Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

   James Agee and Walker Evans (Photos)


          JAMES AGEE IN 1936

                  by Walker Evans

AT THE TIME, Agee was a youthful-looking twenty-seven. I think he felt he was elaborately masked,
but what you saw right away--alas for conspiracy--was a faint rubbing of Harvard and Exeter, a hint
of family gentility, and a trace of romantic idealism.
He could be taken for a likable American
young man, an above-average product of the Great Democracy from any part of the country. He didn't
look much like a poet, an intellectual, an artist, or a Christian, each of which he was. Nor was
there outward sign of his paralyzing, self-lacerating anger. His voice was pronouncedly quiet and
low-pitched, though not of "cultivated" tone. It gave the impression of diffidence, but never of
His accent was more or less unplaceable and it was somewhat variable. For instance, in
Alabama it veered towards country-southern, and I may say he got away with this to the farm famil-
ies and to himself.

His clothes were deliberately cheap, not only because he was poor but because he wanted to be able
to forget them. He would work a suit into fitting him perfectly by the simple method of not taking
it off much. In due time the cloth would mold itself to his frame. Cleaning and pressing would have
undone this beautiful process.
I exaggerate, but it did seem sometimes that wind, rain, work, and
mockery were his tailors.
On another score, he felt that wearing good, expensive clothes involved
him in some sort of claim to superiority of the social kind. Here he occasionally confused his pur-
pose, and fell over into a knowingly comical inverted dandyism. He got more delight out of factory-
seconds sneakers and a sleazy cap than a straight dandy does from waxed calf Peal shoes and a brush-
ed Lock & Co. bowler.

Physically Agee was quite powerful, in the deceptive way of uninsistent large men. In movement he
was rather graceless. His hands were large, long, bony, light, and uncared for.
His gestures were
one of the memorable things about him. He seemed to model, fight, and stroke his phrases as he talk-
ed. The talk, in the end, was his great distinguishing feature. He talked his prose, Agee prose. It
was hardly a twentieth century style; it had Elizabethan colors. Yet it had extraordinarily know-
ledgeable contemporary content. It rolled just as it reads; but he made it sound natural--something
just there in the air like any other part of the world.
How he did this no one knows. You would have
blinked, gaped, and very likely run from this same talk delivered without his mysterious ability. It
wasn't a matter of show, and it wasn't necessarily bottle-inspired. Sheer energy of imagination
was what lay behind it. This he matched with physical energy. Many a man or woman has fallen exhaust-
ed to sleep at four in the morning bang in the middle of a remarkable Agee performance, and later
learned that the man had continued it somewhere else until six. Like many born writers who are float-
ing in the illusory amplitude of their youth, Agee did a great deal of writing in the air.
Often you
had the impulse to gag him and tie a pen to his hand. That wasn't necessary; he was an exception
among talking writers. He wrote--devotedly and incessantly.

Night was his time. In Alabama he worked I don't know how late. Some parts of Let Us Now Praise
Famous Men read as though they were written on the spot at night. Later, in a small house in French-
town, New Jersey, the work, I think, was largely night-written. Literally the result shows this; some
of the sections read best at night, far in the night. The first passage of A Country Letter (p. 49),
is particularly night-permeated.

Agee worked in what looked like a rush and a rage. In Alabama he was possessed with the business,
jamming it all into the days and the nights. He must not have slept. He was driven to see all he
could of the families' day, starting, of course, at dawn. In one way, conditions there were ideal.
He could live inside the subject, with no distractions. Back-country poor life wasn't really far
from him, actually. He had some of it in his blood, through relatives in Tennessee.
Anyway, he was
in flight from New York magazine editorial offices, from Greenwich Village social-intellectual eve-
nings, and especially from the whole world of high-minded, well- bred, money-hued culture, whether
authoritarian or liber-tarian. In Alabama he sweated and scratched with submerged glee
. The fami-
lies understood what he was down there to do. He'd explained it, in such a way that they were inter-
ested in his work. He wasn't playing. That is why in the end he left out certain completed passages
that were entertaining, in an acid way. One of these was a long, gradually hilarious aside on the
subject of hens. It was a virtuoso piece heightened with allegory and bemused with the pathetic

