John Graves

John Graves

John Graves on man the animal and nature’s violence

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 on the gift of seasons

Change. Autumn. Maybe – certainly – there was melancholy in it, but it was a good melancholy. I’ve never been partial to the places where the four seasons are one. If the sun shines all year at La Jolla, and the water stays warm enough for swimming over rocks that wave moss like green long hair, that is pleasant, but not much else. Sunshine and warm water seem to me to have full meaning only when they come after winter’s bite; green is not so green if it doesn’t follow the months of brown and gray. And the scheduled inevitable death of green carries its own exhilaration; in that change is the promise of all the rebirths to come, and the deaths, too. In it is the only real unchangingness, solidity, and in the alteration of bite and caress, of fat and lean, of song and silence, is the reward and punishment that life has always been, and the punishment itself becomes good, maybe because it promises reward, maybe because after much honey the puckering acid of acorns tastes right. Without the year’s changes, for me, there is little morality.
John Graves in Goodbye to a River, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960), p. 119