John Graves on man the animal and nature’s violence

Electrical storm during the Chaitén volcano eruption (Chana, Chilé: Carlos Gutierrez, May 2, 2008)

Electrical storm during the Chaitén volcano eruption (Chana, Chilé: Carlos Gutierrez, May 2, 2008).
Image credit: Boston.com - Chaiten Volcano Still Active

It was a fine show. Out, natural drama big and little sops up much of that interest that in towns we daily expend upon one another’s small nobilities and bastardlinesses, and for me no surer proof of our unchanging animality exists than the response we give to storms. There is nothing rational about it. A man is a fool to welcome bluster and wet and cold, and yet he often does, and even indoors he is seldom indifferent to their coming. It is hard for him to talk about them without using the old personifications which, they say, first spawned theology; it is hard to write about them without leaning on the insights of poets who, sometimes self-consciously, have prized violence in nature. Maybe bare-nerved [Percy Bysshe] Shelley:

…. Thou dirge

of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might
Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail, will burst….

Not west the wind in Texas, though, but north… Nothing but a bob-wire fence…

Or maybe just “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!” There was no self-conscious prizing of violence in that – he prized everything.

I baked a slab of biscuit bread, dry and toast-tasting, beside the fire, ate it with thick slices of broiled bacon, and went to bed. The rain thickened, then slacked, then came down again in floods; the night crackled and roared with change and iron cold. Drunk with coziness, the pup wallowed beside me and groaned, and I remember wondering, before I slept, a little more about the relations of storm to man. … If, being animal, we ring like guitar strings to nature’s furies, what hope can there be for our ultimate, planned peacefulness?

But night questions don’t have answers.
John Graves in Goodbye to a River, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960), p. 116.

John Graves Posted on behalf of John Graves on Sunday, July 25th, 2010 under Quotations.

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