1990 Metcalf Cup & Prize

Christopher Ricks, CLA

A student writes of Professor Ricks that he “radiates enthusiasm for the experience of learning, the discipline of English, and the text which he is examining; he clearly loves to teach, and his students, in response, love to be taught.” Another says, “The knowledge he possesses is not forced upon his students, but rather is graciously offered as a gift.”

Perhaps the best description of Professor Ricks’s encyclopedic command of his subject comes from a student, who in a brilliant oxymoron avers that Christopher Ricks displays “knowledge beyond limits.”

Professor Ricks marshals this knowledge in his course on “Allusions,” where students learn to listen to the full range of echoes in literature, the living conversations across generations and among books that give literature its resonance. Nor are the building blocks of literature, its forms and techniques, ignored; for in Professor Ricks’s courses students also learn to appreciate the full richness of the rhetorical armamentarium, from anacoluthon to zeugma.

“Professor Ricks has given me faith in the potential excellence of college education,” comments a first-semester freshman. A graduate student praises him for providing a “sense of freedom to depart from (or set aside temporarily) the ‘cutting edge’ critical perspectives, and to formulate instead my own readings of the poems.”

With an erudition both tempered and enlivened by a splendid generosity of mind and spirit, Professor Ricks teaches lessons that endure. One student remarks on his “universal” lectures, which inspired him to apply ‘ideas brought up in Professor Ricks’s teaching. Truth, it appeared, was sometimes a moving target, but we should still try to plot its course.”

Christopher Ricks, himself an exemplar of the power of humane learning to perfect the human spirit, is a master at implanting that learning in others.

Appropriately, it is a student who sums up the achievements for which Professor Ricks is awarded the Metcalf Cup and Prize: “The outcome for all of us was an increased awareness, a sharpening of our perception, a fuller mastery of the means to live our lives.”