I used to be a fast reader. Ever since grammar school, I would read a book per day, sometimes two. And so it was for thirty years or so.
Approximately fifteen years ago I began to read poetry almost exclusively. Poetry ineluctably changed me. Instead of dashing through dramas and tales and biographies and comedies and histories…I would explore a poem or two. Time stands still when I do that. Each poem has its own rhythm, its singular magic. Sometimes a verse, sometimes just a deft or breathtaking combination of words, sometimes the work as a piece transports me to feelings, thoughts or experiences echoing deep inside. More often than not, I gain insight into the human condition. I may savor a poem for days on end…rolling it about inside my heart, experiencing it, and pondering the meaning of it all. There are sacred poems, and individual lines of poetry, that remain with me always, as if some potent Buddhist koans
created to enlighten or inspire me. I have become a slow, slow, slow reader.
Anyway, this pace of mine manifested itself as I read The Second Coming
. I give Walker Percy a lot of credit for making it a “poetic” experience. I have my thoughts (quite a few, actually) about the story as a whole, but for now I just wanted to share a few of the words that stopped me in my tracks for one reason or another, made me pause and think and feel. Now, I know poetry is very much a personal thing. We have our unique velocities and perspectives. These words may not resonate with you, but I found them intriguing, beautiful, insightful and meaningful:
“A fit by chance is romance…”
“After you make a living, then what do you do? How do you live?”
“My mother refused to let me fail. So I insisted.”
“Even sitting still she shimmered.”
“…was that her real sickness, that she was embarrassed for everybody?”
“I was somewhat suspended above me, but I am getting down to me.”
“Is it possible to stand next to a stranger at a bus stop and know that he is a friend?”
“Voices can be understood without words.”
“Is it possible for people to miss their lives in the same way one misses a plane?
“They looked at each other curiously and wondered how they could have missed each other, lived in the same house all those years and passed in the halls like ghosts.”
“What is the word for a state which is not life and not death, a death in life?”
“When you leave a house for the last time and take one last look around before closing the door, it is as if you were seeing the house again for the first time. What happened to the five thousand times in between?”
“There is a space in him where a space shouldn’t be, where parts were not glued together.”
“He married her because he pleased her so much. It is not a small thing to be able to make someone happy so easily.”
“Why was not goodness enough for marriage?”
“Haven’t you troubled yourself and fretted needlessly over the years? Did you ever really know your times and seasons? Were you ever really a splendid tiger burning in the forests of the night?”
“Some people use their looks to impale.”
“Are people necessary? Without people there are no tunneling looks. Brooks don’t look and dogs look away. But late afternoon needs another person.”
“A home is a place, any place, any building, where one sinks into one’s self and finds company waiting.”
“…the trick lay in leading the most ordinary life imagineable, in itself a joy in its very ordinariness, and then be as extraordinary or ordinary as one pleased. That was the secret.”
“…he didn’t bother to listen, or rather he listened not to your words but your music.”
“How good life must be once you got the hang of it…”
“Now she knew what she did not want: not being with him. I do not want him not being here.”
“Then why is it that I live this life as if it were a dream and as if any minute I might wake up and find myself in my real life?”
“Was he saying the words for the words themselves, for what they meant, or for what they could do to her? …Though he hardly touched her, his words seemed to flow across all parts of her body. Were they meant to? A pleasure she had never known before bloomed deep in her body. Was this a way of making love?”
“Facets of glass flashed blue and white. It was like living inside a diamond.”
“Death in this century is not the death people die but the death people live. Men love death because real death is better than the living death.”
“What happened to marriage and family that it should have become a travail and a sadness, marriage till death do us part yes but long dead before the parting…”
“She can only live if every day is Christmas morning. But she doesn’t know how to live from one Christmas to the next.”
“Again the past rose to haunt him and the future rose to beckon him. Things took on significance.”
“Do you feel a smiling ease with me as well as a sweetness for me in the deep regions?”
“Now I know what it is I wanted. Before I only wanted.”
Well, anyway…that Walker Percy is pretty damn good.
By the by…I get the feeling that Heidegger would have befriended Will Barrett.