Bafflement wears many faces, many of them on display in my literature classes this morning.
Sometimes bafflement looks like the tops of students' heads when they keep their eyes glued to the anthology and try to erase themselves from the room lest I call on them and ask what e.e. cummings was doing with those odd spacings and they haven't figured out the secret hidden meaning of "mud-luscious" or "puddle-wonderful" so they're afraid of saying something terribly wrong.
But sometimes it looks more like red-faced students arguing with each other about whether the journey described in Eric Overmyer's On the Verge is real or imaginary (and what it might mean for a journey to be real in a work of the imagination) or whether the character Alexandra should be respected as a bold voyager into the unknown or reviled as an annoying ninny who would improve the play by falling down a crevasse and dying.
Sometimes bafflement sounds like the silence that greeted me this morning when I read aloud to my American Lit students e.e. cummings's "somewhere i have never traveled,gladly beyond" (here), that tender love poem inviting us to consider how the presence of the lover encloses the beloved within intimacy while opening the senses to new experience and understanding ("i do not know what it is about you that closes / and opens; only something in me understands / the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses"), and as I reached the closing lines of the poem that opens doors within my soul I heard a silence so deep that I feared raising my eyes from the page to see the bafflement written all over my students' blank faces.
And sometimes bafflement sounds like the laughter that comes when students accept the author's invitation to play with words, when they stop demanding that the play make sense and instead join in as it makes fun, stop worrying about whether "I repelled a rabid drooling grizzly bear with a series of piercing yodels" is a truth claim and simply revel in the rollicking words as the adventuresses bushwack their way through Terra Incognita.
The first kind bafflement draws inward and bars the door against the fear of disturbing the universe; the second throws wide the windows and reaches out a hand, willing to embrace an argument or laugh at a misunderstanding. I confess that I like the second kind better, but such openness is a rare gift, one that fortunately arrived this morning just in time to rescue me from the despair that crept in when I finished reading the cummings love poem and looked up and saw that the words that moved me nearly to tears had bounced off those blank faces and fallen silently to the floor, baffled.