Tribute to Roald Tweet

by Kai Swanson and Ann Boaden

1933 — 2020

Roald Tweet became a member of the Augustana College English Department in 1960, and remained there until his retirement in 1999; he chaired the department from 1967 until 1984. In 1998 he was appointed to the Conrad Bergendoff Chair in the Humanities, the second person (after Dorothy Parkander) to hold the College’s first endowed position. Tweet grew up in Brownsville, Minnesota, and lived most of his life along the Mississippi River, a richly alluvial thread that meanders through much of his creative work. Several of his writing projects were undertaken on behalf of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Beginning in 1995, he produced a radio capsule called Rock Island Lines on WVIK, Augustana’s National Public Radio station. In 2006 Tweet was presented the Studs Terkel Humanities Service award from the Illinois Humanities Council. After retiring, Roald and his wife Margaret maintained their family home of sixty years, a house just off campus built in 1889 and long associated with Professor Ernest W. Olson, who translated the beloved Swedish hymn Tryggare kan ingen vara into Children of the Heavenly Father. As a proud Norwegian-American, though, he might rather we think of these lines from Behold a Host Arrayed in White:

Der holder de nå kirkegang
Med uopphørlig jubelklang
I høye kor hvor Gud han bor
Blant alle englers sang.

-by Kai Swanson

Roald Tweet

You came and went so quickly,
hoving into a classroom light
as morning: gray washpants, blue sweater—
hieroglyph of many coffee talks—mug in one hand, book in the other;
a preliminary cough and then
the questioning:
what did you think of this poem ? why? how does that “meaning” come out of the details?
maybe the horse is just a horse behaving the way horses do and what would that suggest?
Lighten up,
light up,
we learned and did.

You’d take them into the old College Union—book, coffee, questions, and sit
by windows that went to the floor, made a sun of your round table,
and the asking went on with the circling hours, the circling chairs
of students, till shadows wove the hills, and you vanished
as you’d vanish from a conversation with one final word
playful and piercing, quick and quirky as lightning
that printed eyes and mind and heart
with a dazzle that darkened your going.

Stories lit in you: from the glint of river, the tug’s dark voice, the gleam of the poised egret,
the glitter of laughter and tears from the shoreline:
stories in words and wood,
and you’d follow the winding ways of them
because facts were flashlights, not stars,
to be ignored if they led away from wonder, from mystery, from play, from
The Word.

What were you, Tweet,
you who came and went so quickly
that we hadn’t time for the good-byes
you wouldn’t have wanted?
What were you, Tweet,
Nisse, magician, story, poem, gadfly, firefly?
Incandescent, evanescent,
but never Hessdalen, will-o-the-wisp:
for look you,
your star shines still.

by Ann Boaden