One of my favorite professors in college was Dr. Wilson Snipes. A former Naval officer, he was a character as colorful as those in the Shakespeare and Chaucer classes he taught. He was also my advisor and when I was secretary to the Chairman of the English Department, one of my employers. A tall, portly man with close-cut, graying hair and big, owlish horn-rimmed glasses, he smoked a pipe, and his arrival was always presaged by the sweet smell of tobacco.

You always knew when Dr. Snipes mounted the stairs of Willingham Chapel where he taught his classes on the second floor.

As I said, he taught Shakespeare, and Chaucer, and often stated that he would pit his students against any Shakespearean or Chaucerean scholar in the world, so confident was he in their ability to learn under his tutelage. He certainly made the classes interesting, throwing in little asides about a play or have us listen to recordings of how it would sound if spoken in the English of its time or asking certain students to research a specific phrase or item which had raised a question. I was once asked to read Dante's Inferno and report how to know the difference between male and female devils. (No, I won't tell, but it's not how you would expect!) I also had to find out what the inscription was that was written over the portal to Purgatory/Hell, but that's another story.

Needless to say, I enjoyed Dr. Snipes' classes, and as an English student, I attended many of them during my four and a half years. There are fond memories of sitting in that classroom in the second story of the ancient Chapel where I would later be employed, with the floor-length windows wide open, the summer breeze wafting in, bringing with it the sound of lawnmowers and the onion-like fragrance of Star of Bethlehem blossoms being trimmed by their blades.

Dr. Snipes and I were also friends, and when he left Mercer University to take a teaching position at Virginia Military Institute, we corresponded irregularity. When my novel Bloodseek was published, I dedicated it to him and another teacher, Dr. May F. McMillan. By that time, he wasn't around to see it, unfortunately. Nevertheless, I owe him a great deal, for instilling within me such a knowledge of the literature, customs, and characters of Times Past, as in the piece below.

Everyone is, I hope, familiar with the story of Othello, the Moor of Venice...how he fell in love with and married Desdemona, and eventually killed her after being fed lies about her fidelity by Iago, a man who seemed to have no real reason for his hatred. Iago's attitude has been a puzzle and a subject of much discussion. He's sometimes been called the first documented bigot. The following poem was written in the nineties, but it answers a question that Dr. Snipes posted thirty years before: Why did Iago hate Othello so? Was it racial, or something deeper? Or was it even hate?

I think he would have appreciated my take on the answer, couched in pseudo-Shakesperean terms:

IAGO'S DEFENCE

I never tho't 'twould end that way.
God's truth, I believed he would denounce her,
leave this place in high dudgeon, and turn
to a friend who offered comfort.
All believ'd 'twas his colour I despised; none knew
my true motive--I kept it as tightly secured
as my passion.
'Twas hatred, deep and secret, aye--but only for her--
my desire for him was shielded in villainy.
His own love I mis-took; he lost it and
his life, while I must voiceless mourn, grief
eating my vitals like an angry worm.
Why could I not say those words so tightly secured
within my heart:

"Moor, I do love thee."

8 comments

  1. Barbara Monajem // April 25, 2009 at 12:00 PM  

    Toni, your prof sounds wonderful, and as for the poem, Whoa! I'm impressed.

  2. Mary Ricksen // April 25, 2009 at 12:44 PM  

    There's a lot of knowledge in that brain of yours Toni, thanks for sharing. I love to learn stuff like this! Great post!

  3. Scarlet Pumpernickel // April 25, 2009 at 1:28 PM  

    Toni, You do the professor proud! I am so in awe of your ability to paint pictures in the mind with the flow of your words. The poem is wonderful. You, my dear, are a very talented lady! Is it any wonder you're getting fan mail? Nope!

    Scarlet

  4. Edie // April 25, 2009 at 2:39 PM  

    Toni, I love that poem. It makes so much sense. How wonderful to have good memories of a professor who became a friend.

  5. Joanne // April 26, 2009 at 9:12 AM  

    Toni,
    Sounds like your professor had quite an impact. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Judy // April 26, 2009 at 9:36 AM  

    Toni, I loved reading about your professor and his influence on you. Great teachers make a tremendous impact and he is described as one of the great ones. The poem is wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Toni V.S. // April 26, 2009 at 11:09 AM  

    Thanx to all of you for the kind words. Dr. Snipes was one in a million and I still think of him fondly after all this time.

  8. Mary Marvella // May 5, 2009 at 11:05 PM  

    Ah, Toni, I loved that man, too!