He Had Such Quiet Eyes

on Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Boy, is this poem interesting.

This is one poem that I feel is most challenging to teach in places like mine albeit conservative, traditional, and a very Muslim setting. This is a place where they cling on to their Muslim teachings, their uber-traditional cultures and everything about sex, teenage relationships, and premarital-men-women-relationships are a HUGE taboo.

It's not a taboo in the sense that they do not know much about it; more of they feel that it is something left for the Imam and Ustaz to discuss about such things in their Islamic studies by referring to their Holy Koran.

So where does an English teacher step in when teaching this materials to this kind of society?

Driving the idea of this poem itself has to be dealt delicately. You must always mention that it is always the best way to follow their religious teachings while highlighting the context of the poem. A brief explanation about the poem by Bibsy Soenharjo (Oma Bibsy Soenharjo. Last name pronounced SO-NIA-JO.... I think?)

I know. I was wondering how to pronounce that last name as well.

The poem has an advising tone. It is the writer's effort to advise the girls to be careful about pleasure-seeking guys by highlighting the experience of a girl who is in shambles (hows and whys, last sentence of the second stanza) because she met and had some bad experiences with a person who had quiet eyes, which to the writer, resembles 2 pools of lies.

There isn't really much to talk about when it comes to the intrinsic literary elements. If you've read my previous blogs about teaching English literature in school (The River, I Wonder, and In The Midst of Hardship), you'll notice how I highlight the importance of teaching the little 'l' (L, not the #1). If you're wondering what 'little l' I'm talking about, feel free to read my previous blog or ask your nearest English teacher.

This poem has so many moral values, advice, and personal experiences to deal with. Form 4 kids are 16 years old. That age to me, is one of the most delicate and emotionally-unstable period of adolescence. Hormones are raging, emotions are running high, mood swings in a classroom filled with 35 girls can be very daunting if you're unprepared.

Tap into these emotions.

As a young teacher, I told them about how I remembered the time when I was at their age. How unstable I was; easily drifted by love and affection. I was blindly in love and rationality was thrown to accommodate emotional needs as well as physical changes in my body. It was not a dark moment in my life, it was the most interesting one. I could feel so happy and joyful that if I were to be hit by a car, I would only feel the pain after I've touched earth's ground. I could feel no joy when my heart was broken, not even when I was going through better days in my life. Everything I did was emotionally driven and therefore I was a state where I had to be...

... very careful.

Being careful was my message of the day. Telling them that love is not the problem and that we will never suppress their feelings of love to another person nor tell them that love is bad at all. Our actions however are completely different.

"No matter how much we love or care for another, we should always remain balanced in both emotion and rationality" I said. I went on to add that the only unconditional love we might have in our lives is for our parents, children, or siblings. Other than that, there must always be some form of rationality when we deal with others. Even to our closest of friends, there has to be some rationality involved.

Do not judge a book by its cover

That was another message driven today in the lesson. Importantly, in the poem, we know that the person described fell for quiet eyes and therefore did not care about anything else. I told them that it is of course not good to be superficial and make friends without taking into consideration many things. We should never be too much of a simpleton and neither be too prejudiced about people when befriending.

Therefore, I told them to write out their best friends information and tell me what they did to aid or help them when they were in need.  A friend that most probably they knew in and out which was way beyond what Bibsy Soenharjo described as a superficial acquaintance. During these part of the lesson, students were already explaining about the importance of remaining loyal to their friends. Which can become another brilliant message:

A friend in need is a friend indeed.

In fact, we were going on and on about these values and lessons, till we didn't realise...

We ran out of time.


Chris said...

Interesting. I will be dealing with this poem this week and I shall have quite a time with the students.

Anonymous said...

tqvm... i am going to deal with all boys in the class... any tips?
pn azura shah

Government Agent said...

Azura: Well, I would say that an all boys or all girls class would definitely have different dynamics in the teaching method. What you could do is first to share your experience with them. I realised that students love when I tell them my experiences first. Since they don't have the opposite sex in the class, it'll limit the range of opinions they generate from both sexes but it'll still be good.

I might bring up the question of..

"Girls are not looking for boys who are obviously not going to take good care of them. Your job as boys is to show your role as a protector right? Tell me how would you avoid being like the 'pleasure seeking men' stated in the poem."

That's just one of the many topics you could bring up in class. Boys love talking about these things.. hehehe

Teacher said...

I'm preparing lesson plans using Smart Board. I typed the title of this poem and your blog popped up!!


boy said...

where is the message of the poem ?

BOY said...


Government Agent said...

The message?

Be careful, be rational, don't judge a book by it's cover...

Those are some of the messages..

Anonymous said...


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