A World in a Grain of Sand

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This week I took a class, a class for English teachers to teach better, and I learned stuff—a lotta stuff, like the little writing trick I’m sharing today. Part grammar, part analysis, part creativity, the task at hand involved both the left and right sides of my brain along with the beginning of William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence.”

To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Is to hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

I read these four lines for the first time and said to myself, “Huh?” Believe it or not, understanding takes time, even for English teachers. Lucky for me, my teacher gave me a thesis:

In his poem “Auguries of Innocence,” Blake uses analogies to convey his concept of the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm, the material world and the spiritual world.  

Yeah, I had to think about that, too.

Then she gave me a handout that said, Write an introduction that follows one of the grammatical patterns below:

  1. Begin with a sentence containing three absolute phrases, then follow it with five short sentences, each beginning with a participial phrase. End with the thesis.” (My teacher provided an example).
  2. Begin with a short, blunt statement followed by an elaborate series of balanced sentences or sentences with parallel elements.  End the paragraph with a metaphor that leads into your thesis. (Another example followed).

Then I had time to do my homework, and did I ever need time! I chose number one. I didn’t even look at number two. Directions tend to be abstract, examples concrete. I’m not sure my ideas connected to the micro and macrocosm, but I circled back to the idea of spirituality. I’m quite sure I could tweak the thesis for my own purposes, and I have no doubt I could use these sentence structures in other types of writing for a little variety. Here goes my try:

Gratitude shaped through observation of the little things, a higher power revealed through the earth’s creation, the meaning of life discovered, human fulfillment lies in the noticing and the appreciation. Toiling about our busy days, we fail to savor the wonder of our world. Worrying about the future, we fail to welcome the moment. Dwelling on the past, we fail to move on to the here and now. Yet, by taking time to truly see, we improve the quality of our lives. In his poem “Auguries of Innocence,” Blake uses analogies to convey his concept of the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm, the material world and the spiritual world.  

Had I ever taught an absolute phrase before? No. But I quite like the effect. The phrase, “gratitude shaped through observation of the little things,” could be a sentence if I added an “is” between “gratitude” and “shaped” (gratitude is shaped through observation…) However, action verbs strengthen our writing, and besides, that sentence includes the passive voice vs. active voice. (Who or what is doing the shaping? Gratitude doesn’t shape itself. Active voice example: Our observations shape our gratitude). Anytime I can eliminate linking verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, been, being), I do. As written, the absolute phrase functions as an adjective describing “human fulfillment.” In my opinion, the first sentence is a bit long, but the structure is malleable. I could lose two of the three phases in the first sentence if I so choose. All of this makes sense in my head, but the teacher-provided example clarifies the concept. We all need examples. We need teachers to explain. In 21 years of teaching, I have never had a concrete way of teaching the skill of writing an introduction. With this example, I have a brand new tool. I suppose I should go ahead and teach a few more years. This week’s teacher has taught for 36. How inspiring!

Next, came the sentences beginning with participial phrases. The assignment asked for five. I stopped at three. The participle looks like a verb but functions like an adjective. Past participles end in -ed. Present participles end in -ing. Add a prepositional phrase, and voila, you have a participial phrase: “Toiling about our busy days…Worrying about the future…Dwelling on the past.” These phrases describe us, or the “we” above. The parallelism lends a rhythm. A facility for language develops style.

I hope you give this grain of sand a try.

46 thoughts on “A World in a Grain of Sand

      1. I tried to write three present participle phrases that also used parallelism. Admittedly, I don’t fully understand the finer elements of writing. I just go with the flow and try to convey my thoughts succinctly. Thank you for the challenge!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Little grammar lesson:

        A participle is a type of verbal (looks like a verb, functions like an adjective). A gerund is a verbal, too (also ends in -ing, but functions as a noun).

        Looking to the future, while dwelling on the past, makes living in the present an unfulfilling task.

        Looking to the future is a gerund phrase and the subject of your sentence. You can replace it with the pronoun “this.”

        This, while this, makes this an unfulfilling task.

        (unfulfilling = adjective)

        I’m sure that’s way too much grammar for a summer Friday night. Thanks in advance for kindly bearing with this grammar cop.

