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Wordsworth’s Volcano

In lieu of a lengthy, written dissertation on William Wordsworth, Ethan presented his committee with a papier-mâché volcano entitled “Wordsworth’s England.”

A what?

No, not a what?, a papier-mâché volcano.

Rather fancy, that papier…

It was about a foot and a half tall, painted brown with ashen highlights, mounted on a board which was painted green.

Were there any simulated rocks or trees?

There were. The committee looked at the diorama circumspectly.

You in the habit of saying things like that?

I am. It’s postmodern.

Well, if it’s postmodern…

One member said, “Huh,” and one said nothing but stroked his beard, and one said, “A volcano?” and squinched up his eyes.

Guess he was cleverer than me, since I said, “A what?”


By the way, how you go about spelling, “Huh?” Is it “h-u-h” or is it “h-u-n-h?” Cause…

I’ve seen both…

…I’ve seen both…too. So which one is it?

A question for the ages.

Tell the people what happened next.

Ethan was a bit nervous; a disturbance was forming down deep inside him, as if two tectonic plates were converging, were heading inevitably toward each other, one set to crumple down, one set to roar upwards into a new formation caused by the inescapable collision that might even lead to an…, but he still looked calm.

How you know about all that, then?


Lucky, how’d you go about getting magic?

I signed up at the office.

Oh…by the way, why do you have to spell “Oh,” with an “h,” when it seems just the letter “o” would be good enough?

It’s a riddle.

And what was all that about tectonic plates?

Artful filler.

Tell the people about the next part.

The last committee member…

The one who said, “A volcano?” and then squinched up his eyes?

Yes…wondered why Ethan did not have a written dissertation to present. The committee member who said “A volcano?” had certainly written a dissertation, as had the member who said, “Huh,” and the one who said nothing but stroked his beard.

What’d the other two say?

The one who said, “Huh,” (spelled “h-u-h”) said, “Does it explode like Mount Saint Helen’s?” and the one who said nothing but stroked his beard said, “Can we bisect it to see how a real volcano works?”

Then what’d ol’ Ethan say?

He said, “No,” and, “It doesn’t.” The unavoidable collision inside of Ethan finally occurred, the continent baring plate heaved up in a fit of geological supremacy and began to form a cone; while the dominated portion, amidst intense heat, commenced boiling magma and forcing gas upwards.

Funny how you know that.


What with the fancy geology metaphor and all.

An earth-moving experience, yes?

Tell us what happened next.

The member who said, “A volcano?” paused and then enunciated, “A volcano?” The one who said, “Huh,” said, “And it doesn’t explode,” while the one stroking his beard said, “And it can’t be cracked open to explain to us how a real volcano works.” They collectively shook their heads.

A little wordy, that bearded fellow, huh…I mean, eh?

Quite true.

How come we spell “eh” with an “e” and an “h,” when it’s just pronounced like the letter “a?”

Ethan, on account of the collision and the ensuing rise of magma, felt he had to release some of the pent up gas created by the chemical reaction. He did so by saying, “It erupts.”

Where’d Ethan get the idea to turn in a volcano in the first place?

In the park, underneath the Sunsphere, a fissure in the earth opened, shooting hot gas and lava into the air, sending the Sunsphere hurtling into space where it traveled to the highly volatile moon of Io and landed on top of another active volcano—that happened to be brownish with ashen highlights (although no trees). The Ioian volcano, “Much like the pulsing emotions repressed by Neoclassicism, much like the struggling-yet-rising middle class, much like the burgeoning world of ideas in the sciences, much like that society barreling willy-nilly toward the modern time, which everyone knew was going to be a time of great change for better or worse, boiled over with the chaos of unendurable strife—here represented by the addition of a base to an acid. And much as all of the emotion and ideology of the time led in myriad directions, some positive and some negative, the lava of this volcano destroys some of the trees below (similar to the French Revolution leading to the rule of Napoleon), but also cools and hardens to create new rock formations (as the writers of the time were able to mold the Zeitgeist into art). This, professors, is Wordsworth’s England.” The lava created by the vinegar and the baking soda ran down the model in red rivulets.

So he got the idea in space?

It’s a metaphor.

What happened next?

The professors seemed impressed, right on the point of congratulating Ethan, but said nothing.

An uncomfortable silence, hmm?

It was, until Ethan said, “I call it the Volcanic Theory of Literature.”

Volcanic Theory?

Now you sound like the professor who said, “A volcano?”

Good. He’s clever.

Then the professors erupted with kudos, jumped up and shook Ethan by the hand; the one who said, “Huh,” said, “Hey, good show,” and the one who stroked his beard threw his arms up and said, “Bravo!” and the one who said, “A volcano?…”

My favorite.

I know…said, “A volcano! A volcano!” And they carried Ethan from the room on their shoulders. How do you like that?

A little grandiose, don’t you think?

Alright, so they filed orderly out of the room, leaving Ethan behind to cool down and contemplate. Ethan thought of himself flying through the vacuum of space toward the moon of Io, along with William Wordsworth, the poet and volcano expert, propelled by the chemical reaction and the jettisoned heat generated earlier in the dissertation defense, all caused by the convergence of two tectonic plates.

Hey, how did that volcano erupt?

One cup of vinegar, four tablespoons baking soda, a little red food coloring.


Do you have any more questions?

Uhh, nope, I’m all out.

Just like the committee members, no more questions.

Funny, that. You do that on purpose?

I did. First you fill your readers with all sorts of questions, then you slowly bring them to the point of eruption, then you leave them with no questions at all. I call it the Volcanic Theory of Storytelling.

Oh, that’s enough.

And sometimes enough is too much.

Why don’t you shut up?

I thought you didn’t have anymore questions.


Andrew Farkas

Andrew Farkas is the author of Self-Titled Debut and is a frequent contributor to The Brooklyn Rail.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUN 2006

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