English Online

GIS 3510: Intermediate Reading and Writing

Week 1: Readings and Assignments


Reading assignments: Read everything below, including the "online Lecture," the poem "Ballad of the Landlord," and the short story "Shep's Hobby."



I. Literal Comprehension. Before anything else, I must understand what any writer is saying. In an essay, literal comprehension often implies the ability to restate the argument. In novels, short stories, poems, and plays, it implies a concise retelling of the plot in my own words. At this point, we shall focus primarily on this first, basic level of interacting with texts.

As an example, let's summarize the fable of the three little piggies, a traditional tale known to most Westerners. It has several variations, of which only one will be given here:

Once upon a time there were three pigs. The first pig built a house of straw; the second, of sticks; the third, of bricks. A hungry wolf was able to devour the first two pigs by blowing down their houses, but could neither eat the third pig nor blow down the house of bricks. The angry wolf then entered the brick house through the chimney. While the wolf was implementing his chimney strategy, the third pig placed a bowl of boiling water in the fireplace. The wolf landed in the water and died and the third pig lived happily ever after.


Due date for the FINAL version of each assignment: As early as possible but no later than the second week of class.

In an on-line class, most assignments MUST be submitted on time.

If possible, please send me each assignment as a separate e-mail message.

Save all your assignments and submissions, and all my messages, on a floppy disk.

When you send me a revised draft of anything, please make sure to include my comments on that draft. Your e-mail program probably allows you to readily do that.


Assignment 1. Submit (=send an e-mail) your name, e-mail address, snail mail address, and phone number(s), to moti.nissani@wayne.edu   (due date: asap) .

Assignment 2. In a single written paragraph, introduce yourself to the group. Make this introduction as interesting and memorable as you can. It can be amusing, or sad, or touching--anything your classmates would enjoy reading. For some ideas, you may wish to consult submissions of fellow students. Send it to: moti.nissani@wayne.edu

Assignment 3. Imagine that you need to read and then retell the first poem (Ballad--see below) to someone who has never read it before. So read it carefully. If necessary, read it a few times. Then strike it off your screen and retell the poem FROM MEMORY. Start with the background, giving title, author, time, and place, if known. Then re-tell the poem in your own words. Make sure that you don't forget anything important and that you are telling what actually happened. At the same time, try to make your summary short. Then read the poem again, making sure that you re-told the poem accurately, succinctly, and well. After you have your first complete and accurate draft, edit it as well as you can. At this point, check grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc. If you are unsure of yourself, you may now a compare your work with the work of some other student(s). As soon as this is done, e-mail me your draft. After receiving my reply, edit the story once more and e-mail me your last version.

Assignment 4. After you get my comments for your Ballad efforts, proceed to carry out the exact same process for the short story "Shep's Hobby" (see below).




Langston Hughes


James Langston Hughes (1902-1967), a leading interpreter of the Afro-American experience, was born in Joplin, Missouri. His poetry is strongly influenced by such traditional black art forms as spirituals and the blues. He earned a B.A. from Lincoln University in 1929, a year which also saw the publication of his first novel, Not Without Laughter. Other works include Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951) and Simple States a Claim (1971).

Langston Hughes's short stories won him a large audience. His stories open a window into the lives of ordinary, struggling blacks in the United States. The edge of bitterness in Hughes's work does not take away from its essentially comical and ironical aspects. His satire of both whites and blacks establishes the extent of social injustice in America and creates a cast of characters who are resourceful and helpless, courageous and reticent, altruistic and self-serving. The colloquial vigor of Afro-American speech is clearly seen in the ballad below.


Landlord, landlord,

My roof has sprung a leak.

Don't you 'member I told you about it

Way last week?

Landlord, landlord,

These steps is broken down.

When you come up yourself

It's a wonder you don't fall down.

Ten Bucks you say I owe you?

Ten Bucks you say is due?

Well, that's Ten Bucks more'n I'll pay you

Till you fix this house up new.

What? You gonna get eviction orders?

You gonna cut off my heat?

You gonna take my furniture and

Throw it in the street?

Um-huh! You talking high and mighty.

Talk on--till you get through.

You ain't gonna be able to say a word

If I land my fist on you.

Police! Police!

Come and get this man!

He's trying to ruin the government

And overturn the land!

Copper's whistle!

Patrol bell!


Precinct Station.

Iron cell.

Headlines in press:






Shep's Hobby


James Herriot


"Shep's Hobby" has been taken from James Herriot's Dog Stories. Some of Mr. Herriot's animal stories were serialized on the BBC Television series, All Creatures Great and Small.

