One of my favorite teachers and mentors passed away this month. Sam Moon of Knox College was 89. I knew him, when I first came to Knox, as the founder (with Robin Metz) of the creative writing program. He let me in my first poetry workshop (though I didn’t have the prerequisite) and taught me Poetry Translation (though the class overlapped with an Introduction to Fiction Writing class that I also needed to take). After his retirement, he worked with me on an independent study in translation. His thoughts on poetry, on language, and on life were highly influential.
An avid swimmer, Sam was working on a long, fragmentary, meditative poem on swimming when I knew him. He was also at work on a translation of the Tao Te Ching, the last I knew. I was glad to see him any time I was back at Knox, as long as he still remained in Galesburg. After he moved away and I moved further away and couldn’t return to my alma mater as frequently, we lost touch, except for a few letters and emails. And yet, Sam has often been in my mind as a role model of a poet, a teacher, and a human being. So I was not surprised, when the Knox College article about his passing quoted the style manual he wrote for the school in 1962.
…Moon described style as “an unending process” aimed at achieving wisdom.
Style is a ubiquitous fact of life. No man escapes working in one medium or another. No man avoids forming attitudes and values. No man is without some kind of style. No man lacks a mask — a public face — worthy or unworthy of his possibilities. We must discriminate in these matters. We must ask ourselves what we can do, where we can go with the styles we have…
While it would be disastrous for us to embrace our culture wholly and uncritically, it would be equally disastrous for us to cut ourselves adrift from it…
In that unending process which is style, the ultimate goal, attained only rarely, by men of the greatest genius but the goal toward which we all may struggle, is the style of wisdom.
— Samuel Moon, Mortar Board Convocation, Knox College, March 1962