more to tell than can be told (part 1 of x)

Posted on August 16, 2010

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in the absence of writing, I’ve been trying to read more. this is not an easy task for someone who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat (and sleep through it, too). but hey, I’ve been trying and sometimes succeeding, which is incidentally the only sort of success that I’ve known in my life.

Jayber Crow (technically, Jayber Crow: The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber, of the Port Williams Membership, as Written by Himself) is a novel written by Wendell Berry. if you and I have talked through the topics of contemporary culture, religion, community, and/or literature, you’ve heard me gush about him. poet, novelist, thinker, farmer, and inspiration for my sole tattoo, berry is, I believe, a much-needed voice in this go-go-go, me-myself-I, big boxed, urban sprawled world. I not only find his ideas compelling and poetry breathtaking, but his prose nothing short of masterful.

beyond these thoughts I’m ill-equipped to be a critic. what I can say, however, is that there are so, so many lines and passages in this book that are profound, if not simply beautiful; Jayber Crow is littered with these. and so as not to forget them, I’ve decided to transcribe selections that I can’t shake from my soul as I work through the book.

here they are, from page 3 to 54.

“But it was her eyes that most impressed me. They were nearly black and had a liquid luster. The brief, laughing look that she had given me made me feel extraordinarily seen, as if after that I might be visible in the dark.” (p. 10)

“I don’t remember when I did not know Port William, the town and the neighborhood. My relation to that place, my being in it and my absences from it, is the story of my life.” (p. 12)

“The river was a barrier and yet a connection. I felt, a long time before I knew, that the river had shaped the land. The whole country leaned toward the river. All the streams flowed to it. It flowed by, yet it stayed. It brought things and carried them away. I did not know where it flowed from or to, but I knew that it flowed a great distance through the opening it had made. The current told me that.” (p. 18)

“The river, the river itself, leaves marks but bears none. It is only water flowing in a path that other water as worn.” (p. 19)

“I was a little past ten years old, and I was the survivor already of two stories completely ended.” (p. 28)

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told. As almost any barber can testify, there is also more than needs to be told, and more than anybody wants to hear.” (p. 29)

“Order was of the soul, whose claims the institution represented. Disorder was of the body, which was us.” (p. 32)

“And so there would always be more to remember that could no longer be seen. This is one of those things I can tell you that I have learned: our life here is in some way marginal to our own doings, and our doings are marginal to the greater forces that are always at work.” (p. 37)

“I watched her all the time. When her class went out to play, she did not take part but only stood back and watched the other girls. She always wore a dress that sagged and brown cotton stockings that were always wrinkled. She was waiting. I did not understand that she was waiting but she was. And then one day as her classmates were joining hands to play some sort of game, one of the girls broke the circle. She held out her hand to the newcomer to beckon her in. And E. Lawler ran into the circle and joined hands with the others.” (p. 39)

“Finally I reasoned that in dealing with God you had better give Him the benefit of the doubt.” (p. 43)

“It was as if the world had turned itself upside down above my head and poured over me the rivers and oceans of warm water.” (p. 45)

“In most of them I saw the old division of body and soul that I had known at The Good Shepherd. The same rift ran through everything at Pigeonville College; the only difference was that I was able to see it more clearly, and to winder at it. Everything bas was laid on the body, and everything good was credited to the soul. It scared me a little when I realized that I saw it the other way around. If the soul and body were really divided, then it seemed to me that all the worst sins – hatred and anger and self-righteousness and even greed and lust – came from the soul. But these preachers I’m talking about all thought that the soul could do no wrong, but always had its face washed and its pants on and was in agony over having to associate with the flesh and the world. And yet these same people believed in the resurrection of the body.” (p. 49)

“If we are to understand the Bible as literally true, why are we permitted to hate our enemies? If jesus meant what He said when He said we should love our enemies, how can Christians go to war? Why, since He told us to pray in secret, do we continue to pray in public? Is an insincere or vain public prayer not a violation of the third commandment? And what about our bodies that always seemed to come off so badly in every contest with our soul? Did Jesus put on our flesh so that we might despise it?” (p. 50)

“And where do you find the strength to pray ‘thy will be done’ after you see what it means?” (p. 51)

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