Herriot2.gif (135548 bytes)

James Herriot


Mr. Bailes's little place was situated about half-way along Highburn Village, and to get into the farmyard you had to walk twenty yards or so between five-foot walls. On the left was the neighbouring house, on the right the front garden of the farm. In this garden Shep lurked for most of the day.

He was a huge dog, much larger than the average Collie. In fact I am convinced he was part Alsatian, because though he had a luxuriant black and white coat there was something significant in the massive limbs and in the noble brown-shaded head with its upstanding ears. He was quite different from the stringy little animals I saw on my daily round.

As I walked between the walls my mind was already in the byre, just visible at the far end of the yard. Because one of the Bailes's cows, Rose by name, had the kind of obscure digestive ailment which interferes with veterinary surgeons' sleep. They are so difficult to diagnose. This animal had begun to grunt and go off her milk two days ago, and when I had seen her yesterday I had flitted from one possibility to the other. Could it be a wire? But the fourth stomach was contracting well and there were plenty of rumenal sounds. Also she was eating a little hay in a half-hearted way.

Could it be impaction . . . ? Or a partial torsion of the gut . . . ? There was abdominal pain without a doubt and that nagging temperature of 102.5N--that was damn like a wire. Of course I could settle the whole thing by opening the cow up, but Mr. Bailes was an old-fashioned type and didn't like the idea of my diving into his animal unless I was certain of my diagnosis. And I wasn't_there was no getting away from that.

I was half-way down the alley between the walls with the hope bright before me that my patient would be improved, when from nowhere an appalling explosion of sound blasted into my right ear. It was Shep again.

The wall was just the right height for the dog to make a leap and bark into the ear of the passers-by. It was a favourite gambit of his and I had been caught before; but never so successfully as now. My attention had been so far away and the dog had timed his jump to a split second so that his bark came at the highest point, his teeth only inches from my face. And his voice befitted his size, a great bull bellow surging from the depths of his powerful chest and booming from his gaping jaws.

I rose several inches into the air and when I descended, heart thumping, head singing, I glared over the wall. But as usual all I saw was the hairy form bounding away out of sight round the corner of the house.

That was what puzzled me. Why did he do it? Was he a savage creature with evil designs on me, or was it his idea of a joke? I never got near enough to him to find out.

I wasn't in the best of shape to receive bad news and that was what awaited me in the byre. I had only to look at the farmer's face to know that the cow was worse.

"Ah reckon she's got a stoppage," Mr. Bailes muttered gloomily.

I gritted my teeth. The entire spectrum of abdominal disorders were lumped as "stoppages" by the older race of farmers. "The oil hasn't worked, then?"

"Nay, she's nobbut passin' little hard bits. It's a proper stoppage, ah tell you."

"Right, Mr. Bailes," I said with a twisted smile. "We'll have to try something stronger." I brought in from my car the gastric lavage outfit I loved so well and which has so sadly disappeared from my life. The long rubber stomach tube, the wooden gag with its leather straps to buckle behind the horns. As I pumped in the two gallons of warm water rich in formalin and sodium chloride I felt like Napoleon sending in the Old Guard at Waterloo. If this didn't work, nothing would.

Next morning I was driving down the single village street when I saw Mrs. Bailes coming out of the shop. I drew up and pushed my head out of the window.

"How's Rose this morning, Mrs. Bailes?"

She rested her basket on the ground and looked down at me gravely. "Oh, she's bad, Mr. Herriot. Me husband thinks she's goin' down fast. If you want to find him you'll have to go across the field there. He's mindin' the door in that little barn."

A sudden misery enveloped me as I drove over to the gate leading into the field. I left the car in the road and lifted the latch.

"Damn! Damn! Damn!" I muttered as I trailed across the green. I had a nasty feeling that a little tragedy was building up here. If this animal died it would be a sickening blow to a small farmer with ten cows and a few pigs. I should be able to do something about it and it was a depressing thought that I was getting nowhere.

And yet, despite it all, I felt peace stealing into my soul. It was a large field and I could see the barn at the far end as I walked with the tall grass brushing my knees. It was a meadow ready for cutting and suddenly I realised that it was high summer, the sun was hot and that every step brought the fragrance of clover and warm grass rising about me into the crystal freshness of the air. Somewhere nearby a field of broad beans was in full flower, and as the exotic scent drifted across I found myself inhaling with half-closed eyes as though straining to discern the ingredients of the glorious melange.