        Liked by 3 people

  1. Crystal, now that was one interesting assignment, and definitely one to pray over before getting started! LOL I’m afraid at the moment that my grain of sand has turned into a sand storm! 😲🌪😉 Gotta focus, but it is an interesting challenge. Go Teachers! 👩🏻‍🏫👩🏻‍🎓💖👨🏻‍🎓👨🏻‍🏫 Have a FANtabulous weekend my friend. 🙏🏼

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😂 Definitely not my first day lesson. Probably one for an introduction revision on something they’ve already written. Focus and time and practice needed for sure. I’m excited to see what happens.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Neil! Most of my career I’ve taught in big schools with other teachers teaching the same thing and in districts mandating what and how to teach. There was always a team for bouncing around ideas, and I’m thankful for my experience. Now I’m the only one in my school teaching my grade level, and I have much flexibility in my planning. It’s a blessing and a curse. Always looking for good ideas and hoping to teach a little better while making the grading easier on me this year.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, Shakespeare isn’t the only William around in England, or in English literature, for that matter. I used to revel in Blake’s poems, and Song of Innocence was one of them. Indeed, “to see a world in a grain of sand” for me translates into seeing the world in a drop of water . . . I could go on and on. “Little Lamb” is another one. I grew up with that one. And I grew up hearing and learning perfect English, but not all that grammatical terminology beyond nouns and verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Misplaced modifiers, double negatives, and split infinitives were favorites terms, and I delight to this day in calling them out like an old schoolmarm who insisted I learn the rules, not just use good grammar “because it sounds better.” I actually wrote that on a test paper in junior high.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely didn’t grow up hearing or speaking perfect English, but I loved all my English teachers and
      those classes and even diagramming sentences. Another favorite William (not English)—William Carlos Williams.

      so much depends

      Oh, and I love your visits, Jo!


  3. Hello Crystal, Here are three reading suggestions to make your teaching adventure more fun. “Teacher Man” by Frank McCord, “Between Teacher and Chilld” by Haim Ginott, and “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. All the best for a red clown nose super doodle day. Jerry

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it wasn’t a quick process, but one that I’ll remember. Speaking of required thought, I have one more homework assignment due by Monday. My revised syllabus. I’m happy someone is making me do it (before school starts). Still I’m procrastinating.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I taught middle and high school English for one year before I grabbed the opportunity to teach younger students. I probably did OK because my college prep high school’s English department was strong, but your post makes me realize how much growing I would have needed if I had continued with that subject at that level. There is much to think about throughout your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always taught with the idea that kids don’t care how much I know until they know how much I care. Anytime I’ve felt like I have no clue what I’m doing, I just try to make it clear that I care about them, which makes up for many weaknesses.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So true. Sadly, we all have students for whom we make a difference because they have no other adults in their lives who do care or who are able to show that to them.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for sharing!!.. perhaps some good suggestions to add to your knowledge and in the end, just follow your heart as to how to share with others.. “The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” ( Kahlil Gibran ).. 🙂

    Until we meet again….
    May your day be touched
    by a bit of Irish luck,
    Brightened by a song
    in your heart,
    And warmed by the smiles
    of people you love.
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bracing, Crystal, to contemplate fine minds pursuing a fine challenge. If your contribution is representative, intellectual ferment will build and it will crest the classroom (conference room, whatever…). I do hope the instructor shares some of the more outstanding responses. Including, of course, yours.

    By the way, I think Blake’s point is that appreciating the beauty and complexity in even the simplest things dissolves the distinction between the immediate and the infinite. It puts current difficulties in their proper perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Much appreciated, Crystal!

        Fixing the scandalous number of typos took much more time than formulating the thought itself. Then, popping in superior replacements for two or three words ate up a minute or so too.

        Yeah, and blah, blah, blah. You’re a writer, Crystal; you understand the process!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve taught writing workshop and English to teens. I always gave them models of masters to illustrate a writer’s “special effects “. We wouldn’t teach piano without having the student listen to Chopin or teach painting without looking at great art. Too often, English teachers give assignments without enough models of the form first.

    Liked by 2 people

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