American Author, Poet, Essayist, Winner of Pulitzer
American Author, Poet, Essayist, Winner of Pulitzer
Whenever a work's structure is intentionally one of its own themes, another of its themes is art.
Whenever there is stillness there is the still small voice, God's speaking from the whirlwind, nature's old song, and dance.
Wherever we go, there seems to be only one business at hand - that of finding workable compromises between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us.
When I see this way I analyze and pry. I hurl over logs and roll away stones; I study the bank a square foot at a time, probing and tilting my head. Some days when a mist covers the mountains, when the muskrats won?t show and the microscope?s mirror shatters, I want to climb up the blank blue dome as a man would storm the inside of a circus tent, wildly, dangling, and with a steel knife claw a rent in the top, peep, and, if I must, fall.
When I see this way I see truly. As Thoreau says, I return to my senses. I am the man who watches the baseball game in silence in an empty stadium. I see the game purely; I?m abstracted and dazed. When it?s all over and the white-suited players lope off the green field to their shadowed dugouts, I leap to my feet; I cheer and cheer.
When I teach, I preach. I thump the Bible. I exhort my students morally. I talk to them about the dedicated life.
When I was fifteen, I felt it coming; now I was sixteen, and it hit. My feet had imperceptibly been set on a new path... there wasn't a whole lot I could do about it, or about anything. I was going to hell on a handcart, that was all, and I knew it and everyone around me knew it, and there it was.
When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination.
When we lose our innocence - when we start feeling the weight of the atmosphere and learn that there's death in the pot - we take leave of our sense.
When you open a book, the sentimental library posters said, anything can happen. This was so. A book of fiction was a bomb. It was a land mine you wanted to go off. You wanted it to blow your whole day. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of books were duds. They had been rusting out of everyone?s way for so long that they no longer worked. There was no way to distinguish the duds from the live mines except to throw yourself at them headlong, one by one.
When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner?s pick, a woodcarver?s gouge, a surgeon?s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year. You make the path boldly and follow it fearfully. You go where the path leads. At the end of the path, you find a box canyon. You hammer out reports, dispatch bulletins. The writing has changed, in your hands, and in a twinkling, from an expression of your notions to an epistemological tool. The new place interests you because it is not clear. You attend. In your humility, you lay down the words carefully, watching all the angles. Now the earlier writing looks soft and careless. Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.
What is important is the moment of opening a life and feeling it touch--with an electric hiss and cry--this speckled mineral sphere, our present world.
What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are not they both saying: Hello? We spy on whales and on interstellar radio objects; we starve ourselves and pray till we're blue.
When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw the tree with the lights in it. It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker creek and thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing that like being for the first time see, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I?m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells un-flamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.
When I first read the words 'introvert' and 'extrovert' when I was 10, I thought I was both.
Were the earth smooth, our brains would be smooth as well; we would wake, blink, walk two steps to get the whole picture, and lapse into a dreamless sleep.
What a hideout: Holiness lies spread and borne over the surface of time and stuff like color.
What can an artist use but materials, such as they are? What can he light but the short string of his gut, and when that's burnt out, any muck ready to hand?
What can we make of the inexpressible joy of children? It is a kind of gratitude, I think?the gratitude of the ten-year-old who wakes to her own energy and the brisk challenge of the world. You thought you knew the place and all its routines, but you see you hadn?t known. Whole stacks at the library held books devoted to things you knew nothing about. The boundary of knowledge receded, as you poked about in books, like Lake Erie?s rim as you climbed its cliffs. And each area of knowledge disclosed another, and another. Knowledge wasn?t a body, or a tree, but instead air, or space, or being?whatever pervaded, whatever never ended and fitted into the smallest cracks and the widest space between stars.
What do I make of all this texture? What does it mean about the kind of world in which I have been set down? The texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is the possibility for beauty here, a beauty inexhaustible in its complexity, which opens to my knock, which answers in me a call I do not remember calling, and which trains me to the wild and extravagant nature of the spirit I seek.
What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking. We should amass half dressed in long lines like tribesmen and shake gourds at each other, to wake up; instead we watch television and miss the show.
What does it feel like to be alive? Living, you stand under a waterfall. You leave the sleeping shore deliberately; you shed your dusty clothes, pick your barefoot way over the high, slippery rocks, hold your breath, choose your footing, and step into the waterfall. The hard water pelts your skull, bangs in bits on your shoulders and arms. The strong water dashes down beside you and you feel it along your calves and thighs rising roughly backup, up to the roiling surface, full of bubbles that slide up your skin or break on you at full speed. Can you breathe here? Here where the force is the greatest and only the strength of your neck holds the river out of your face. Yes, you can breathe even here. You could learn to live like this. And you can, if you concentrate, even look out at the peaceful far bank where you try to raise your arms. What a racket in your ears, what a scattershot pummeling! It is time pounding at you, time. Knowing you are alive is watching on every side your generation's short time falling away as fast as rivers drop through air, and feeling it hit.
What geomancy reads what the windblown sand writes on the desert rock? I read there that all things live by a generous power and dance to a mighty tune; or I read there all things are scattered and hurled, that our every arabesque and grand jete is a frantic variation on our one free fall.
What have we been doing all these centuries but trying to call God back to the mountain, or, failing that, raise a peep out of anything that isn't us? What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are not they both saying: Hello? We spy on whales and on interstellar radio objects; we starve ourselves and pray till we're blue.
What I aim to do is not so much learn the names of the shreds of creation that flourish in this valley, but to keep myself open to their meanings, which is to try to impress myself at all times with the fullest possible force of their very reality. I want to have things as multiply and intricately as possible present and visible in my mind. Then I might be able to sit on the hill by the burnt books where the starlings fly over, and see not only the starlings, the grass field, the quarried rock, the viney woods, Hollins pond, and the mountains beyond, but also, and simultaneously, feathers? barbs, springtails in the soil, crystal in rock, chloroplasts streaming, rotifers pulsing, and the shape of the air in the pines. And, if I try to keep my eye on quantum physics, if I try to keep up with astronomy and cosmology, and really believe it all, I might ultimately be able to make out the landscape of the universe. Why not?