And then there was the silence; it was the most soothing thing of all. That and the feeling of being alone. I looked drowsily around at the empty green miles sleeping under the sunshine. Nothing stirred, there was no sound.

Then without warning the ground at my feet erupted in an incredible blast of noise. For a dreadful moment the blue sky was obscured by an enormous hairy form and a red mouth went "waaahh!" in my face. Almost screaming, I staggered back, and as I glared wildly I saw Shep disappearing at top speed towards the gate. Concealed in the deep herbage right in the middle of the field he had waited till he saw the whites of my eyes before making his assault.

Whether he had been there by accident or whether he had spotted me arriving and slunk into position I shall never know, but from his point of view the result must have been eminently satisfactory because it was certainly the worst fright I have ever had. I live a life which is well larded with scares and alarms, but this great dog rising bellowing from that empty landscape was something on its own. I have heard of cases where sudden terror and stress has caused involuntary evacuation of the bowels, and I know without question that this was the occasion when I came nearest to suffering that unhappy fate.

I was still trembling when I reached the barn and hardly said a word as Mr. Bailes led me back across the road to the farm.

And it was like rubbing it in when I saw my patient. The flesh had melted from her and she stared at the wall apathetically from sunken eyes. The doom-laden grunt was louder.

I decided to have one last go with the lavage. It was still the strongest weapon in my armoury but this time I added two pounds of black treacle to the mixture. Nearly every farmer had a barrel of the stuff in his cow house in those days and I had only to go into the corner and turn the tap.

It was not till the following afternoon that I drove into Highburn. I left the car outside the farm and was about to walk between the walls when I paused and stared at a cow in the field on the other side of the road. It was a pasture next to the hayfield of yesterday and that cow was Rose. There could be no mistake_she was a fine deep red with a distinctive white mark like a football on her left flank.

I opened the gate and within seconds my cares dropped from me. She was wonderfully, miraculously improved, in fact she looked like a normal animal. I walked up to her and scratched the root of her tail. She was a docile creature and merely looked round at me as she cropped the grass; and her eyes were no longer sunken but bright and full.

As the wave of relief flooded through me I saw Mr. Bailes climbing over the wall from the next field. He would still be mending that barn door.

As he approached I felt a pang of commiseration. I had to guard against any display of triumph_after all the poor chap had been worried. No, it wouldn't do to preen myself unduly.

"Ah, good morning to you, Mr. Bailes," I said expansively. "Rose looks fine today, doesn't she?"

The farmer took off his cap and wiped his brow. "Aye, she's a different cow, all right."

"I don't think she needs any more treatment," I said. I hesitated. Perhaps one little dig would do no harm. "But it's a good thing I gave her that extra lavage yesterday."

"Yon pumpin' job?" Mr. Bailes raised his eyebrows. "Oh that had nowt to do with it."

"What . . . what do you mean? It cured her, surely."

"Nay, lad, nay, Jim Oakley cured her."

"Jim . . . what on earth . . . ?"

"Aye, Jim was round 'ere last night. He often comes in of an evenin' and he took one look at the cow and told me what to do. Ah'll tell you she was like dyin'_that pumpin' job hadn't done no good at all. He told me to give her a bloody good gallop round t'field."


"Aye, that's what he said. He'd seen 'em like that afore and a good gallop put 'em right. So we got Rose out here and did as he said and by gaw it did the trick. She looked better right away."

I drew myself up. "And who," I asked frigidly, "is Jim Oakley?"

"He's t'postman, of course."

"The postman!"

"Aye, but he used to keep a few beasts years ago. He's a very clever man wi' stock, is Jim."

"No doubt, but I assure you, Mr. Bailes . . ."

The farmer raised a hand. "Say no more, lad. Jim put 'er right and there's no denyin' it. I wish you'd seen 'im chasin' 'er round. He's as awd as me, but by gaw 'e did go. He can run like 'ell, can Jim." He chuckled reminiscently.

I had had about enough. During the farmer's eulogy I had been distractedly scratching the cow's tail and had soiled my hand in the process. Mustering the remains of my dignity I nodded to Mr. Bailes.

"Well, I must be on my way. Do you mind if I go into the house to wash my hands?"

"You go right in," he replied. "T'missus will get you some hot water."

It seemed to take a long time to reach the end of the wall and I was about to turn right towards the door of the farm kitchen when from my left I heard the sudden rattle of a chain, then a roaring creature launched itself at me, bayed once, mightily, into my face and was gone.

