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Tribute to Ciancio
t was May 1968, with graduation a scant two weeks away. Dr. Ralph Ciancio was teaching the last class of the year in a course focused solely on the poetry of Yeats and Eliot. As the final activity, Dr. Ciancio read us Yeats’s powerful “Leda and the Swan,” which symbolizes a rape.
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl . . . .
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast . . . .
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
He read slowly and powerfully, his very soul striving to convey to us the splendor of Yeats’s language and the shock of his message. When he finished, we sat in utter silence for at least 30 seconds, stunned, awed, and deeply cognizant not only of the magnificence of the poetry but of the brilliance, dedication, and humanity of Dr. Ciancio himself.
Dr. Ciancio, who retired this spring, was the finest teacher I ever had in my life. I was a psychology major, not an English major, but he fostered in me a lifelong love of poetry that nurtures me still. He taught us that fine writing matters and that we were capable not only of critically examining and appreciating it but of producing it ourselves, a message I’ve tried to convey to my own children. Even more important, he made it clear that we mattered too. He is an extraordinarily kind man whose passion for teaching enriched the lives of his students.
Jill Wertheimer Rifkin ’68