We might have been a half mile away from another human being, a big deal here in packed southeastern Pennsylvania. In the middle of a grassy field between two square sections of high corn — the dogs, the clouds blinking the sun open and closed, a good breeze running through the grass and stirring the corn and cooling us. For a few fine seconds I am able not to think. We heard no motors, no drifting sounds of the mechanized and the wired — instead there was this: the damp ground, the scratchy grass, the dogs’ fur under my hand, their panting, the pale blue sky above us frayed by long clouds, the big pines and the brush line, the blowing fall of yellow leaves from walnut trees, and nothing else, no mind intruding, no forethought intruding, but only an emptiness filled with something briefly made plain — an animal well-being, an animal happiness.
Andrew Wyeth, Pentecost
Something rare goes on out here. Something that feels primal but diffused, like a shred of music coming from a long distance off when the wind is just right. I spend too much time in-doors and cut off to gain anything except a drift of this sensation — but I can understand this, that the world passes through us. We are as permeable as a net.
The point is then that we should want to catch whatever we can with that net — as many moments as we are able to keep clear and tuck away for later, for the connections and the thinking, and if we are fortunate, the knowledge and judgment that might bear up under the weight of a long life. What will transfigure those captured scraps of the world and hold them so that you and I, the writer and the reader, might with confidence believe that we have come to the end of whatever we examine?
Joyce could do it, and Shakespeare, Faulkner, Wallace Stevens, Gary Snyder, Hemingway sometimes acutely, others of great talent. Musicians and painters come closest perhaps — Mozart, Bach, Keith Richards, Nina Simone, Monet, Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, Edward Hopper, O’Keefe. Painters work outside of words. Their brushes and paints, arm and eyes and brain seem to have meshed synaptically with the haul of their personal nets. Maybe superb photographers come closest of all. They set or wait for the light and then click into being the stunned, unconscious image of one moment made quiescent.
A Rockwell Kent painting of the Adirondacks
William Gass has written that one bag of hair collected from Auschwitz is more tragic than anything in Hamlet. He is right. Hamlet gives us a mask of language that moves us. That sack of hair is the irreducible thing, the scream, the absolute tears streaming down the face.
Nouns are not things and verbs are not actions. Adjectives are not the flourish of things, nor adverbs the nuance of actions — they are all symbols that remain separate from the corporeal, from the flesh and object or from the expression of force, from the dynamic of movement.
And thus writing is another faith — the attempt to find ways to see to the center of things, and then setting down the precise nature of what happens. This is a theological enterprise, one which has no ending, I suspect, but that too is a kind of benediction. What would become of us if we did not run after something larger than our pitiable selves?
For me, running parallel with that pursuit is the pursuit of the ecstatic as found out of doors, out of earshot of noise, out of contact with almost everything we have pulled into creation. There is no paradise anywhere here, but there can be, briefly, a narrow peace, some space saved from worry and the endless cruelty and indulgence and greed of the wider mess we have made of so much.
I felt this in the classroom. Suddenly, in that narrow space, the door closed, all of that collected energy, mine but principally that of marvelous children, might align itself and rise and gather and intensify and become something reclaimed from loss and from the erosion of time — a preserved entity that can even now be summoned and give solace.
We will go out again today, the dogs and I. It is a new world each morning. I will plod behind them. Luna especially runs with such fluid grace and speed. What a pleasure just to watch her. In a field or climbing rocky ground, next to water or even in an unexpected poise of silence in the yard, something will happen, something will flash, a delight will move gently into place, and later I will see if I cannot win it back for me, for you too.
Keith by George Rose, 1980