Saturday, September 23, 2006

Jayber Crow


Jayber Crow
Wendell Berry

Tonight will probably close the book on Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I am within 25 pages of the end.

The hardbound library copy I have been reading has more than a dozen stiff pink post-it flags sticking out its side marking paragraphs, and a few single sentences, that I want to keep with me when I return the book. I may need to buy a personal copy so I can return at leisure to Jayber's words.

Not only does author Berry use brilliant description, imagery and metaphor, he worms his characters into your being. He seems
(and this is my first reading of anything by him so this surely isn't authoritative) to be one of those authors whose characters linger in my mind long after I've put the book down. Jayber Crow has followed me like a shadow for hours afterwards.

In a few places scattered throughout the book, Jayber (who is the narrator of his own story) amalgamates his life with Pilgrim of Pilgrim's Progess and Dante's travels through his Commedia. Read:
Now I have had most of this life I am going to have, and I can see what it has been I can remember those early years when it seemed to me I was cut completely adrift, and times when, looking back at earlier times, it seemed I had been wandering in the dark woods of error. But now it looks to me as though I was following a path that was laid out for me, unbroken, and maybe even as straight as possible, from one end to the other, and I have this feeling, which never leaves me anymore, that I have been led.
And a hundred pages later,
If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line ---- starting, say , in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King’s Highway past appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better that I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.
One item I always keep with me when I read is a little pack of plastic post-it flags. (I used to use the paper ones, but they didn't seem to stick well and they always crumbled and bent in a messy way. I switched to the plastic flags when they became available.) I used to (still do to a degree) highlight reading portions that I want to be able to return to later. But flags are easier to use than searching for highlights.

Wendell Berry is becoming an ample source of examples for imagery, description, and metaphor to use in an English class. Many of the examples a textbook provides are often pale and limp. Some of the flagged portions of Jayber Crow I want to use sometime as examples of figures of speech.

One example of description:
I can to feel a tenderness for them all. This was something new to me. It gave me a curious pleasure to touch them, to help them in and out of the chair, to shave their weather-toughened old faces. They had known hard use, nearly all of them. You could tell it by the way they held themselves and moved. Most of all you could tell it by their hands, which were shaped by wear and often by the twists and swellings of arthritis. They had used their hands forgetfully, as hooks and pliers and hammers, and in every kind of weather. The backs of their hands showed a network of little scars where they had been cut, nicked, thornstuck, pinched, punctured, scraped, and burned. Their faces told that they had suffered things they did not talk about. Every one of them had a good knife in his pocket, sharp, the blades whetted narrow and concave, the horn of the handle worn smooth. The oldest ones spoke, like Uncle Othy, the old broad speech of the place; they said “ahrn” and fahr” and “tard” for “iron” and “fire” and “tired”; they said “yourn for “yours,” “cheer” for “chair,” “deesh” for “dish,” “dreen” for “drain,” “slide” for “sled,” and “juberous” for “dubious.” I loved to listen to them, for they spoke my native tongue.
Yes, Jayber is my shadow today.

No, rather, I think I am in Jayber's shadow today. He has walked through life and learned. I am simply learning from him.




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