This Mattered to Me
"Some Thoughts on Braille," by T. S. Eliot, published in the December 1952 issue of New Outlook for the Blind, Volume 46, pp. 287-288.
Print edition page number(s) 502-503
The series editor of "This Mattered to Me" is Stuart H. Wittenstein, Ed.D., superintendent of the California School for the Blind.
After I read the invitation to share my choice of a "classic" JVIB article to be digitized within the "This Mattered to Me" series, my gaze immediately went to the bulletin board that hangs on the wall behind my computer. Among other personal treasures such as pictures of my grandchildren, buttons proclaiming the beauty of braille, and a fire department memorial patch, hangs a photocopy of one JVIB article that speaks personally to me.
I came across this article quite by serendipity. I was thumbing through bound volumes of JVIB and its predecessors, Outlook for the Blind and The Teachers Forum and New Outlook for the Blind, while researching communication for the blind for an article that would be published during JVIB's centennial celebration year. The author's name, T. S. Eliot, was one that was familiar to me, because of my high school and college studies in American literature. As a result, I was intrigued to find an essay entitled "Some Thoughts on Braille" written by the famous author and poet in JVIB. Too curious to continue my research, I sat there and read the essay. And I read it again. And then I asked the librarian if I could have a photocopy of the article. I knew I needed a keepsake of this literary finding, because in it, T. S. Eliot, in his inimitable poetic style, imparted to readers his reasoning for the significance of braille for people who are blind. Within the text of his two-page commentary, he challenged readers to carry on the work for the blind that Louis Braille initiated, and he offered suggestions as to how readers could contribute toward this goal.
In the essay, Eliot wrote about how the primary appeal of poetry should be to the ear. He emphasized that poetry is meant to be heard and read, and he commented on how incomplete one's appreciation of poetry would be if one never had access to the printed text. On the recitation of poetry, he explained from a personal perspective how a good orator provokes in him the desire to read the poem himself. He also suggested that the ability to read independently allows one intimacy with the poem itself. Perhaps the most striking of his words is the comment that an author should regard as a compliment the request for permission to transcribe his or her printed writing into braille. Finally, he stated that he is "thankful for the invention of braille as a tool to enable the blind to be able to read to themselves as well as be read to."
T. S. Eliot was not a teacher of students who are blind nor a professional in any capacity within the field of visual impairment and blindness. Yet, his words, penned almost six decades ago, resonate with me and inspire my work today, because we share common values and beliefs about the importance of braille in the education of children who are blind. I feel a deep connection to his words, because we both want the same thing for blind children--an education that includes braille. By virtue of his validation of my life's work, I feel that in some way, T. S. Eliot believes in me.
There certainly are other articles published in more than a century of JVIB issues that contain more immediately pragmatic content or research data that would be of interest to individuals reading this recommendation. However, I chose to share this particular essay to preserve it digitally online along with the hope that individuals of future generations will read Eliot's commentary and perpetuate the work that addresses the goals Eliot outlines. With a smile, I acknowledge that my choice was also partly affirmed by the fact that T. S. Eliot died on January 4, 1965, the anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille (surely not a coincidence). Some things in life are just meant to be.
On the web
The article relating to this commentary is available free to subscribers at JVIB Online: <www.afb.org/afbpress/pubjvib.asp?DocID=jvib050808>.
Sheila Amato, Ed.D., adjunct assistant professor of education; retired special education teacher and teacher of students with visual impairments; mailing address: 466 Bluebell Drive, Terra Alta, WV 26764; e-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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