American Author, Poet, Essayist, Winner of Pulitzer
American Author, Poet, Essayist, Winner of Pulitzer
The world did not have me in mind; it had no mind. It was a coincidental collection of things and people, of items, and I myself was one such item...the things in the world did not necessarily cause my overwhelming feelings; the feelings were inside me, beneath my skin, behind my ribs, withing my skull. They were even, to some extent, under my control.
The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny? But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.
The universe that suckled us is a monster that does not care if we live or die--it does not care if it itself grinds to a halt. It is a beast running on chance and death, careening from nowhere to nowhere. It is fixed and blind, a robot programmed to kill. We are free and seeing; we can only try to outwit it at every turn to save our lives.
The word "nowhere" is our cue: the consort of musicians strike up, and we in the chorus stir and move and start twirling our hats. A mangrove island turns drift to dance. It creates its own soil as it goes, rocking over the salt sea at random, rocking day and night and round the sun, rocking round the sun and out toward east of Hercules.
The reader's ear must adjust down from loud life to the subtle, imaginary sounds of the written word. An ordinary reader picking up a book can't yet hear a thing; it will take half an hour to pick up the writing's modulations, its ups and downs and louds and softs.
The real and proper question is: why is it beautiful?
The rock I'd seen in my life looked dull because in all ignorance I'd never thought to knock it open. People have cracked ordinary New England pegmatite - big, coarse granite - and laid bare clusters of red garnets, or topaz crystals, chrysoberyl, spodumene, emerald. They held in their hands crystals that had hung in a hole in the dark for a billion years unseen. I was all for it. I would lay about me right and left with a hammer, and bash the landscape to bits. I would crack the earth's crust like a pi¤ata and spread to the light the vivid prizes in chunks within. Rock collecting was opening the mountains. It was like diving through my own interior blank blackness to remember the startling pieces of a dream: there was a blue lake, a witch, a lighthouse, a yellow path. It was like poking about in a grimy alley and finding an old, old coin. Nothing was at it seemed. The earth was like a shut eye. Mother's not dead, dear - she's only sleeping. Pry open the thin lid and find a crystalline intelligence inside, a rayed and sidereal beauty. Crystals grew inside rock like arithmetical flowers. They lengthened and spread, adding plane to plane in awed and perfect obedience to an absolute geometry that even the stones - maybe only the stones - understood.
The sea pronounces something, over and over, in a hoarse whisper; I cannot quite make it out.
The secret is not to write about what you love best, but about what you, alone, love at all.
The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit, till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.
The secret of seeing is, then, the pearl of great price. If I thought he could teach me to find it and keep it forever I would stagger barefoot across a hundred deserts after any lunatic at all. But although the pearl may be found, it may not be sought. The literature of illumination reveals this above all: although it comes to those who wait for it, it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, a gift and a total surprise... I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.
The sensation of writing a book is the sensation of spinning, blinded by love and daring. It is the sensation of a stunt pilot's turning barrel rolls, or an inchworm's blind rearing from a stem in search of a route. At its worst, it feels like alligator wrestling, at the level of the sentence.
The sense impressions of one-celled animals are not edited for the brain. This is philosophically interesting in a rather mournful way, since it means that only the simplest animals perceive the universe as it is.
The silence is all there is. It is the alpha and the omega, it is God's brooding over the face of the waters; it is the blinded note of the ten thousand things, the whine of wings. You take a step in the right direction to pray to this silence, and even to address the prayer to World. Distinctions blur. Quit your tents. Pray without ceasing.
The soul may ask God for anything, and never fail.
The surest sign of age is loneliness.
The point of the dragonfly's terrible lip, the giant water bug, birdsong, or the beautiful dazzle and flash of sunlighted minnows, is not that it all fits together like clockwork- for it doesn't particularly, not even inside the goldfish bowl- but that it all flows so freely wild, like the creek, that it surges in such a free, fringed tangle. Freedom is the world's water and weather, the world's nourishment freely given, its soil and sap.
The present is the object of vision, and what I see before me at any given second is a full field of colour patches scattered just so. The configuration will never be repeated.
The Pulitzer is more useful than meaningful.
The range of rhythms in prose is larger and grander than it is in poetry, and it can handle discursive ideas and plain information as well as character and story. It can do everything. I felt as though I had switched from a single reed instrument to a full orchestra.
The point of going somewhere like the Napo River in Ecuador is not to see the most spectacular anything. It is simply to see what is there.
The most appealing daily schedule I know is that of a turn-of-the-century Danish aristocrat. He got up at four and set out on foot to hunt black grouse, wood grouse, woodcock, and snipe. At eleven he met his friends, who had also been out hunting alone all morning. They converged ?at one of these babbling brooks,? he wrote. He outlined the rest of his schedule. ?Take a quick dip, relax with a schnapps and a sandwich, stretch out, have a smoke, take a nap or just rest, and then sit around and chat until three. Then I hunt some more until sundown, bathe again, put on white tie and tails to keep up appearances, eat a huge dinner, smoke a cigar and sleep like a log until the sun comes up again to redden the eastern sky. This is living?. Could it be more perfect??
The moth's enormous wings are velveted in a rich, warm, brown, and edged in bands of blue and pink delicate as a watercolour wash. A startling 'eyespot,' immense, and deep blue melding to an almost translucent yellow, luxuriates in the centre of each hind wing. The effect is one of a masculine splendour foreign to the butterflies, a fragility unfurled to strength
The mountains are great stone bells; they clang together like nuns. Who shushed the stars? There are a thousand million galaxies easily seen in the Palomar reflector; collisions between and among them do, of course, occur. But these collisions are very long and silent slides. Billions of stars sift amont each other untouched, too distant even to be moved, heedless as always, hushed. The sea pronounces something, over and over, in a hoarse whisper; I cannot quite make it out. But God knows I have tried.
The notion of the infinite variety of detail and the multiplicity of forms is a pleasing one; in complexity are the fringes of beauty, and in variety are generosity and exuberance.