09 September 2009

THE WRITTEN WORD: Annie Dillard from "Holy the Firm

I had the great good fortune of interviewing Annie Dillard--one of my literary heroes--circa 1994. If you do not know her work, I cannot recommend her strongly enough to you. Try "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction (at the tender age of 29, I think she was.)

Photo by Quincy Benton

Over the years, I've returned to this passage again and again--succor for the uphill road.

by Annie Dillard

“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead--as if innocence had ever been--and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, failed, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved. But there is no one but us. There never has been. There have been generations which remembered and generations which forgot; there has never been a generation of whole men and women who lived well for even one day. Yet some have imagined well, with honesty and art, the detail of such a life, and have described it with such grace, that we mistake vision for history, dream for description, and fancy that life has devolved. So. You learn this studying any history at all, especially the lives of artists and visionaries; you learn it from Emerson, who noticed that the meanness of our days is itself worth our thought; and you learn it, fitful in your pew, in church.”


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