American Author, Poet, Essayist, Winner of Pulitzer
American Author, Poet, Essayist, Winner of Pulitzer
The obverse of this freedom, of course, is that your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, and so worthless to the world, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever.
The painter ... does not fit the paints to the world. He most certainly does not fit the world to himself. He fits himself to the paint. The self is the servant who bears the paintbox and its inherited contents.
The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped. His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second, through empty air. Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass. I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.
The interior life expands and fills; it approaches the edge of skin; it thickens with its own vivid story; it even begins to hear rumors, from beyond the horizon skin?s rim, of nations and wars. You wake one day and discover your grandmother; you wake another day and notice, like any curious naturalist, the boys.
The interior life is often stupid. Its egoism blinds it and deafens it; its imagination spins out ignorant tales, fascinated. It fancies that the western wind blows on the Self, and leaves fall at the feet of the Self for a reason, and people are watching. A mind risks real ignorance for the sometimes paltry prize of an imagination enriched. The trick of reason is to get the imagination to seize the actual world?if only from time to time.
The mating rites of mantises are well known: a chemical produced in the head of the male insect says in effect, 'No, I don't go near her, you fool, she'll eat you alive.' At the same time a chemical in his abdomen says, 'Yes, by all means, now and forever yes.
The mental effort involved in these reasonings proves overwhelming for many patients. It oppresses them to realize, if they ever do at all, the tremendous size of the world, which they had previously conceived of as something touchingly manageable. It oppresses them to realize that they have been visible to people all along, perhaps unattractively so, without their knowledge or consent. A disheartening number of them refuse to use their new vision, continuing to go over objects with their tongues, and lapsing into apathy and despair.
The mind of the writer does indeed do something before it dies, and so does its owner, but I would be hard put to call it living.
The mind wants to live forever, or to learn a very good reason why not. The mind wants the world to return its love, or its awareness... The mind's sidekick, however, will settle for two eggs over easy. The dear, stupid body is easily satisfied as a spaniel. And, incredibly, the simple spaniel can lure the brawling mind to its dish. It is everlastingly funny that the proud, metaphysically ambitious mind will hush if you give it an egg.
The general rule in nature is that live things are soft within and rigid without.
The higher Christian churches...come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God...if God were to blast such a congregation to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute.
The creatures I seek do not want to be seen.
The death of self of which the great writers speak is no violent act. It is merely the joining of the great rock heart of the earth in its roll. It is merely the slow cessation of the will's spirits and the intellect's chatter: it is waiting like a hollow bell with a stilled tongue. Fuge, tace, quiesce. The waiting itself is the thing.
The dedicated life is the life worth living. You must give with your whole heart.
The extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire since the word go!
The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit's one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock--more than a maple--universe.
The creation is not a study, roughed-in sketch; it is supremely, meticulously created, created abundantly, extravagantly, and in fine... Even on the perfectly ordinary and clearly visible level, creation carries on with an intricacy unfathomable and apparently uncalled for. The lone ping into being of the first hydrogen atom ex nihilo was so unthinkably, violently radical, that surely it ought to have been enough, more than enough. But look what happens. You open the door and all heaven and hell break loose.
The creator goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, or millions simultaneously, with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and with an abandoned energy sprung from an unfathomable font. What is going on here? 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 all 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: and the creator loves pizzazz.
The creator is not puritan. A creature need not work for a living; creatures may simply steal and suck and be blessed for all that with a share?an enormous share?of the sunlight and air.
Somewhere, and I can't find where, I read about an Eskimo hunter who asked the local missionary priest, "If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?" "No," said the priest, "not if you did not know." "Then why," asked the Eskimo earnestly, "did you tell me?"
Spend the afternoon, you can't take it with you.
Starlings are notoriously difficult to "control." The story is told of a man who was bothered by starlings roosting in a large sycamore near his house. He said he tried everything to get rid of them and finally took a shotgun to three of them and killed them. When asked if that discouraged the birds, he reflected a minute, leaned forward, and said confidentially, "Those three it did."
That something is everywhere and always amiss is part of the very stuff of creation. It is as though each clay form had baked into it, a blue streak of nonbeing, a shaded emptiness like a bubble that not only shapes its very structure but that also causes it to list and ultimately explode. We could have planned things more mercifully, perhaps, but our plan would never get off the drawing board until we agreed to the very comprising terms that are the only ones that being offers.
The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.
Society places the writer so far beyond the pale that society does not regard the writer at all.