He won almost everybody in those families -perhaps too much -even though some of the individuals
were hardbitten, sore, and shrewd. Probably it was his diffidence that took him into them. That non-as-
surance was, I think, a hostage to his very Anglican childhood training.
His Christianity -if an outsider
may try to speak of it -was a punctured and residual remnant, but it was still a naked, root emotion. It
was an ex-Church, or non-Church matter, and it was hardly in evidence. All you saw of it was an in-
grained courtesy, an uncourtly courtesy that emanated from him towards everyone, perhaps excepting
the smugly rich, the pretentiously genteel, and the police. After a while, in a round-about way, you dis-
covered that, to him, human beings were at least possibly immortal and literally sacred souls.

The days with the families came abruptly to an end. Their real content and meaning has all been shown.
The writing they induced is, among other things, the reflection of one resolute, private rebellion. Agee's
rebellion was unquenchable, self-damaging, deeply principled, infinitely costly, and ultimately priceless.

New York, 1960


(Serious readers are advised to proceed to the book-proper after finishing the first section of the
Preface. A later return will do no harm.)

DURING July and August 1936 Walker Evans and I were traveling in the middle south of this nation, and
were engaged in what, even from the first, has seemed to me rather a curious piece of work. It was our
business to prepare, for a New York magazine,' an article on cotton tenantry in the United States, in the
form of a photographic and verbal record of the daily living and environment of an average white family
of tenant farmers. We had first to find and to live with such a family; and that was the object of our

We found no one family through which the whole of tenantry in that country could be justly represented,
but decided that through three we had come to know, our job might with qualified adequacy be done. With
the most nearly representative of the three we lived a little less than four weeks, seeing them and the
others intimately and constantly.
At the end of August, long before we were willing to, we returned into
the north and got our work ready.

For reasons which will not be a part of this volume the article was not published. At the end of a year
it was, however, released to us; and in the spring of 1938 an agreement was reached with a New York pub-
lisher for an expansion of the same material in book form. At the end of another year and a half, for
reasons which, again, will receive later attention, the completed manuscript was rejected, or withdrawn.
In the spring of 1940 it was accepted by those who now publish it, on condition that certain words be de-
leted which are illegal in Massachusetts.

The authors found it possible to make this concession and, since it rather enhanced a deception, to permit
prominence to the immediate, instead of the generic, title.

This volume is designed in two intentions: as the beginning of a larger piece of work; and to stand of
itself, independent of any such further work as may be done.

The title of this volume is Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

The title of the work as a whole, this volume included, is Three Tenant Families.

The nominal subject is North American cotton tenantry as examined in the daily living of three represen-
tative white tenant families.

Actually, the effort is to recognize the stature of a portion of unimagined existence, and to contrive
techniques proper to its recording, communication, analysis, and defense. More essentially, this is an
independent inquiry into certain normal predicaments of human divinity.

The immediate instruments are two: the motionless camera, and the printed word. The governing instrument
--which is also one of the centers of the subject--is individual, anti-authoritative human consciousness.

Ultimately, it is intended that this record and analysis be exhaustive, with no detail, however trivial
it may seem, left untouched, no relevancy avoided, which lies within the power of remembrance to maintain,
of the intelligence to perceive, and of the spirit to persist in.

Of this ultimate intention the present volume is merely portent and fragment, experiment, dissonant pro-
logue. Since it is intended, among other things, as a swindle, an insult, and a corrective, the reader will
be wise to bear the nominal subject, and his expectation of its proper treatment, steadily in mind. For that
is the subject with which the authors are dealing, throughout. If complications arise, that is because they
are trying to deal with it nct as journalists, sociologists, politicians, entertainers, humanitarians,
priests, or artists, but seriously.

