers are priceless gifts. Your poem was amazing, delicately crafted. It’s clear that you’ll continue to carry him on in your writing and for that I’m sure he would be proud.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. They really mean a lot. I’m so glad to hear that you’re still enjoying your favorite English teacher’s friendship! Teachers are usually the best sort of people. 🙂 I’m grateful to still know my high school English teacher; she was equally wonderful as Dr. Dillon. I feel so fortunate to have been taught by them both.

  2. I just found this today. Dr. Dillon was my Dad. You’ve captured what I believe is a very accurate representation of what it was like to be in his class. I went to Flagler, and I had fives of his classes. I don’t think people I meet now can appreciate how awesome he was. His students know, and you’ve captured something special in your lines above that I’ll treasure and show my children.

    1. Mike, I can’t tell you how much your words mean to me. Your father was my favorite professor and he inspired so many young minds, as you know. He demanded our attention, our participation, our passion for words. I think we all wanted to live up to his expectations. And that was his brilliant gift; he believed that we, his students could be better writers, even great writers, and then…so did we. Thank you for your generosity and kindness. Clearly, the apple did not fall far from the tree. (Your father would have KILLED me for using that cliche.)

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