The book was in her lap; she had read no further. The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are slender, like the flukes that live in river water and enter the bodies of swimmers. She was excited, filled with strength. The polished sentences had arrived, it seemed, like so many other things, at just the right time. How can we imagine what our lives should be without the illumination of the lives of others?
WE DASH THE BLACK RIVER, ITS flats smooth as stone. Not a ship, not a dinghy, not one cry of white. The water lies broken, cracked from the wind. This great estuary is wide, endless. The river is brackish, blue with the cold. It passes beneath us blurring. The sea birds hang above it, they wheel, disappear. We flash the wide river, a dream of the past. The deeps fall behind, the bottom is paling the surface, we rush by the shallows, boats beached for winter, desolate piers. And on wings like the gulls, soar up, turn, look back.
I like men who have known the best and the worst, whose life has been anything but a smooth trip. Storms have battered them, they have lain, sometimes for months on end, becalmed. There is a residue even if they fail. It has not been all tinkling; there have been grand chords.
Age doesn't arrive slowly, it comes in a rush. One day nothing has changed, a week later, everything has. A week may be too long a time, it can happen overnight. You are the same and still the same and suddenly one morning two distinct lines, ineradicable, have appeared at the corners of your mouth.
They lay silently. She was staring at something across the room. She was making him feel uncomfortable. 'It wouldn't work. It's the attraction of opposites,' he said. We're not opposites.' I don't mean just you and me. Women fall in love when they get to know you. Men are just the opposite. When they finally know you they're ready to leave.
Of them all, it was the true love. Of them all, it was the best. That other sumptuous love which made one drunk, which one longed for, envied, believed in, that was not life. It was what life was seeking; it was a suspension of life. But to be close to a child, for whom one spent everything, whose life was protected and nourished by one's own, to have that child beside one, at peace, was the real, the deepest, the only joy.
In general, American life is more easy-going. And civic pride, national pride in a cultural sense, is great in America. I think what they esteem in America is character and energy, and being different and superior to other peoples. Of course, every nation feels itself to be superior, but in America it's a jaunty feeling, and in some cases a rather ominous one among the super-patriots.
I like aristocracy. I like the beauty of aristocracy. I like the hierarchical feeling.You could claim that it's due to my military experience. But it came before that. I love their freedom of behavior. They're not constrained by penal attitudes, puritanical attitudes about behavior, both socially and morally. They have a freedom that I admire. An unquestioned freedom.
Then it was intoxicating. The smooth takeoff, and the free feeling of having the world drop away. Soon after leaving the ground, they were crossing patches of stratus that lay in the valleys as heavy and white as glaciers. North for the first time. It was still an adventure, as exciting as love, as frightening.
I'm tired of my life, my clothes, the things I say. I'm hacking away at the surface, as at some kind of gray ice, trying to break through to what is underneath or I am dead. I can feel the surface trembling—it seems ready to give but it never does. I am uninterested in current events. How can I justify this? How can I explain it? I don't want to have the same vocabulary I've always had. I want something richer, broader, more penetrating and powerful.
Children are our crop, our fields, our earth. They are birds let loose into darkness. They are errors renewed. Still, they are the only source from which may be drawn a life more successful, more knowing than our own. Somehow they will do one thing, take one step further, they will see the summit. We believe in it, the radiance that streams from the future, from days we will not see. Children must live, must triumph. Children must die; that is an idea we cannot accept.
To write? Because all this is going to vanish. The only thing left will be the prose and poems, the books, what is written down. Man was very fortunate to have invented the book. Without it the past would completely vanish, and we would be left with nothing, we would be naked on earth.
One is seduced and battered in turn. The result is presumably wisdom. Wisdom! We are clinging to life like lizards. Why is it so difficult to assemble those things that really matter in life and to dwell among them only? I am referring to certain landscapes, persons, beasts, books, rooms, meteorological conditions, fruits. In fact, I insist on it. A letter is like a poem, it leaps into life and shows very clearly the marks, perhaps I should say thumbprints, of an unwilling or unready composer.
Certain things I remember exactly as they were. They are merely discolored a bit by time, like coins in the pocket of a forgotten suit. Most of the details, though, have long since been transformed or rearranged to bring others of them forward. Some, in fact, are obviously counterfeit; they are no less important. One alters the past to form the future.
You lived and died alone, especially in fighters. Fighters. Somehow, despite everything, that word had not become sterile. You slipped into the hollow cockpit and strapped and plugged yourself into the machine. The canopy ground shut and sealed you off. Your oxygen, your very breath, you carried into the chilled vacuum, in a steel bottle.
But knowledge does not protect one. Life is contemptuous of knowledge; it forces it to sit in the anterooms, to wait outside. Passion, energy, lies: these are what life admires. Still, anything can be endured if all humanity is watching. The martyrs prove it. We live in the attention of others. We turn to it as flowers to the sun.
I don't fear death. I'm not obsessed with it the way everybody else seems to be. It's wrong to say "everybody," but in literature I see it all the time - preoccupation with it, philosophical preoccupation, in fact. That's a principle element of literature and philosophy, often cited as the main element, the only real element. I say give it up.
Your parents are the parents you know best. Your brother and sister, if you have them, are the brother and sister you know best. They may not be the ones you like the best. They may not be the most interesting, but they are the closest and probably the clearest to you.