The photographs are not illustrative. They, and the text, are coequal, mutually independent, and fully col-
laborative. By their fewness, and by the impotence of the reader's eye, this will be misunderstood by most
of that minority which does not wholly ignore it. In the interests, however, of the history and future of
photography, that risk seems irrelevant, and this flat statement necessary.

The text was written with reading aloud in mind. That cannot be recommended; but it is suggested that the
reader attend with his ear to what he takes off the page: for variations of tone, pace, shape, and dynamics
are here particularly unavailable to the eye alone, and with their loss, a good deal of meaning escapes.

It was intended also that the text be read continuously, as music is listened to or a film watched, with
brief pauses only where they are self-evident.

Of any attempt on the part of the publishers, or others, to disguise or in any other way to ingratiate this
volume, the authors must express their regret, their intense disapproval, and, as observers awaiting new
contributions to their subject, their complaisance.

This is a book only by necessity. More seriously, it is an effort in human actuality, in which the reader
is no less centrally involved than the authors and those of whom they tell.
Those who wish actively to
participate in the subject, in whatever degree of understanding, friendship, or hostility, are invited
to address the authors in care of the publishers. In material that is used, privately or publicly, names
will be withheld on request.

                        BOOK ONE


                Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,
                That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
                How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
                Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
                From seasons such as these? O! I have ta'en
                Too little care of this! Take physick, pomp;
                Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
                That thou may'st shake the superflux to them,
                And show the heavens more just.

                Workers of the world, unite and fight. You have
                nothing to lose but your chains, and a world to win.

These words are quoted here to mislead those who will be misled by them.
They mean, not what the reader may care to think they mean, but what they
say. They are not dealt with directly in this volume; but it is essential
that they be used here, for in the pattern of the work as a whole, they
are, in the sonata form, the second theme; the poetry facing them is the
first. In view of the average reader's tendency to label, and of topical
dangers to which any man, whether honest, or in- telligent, or subtle, is
at present liable, it may be well to make the explicit statement that
neither these words nor the authors are the property of any political
party, faith, or faction.

I. The Great Ball on Which We Live.

The world is our home. It is also the home of many, many other children, some of whom live in far-away
lands. They are aur world brothers and sisters. ...

2. Food, Shelter, and Clothing.

What must any part of the world have in order to be a good home for man? What does every person need in
order to live in comfort? Let us imagine that we are far out in the fields. The air is bitter cold and
the wind is blowing. Snow is falling, and by and by it will turn into sleet and rain. We are almost na-
ked. We have had nothing to eat and are suffering from hun- ger as well as cold. Suddenly the Queen of
the Fairies floats down and offers us three wishes.

What shall we choose?

'I shall wish for food, because I am hungry,' says Peter.

'I shall choose clothes to keep out the cold,' says John.

'And I shall ask for a house to shelter me from the wind, the snow, and the rain,' says little Nell with
a shiver.

Now everyone needs food, clothing, and shelter. The lives of most men on the earth are spent in getting
these things. In our travels we shall wish to learn what our world brothers and sisters eat, and where
their food comes from. We shall wish to see the houses they dwell in and how they are built. We shall
wish also to know what clothing they use to protect themselves from the heat and the cold.=

These are the opening sentences of Around the World With the Children, by
F. B. Carpenter (published by The American Book Company), a third-grade geo-
graphy textbook belonging to Louise Gudger, aged ten, daughter of a cotton

                 PERSONS AND PLACES

Fred Garvrin Ricketts......................a two-mule tenant farmer, aged fifty-four.

Sadie (Woods) Ricketts...................his wife, aged forty-nine.
   Margaret.....................................aged twenty.
   Paralee.......................................aged nineteen.
   John Garvrin.............................aged twelve.
   Richard.......................................aged eleven.
   Flora Merry Lee........................aged ten.
   Katy.............................................aged nine.
   Clair Bell....................................aged four.

Thomas Gallatin Woods (Bud).......a one-mule tenant farmer, aged fifty-nine.

                        BOOK ONE

(To Walker Evans.

