American Author, Poet, Essayist, Winner of Pulitzer
American Author, Poet, Essayist, Winner of Pulitzer
Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.
Skin was earth; it was soil. I could see, even on my own skin, the joined trapezoids of dust specks God had wetted and stuck with his spit the morning he made Adam from dirt. Now, all these generations later, we people could still see on our skin the inherited prints of the dust specks of Eden.
So it is that a writer writes many books. In each book, he intended several urgent and vivid points, many of which he sacrificed as the book's form hardened.
So live. I'll be the nun for you. I am now.
So the Midwest nourishes us... and presents us with the spectacle of a land and a people completed and certain. And so we run to our bedrooms and read in a fever, and love the big hardwood trees outside the windows, and the terrible Midwest summers, and the terrible Midwest winters [...]. And so we leave it sorrowfully, having grown strong and restless by opposing with all our will and mind and muscle its simple, loving, single will for us: that we stay, that we stay and find a place among its familiar possibilities. Mother knew we would go; she encouraged us.
Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what's going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.
Silence is not our heritage but our destiny; we live where we want to live.
Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery.
Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in childbirth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms.
Outside shadows are blue, I read, because they are lighted by the blue sky and not the yellow sun. Their blueness bespeaks infinitesimal particles scattered down inestimable distance.
Outside the great American forest is heaving up leaves and wood from the ground. Inside I stand at the window, god, with your name wrapped round my throat like a scarf.
Outside the study hall the next fall, the fall of our senior year, the Nabisco plant baked sweet white bread twice a week. If I sharpened a pencil at the back of the room I could smell the baking bread and the cedar shavings from the pencil.... Pretty soon all twenty of us - our class - would be leaving. A core of my classmates had been together since kindergarten. I'd been there eight years. We twenty knew by bored heart the very weave of each other's socks... The poems I loved were in French, or translated from the Chinese, Portuguese, Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek. I murmured their heartbreaking sylllables. I knew almost nothing of the diverse and energetic city I lived in. The poems whispered in my ear the password phrase, and I memorized it behind enemy lines: There is a world. There is another world. I knew already that I would go to Hollins College in Virginia; our headmistress sent all her problems there, to her alma mater. For the English department, she told me.... But, To smooth off her rough edges, she had told my parents. They repeated the phrase to me, vividly. I had hopes for my rough edges. I wanted to use them as a can opener, to cut myself a hole in the world's surface, and exit through it. Would I be ground, instead, to a nub? Would they send me home, an ornament to my breed, in a jewelry bag?
People love pretty much the same things best. A writer looking for subject inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all.
People love the good not much less than the beautiful, and the happy as well, or even just the living, for the world of it all, and heart's home.
People who read are not too lazy to turn on the television; they prefer books.
Private life, book life, took place where words met imagination without passing through the world.
Push it. Examine all things intensely and relentlessly.
Say you could view a time lapse film of our planet: what would you see? Transparent images moving through light, an infinite storm of beauty. The beginning is swaddled in mists, blasted by random blinding flashes. Lava pours and cools; seas boil and flood. Clouds materialize and shift; now you can see the earth?s face through only random patches of clarity. The land shudders and splits, like pack ice rent by widening lead. Mountains burst up, jutting, and dull and soften before your eyes, clothed in forests like felt. The ice rolls up, grinding green land under water forever; the ice rolls back. Forests erupt and disappear like fairy rings. The ice rolls up- mountains are mowed into lakes, land rises wet from the sea like a surfacing whale- the ice rolls back.
Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won't see it. Seeing the open pits in the open air, among farms, is the wonder, and seeing the bodies twist free from the soil. The sight of a cleaned clay soldier upright in a museum case is unremarkable, and this is all that future generations will see. No one will display those men crushed beyond repair; no one will display their loose parts; no one will display them crawling from the walls. Future generations will miss the crucial sight of ourselves as rammed earth... If Tinker Mountain erupted, I?d be likely to notice. But if I want to notice the lesser cataclysms of valley life, I have to maintain in my head a running description of the present... Like a blind man at the ball game, I need a radio... It is, as Ruskin says, 'not merely unnoticed, but in the full, clear sense of the word, unseen.' . . . I have to say the words, describe what I'm seeing. . . . But if I want to notice the lesser cataclysms of valley life, I have to maintain in my head a running description of the present.
Self-consciousness, however, does hinder the experience of the present. It is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest. So long as I lose myself in a tree, say, I can scent its leafy breath or estimate its board feet of lumber, I can draw its fruits or boil tea on its branches, and the tree stays tree. But the second I become aware of myself at any of these activities -- looking over my own shoulder, as it were -- the tree vanishes, uprooted from the spot and flung out of sight as if it had never grown. And time, which had flowed down into the tree bearing new revelations like floating leaves at ever moment, ceases. It dams, stills, stagnates. (Harper Perennial Edition 82)
She is nine, beloved, as open-faced as the sky and as self-contained. I have watched her grow. As recently as three or four years ago, she had a young child's perfectly shallow receptiveness; she fitted into the world of time, it fitted into her, as thoughtlessly as sky fits its edges, or a river its banks. But as she has grown, her smile has widened with a touch of fear and her glance has taken on depth. Now she is aware of some of the losses you incur by being here--the extortionary rent you have to pay as long as you stay.
She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live. She read books as one would breathe ether, to sink in and die.
Numbers from one to ten, however, are called "God." In other words, counting to ten you would say, "God," God, God, God, God, God, God, God, God, God." It is possible to distinguish among these numbers by the tone in which each is pronounced. "God," for example, corresponding to our "five," is pitched relatively high on the musical scale, and accordingly sounds an inquisitive, even plaintive, note. It is in sharp contrast to the number corresponding to our "ten," which has a slightly accented, basso finality, thus: "God."
On plenty of days the writer can write three or four pages, and on plenty of other days he concludes he must throw them away.
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies? straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.