Sunday, January 19, 2003

On the difficulty of putting things into words

As I enjoyed our perfect weather yesterday—low 80s, deep blue sky—and wondered, yet again, how to describe the feeling of living in it, I thought of these words of John Muir:
Bookmaking frightens me, because it demands so much artificialness and retrograding....I find that though I have a few thoughts entangled in the fibres of my mind, I possess no words into which I can shape them. You tell me that I must be patient and reach out and grope in lexicon granaries for the words I want....

These mountain fires that glow in one's blood are free to all, but I cannot find the chemistry that may press them unimpaired into booksellers' bricks. True, with that august instrument, the English language, in the manufacture of which so many brains have been broken, I can proclaim to you that moonshine is glorious and nice, and sunshine more glorious and nicer, that winds rage, and waters roar....This is about the limit of what I feel capable of doing...(p. 200).

From a letter written in Yosemite Valley, December 25, 1872, from John Muir to Jeanne Carr in Kindred & Related Spirits: The Letters of John Muir and Jeanne C. Carr, edited by Bonnie Johanna Gisel (Pasadena Public Library, Santa Catalina Branch: 92 Muir, J).

Of course, Muir did persevere and did find words, for example, in these articles on forests published in The Atlantic Monthly.

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