This time I thought my heart would stop. With my defences at their lowest I was in no state to withstand Shep. I had quite forgotten that Mrs. Bailes occasionally tethered him in the kennel at the entrance to discourage unwelcome visitors, and as I half lay against the wall, the blood thundering in my ears, I looked dully at the long coil of chain on the cobbles.

I have no time for people who lose their temper with animals but something snapped in my mind then. All my frustration burst from me in a torrent of incoherent shouts and I grabbed the chain and began to pull on it frenziedly. That dog which had tortured me was there in that kennel. For once I knew where to get at him and this time I was going to have the matter out with him. The kennel would be about ten feet away and at first I saw nothing. There was only the dead weight on the end of the chain. Then as I hauled inexorably a nose appeared, then a head, then all of the big animal hanging limply by his collar. He showed no desire to get up and greet me but I was merciless and dragged him inch by inch over the cobbles till he was lying at my feet.

Beside myself with rage, I crouched, shook my fist under his nose and yelled at him from a few inches' range.

"You big bugger! If you do that to me again I'll knock your bloody head off! Do you hear me, I'll knock your bloody head clean off!"

Shep rolled frightened eyes at me and his tail flickered apologetically between his legs. When I continued to scream at him he bared his upper teeth in an ingratiating grin and finally rolled on his back where he lay inert with half-closed eyes.

So now I knew. He was a softie. All his ferocious attacks were just a game. I began to calm down but for all that I wanted him to get the message.

"Right, mate," I said in a menacing whisper. "Remember what I've said!" I let go the chain and gave a final shout. "Now get back in there!"

Shep, almost on his knees, tail tucked well in, shot back into his kennel and I turned toward the farmhouse to wash my hands.

I was surprised when, about a month later, I received another call to one of Mr. Bailes's cows. I felt that after my performance with Rose he would have called on the services of Jim Oakley for any further trouble. But no, his voice on the phone was as polite and friendly as ever, with not a hint that he had lost faith. It was strange . . .

Leaving my car outside the farm I looked warily into the front garden before venturing between the walls. A faint tinkle of metal told me that Shep was lurking there in his kennel and I slowed my steps; I wasn't going to be caught again. At the end of the alley I paused, waiting, but all I saw was the end of a nose which quietly withdrew as I stood there. So my outburst had got through to the big dog--he knew I wasn't going to stand any more nonsense from him.

And yet, as I drove away after the visit, I didn't feel good about it. A victory over an animal is a hollow one and I had the uncomfortable feeling that I had deprived him of his chief pleasure. After all, every creature is entitled to some form of recreation and though Shep's hobby could result in the occasional heart failure it was, after all, his thing and part of him. The thought that I had crushed something out of his life was a disquieting one. I wasn't proud.

So that when, later that summer, I was driving through Highburn, I paused in anticipation outside the Bailes's farm. The village street, white and dusty, slumbered under the afternoon sun. In the blanketing silence nothing moved--except for one small man strolling towards the opening between the walls. He was fat and very dark--one of the tinkers from a camp outside the village--and he carried an armful of pots and pans.

From my vantage point I could see through the railings into the front garden where Shep was slinking noiselessly into position beneath the stones. Fascinated, I watched as the man turned unhurriedly into the opening and the dog followed the course of the disembodied head along the top of the wall.

As I expected it all happened half-way along. The perfectly timed leap, the momentary pause at the summit, then the tremendous "WOOF!" into the unsuspecting ear.

It had its usual effect. I had a brief view of flailing arms and flying pans followed by a prolonged metallic clatter, then the little man reappeared like a projectile, turned right and sped away from me up the street. Considering his almost round physique he showed an astonishing turn of speed, his little legs pistoning, and he did not pause till he disappeared into the shop at the far end of the village.

I don't know why he went in there because he wouldn't find any stronger restorative than ginger pop.

Shep, apparently well satisfied, wandered back over the grass and collapsed in a cool patch where an apple tree threw its shade over the grass; head on paws, he waited in comfort for his next victim.

shep.gif (147944 bytes) I smiled to myself as I let in the clutch and moved off. I would stop at the shop and tell the little man that he could collect his pans without the slightest fear of being torn limb from limb, but my overriding emotion was one of relief that I had not cut the sparkle out of the big dog's life.

Shep was still having his fun.


End of Week 1

                          GO TO MAIN MENU                                   GO TO WEEK 2