AGAINST time and the damages of the brain
Sharpen and calibrate. Not yet in full,
Yet in some arbitrated part
Order the facade of the listless summer.

Spies, moving delicately among the enemy,
The younger sons, the fools,
Set somewhat aside the dialects and the stained skins of
    feigned madness,
Ambiguously signal, baffle, the eluded sentinel.

Edgar, weeping for pity, to the shelf of that sick bluff,
Bring your blind father, and describe a little;
Behold him, part wakened, fallen among field flowers
But undisclosed, withdraw.

Not yet that naked hour when armed,
Disguise flung flat, squarely we challenge the fiend.
Still, comrade, the running of beasts and the ruining
Still captive the old wild king.

'I SPOKE of this piece of work we were doing as "curious." I had better amplify this.

It seems to me curious, not to say obscene and thoroughly terrifying, that it could occur to an asso-
ciation of human beings drawn together through need and chance and for profit into a company, an
organ of journalism, to pry intimately into the lives of an undefended and appallingly damaged group
of human beings, an ignorant and helpless rural family, for the purpose of parading the nakedness,
disadvantage and humiliation of these lives before another group of human beings, in the name of
science, of "honest journalism" (whatever that paradox may mean), of humanity, of social fearlessness,
for money, and for a reputation for crusading and for unbias which, when skillfully enough quali-
fied, is exchangeable at any bank for money (and in politics, for votes, job patronage, abelincolnism,
and that these people could be capable of meditating this prospect without the slightest doubt
of their qualification to do an "honest" piece of work, and with a conscience better than clear, and
in the virtual certitude of almost unanimous public approval.
It seems curious, further, that the as-
signment of this work should have fallen to persons having so extremely different a form of respect for
the subject, and responsibility toward it, that from the first and inevitably they counted their em-
ployers, and that Government likewise to which one of them was bonded, among their most dangerous ene-
mies, acted as spies, guardians, and cheats, and trusted no judgment, however authoritative it claimed
to be, save their own: which in many aspects of the task before them was untrained and uninformed. It
seems further curious that realizing the extreme corruptness and difficulty of the circumstances, and
the unlikelihood of achieving in any untainted form what they wished to achieve, they accepted the
work in the first place. And it seems curious still further that, with all their suspicion of and con-
tempt for every person and thing to do with the situation, save only for the tenants and for themselves,
and their own intentions, and with all their realization of the seriousness and mystery of the subject,
and of the human responsibility they undertook, they so little questioned or doubted their own qualifi-
cations for this work.

All of this, I repeat, seems to me curious, obscene, terrifying, and unfathomably mysterious.

So does the whole course, in all its detail, of the effort of these persons to find, and to defend, what
they sought: and the nature of their relationship with those with whom during the searching stages they
came into contact; and the subtlety, importance, and aimost intangibility of the insights or revelations
or oblique suggestions which under different circumstances could never have materialized; so does the
method of research which was partly evolved by them, partly forced upon them; so does the strange quality
of their relationship with those whose lives they so tenderly and sternly respected, and so rashly un-
dertook to investigate and to record.

So does the whole subsequent course and fate of the work: the causes for its non-publication, the details
of its later acceptance elsewhere, and of its design; the problems which confronted the maker of the
photographs; and those which confront me as I try to write of it: the question, Who are you who will read
these words and study these photographs, and through what cause, by what chance, and for what purpose,
and by what right do you qualify to, and what will you do about it; and the question,
Why we make this book,
and set it at large, and by what right, and for what purpose, and to what good end, or none: the whole me-
mory of the South in its six-thousand-mile parade and flowering outlay of the facades of cities, and of
the eyes in the streets of towns, and of hotels, and of the trembling heat, and of the wide wild opening of
the tragic land, wearing the trapped frail flowers of its garden of faces; the fleet flush and flower and faint-
ing of the human crop it raises; the virulent, insolent, deceitful, pitying, infinitesimal and frenzied running
and searching, on this colossal peasant map, of two angry, futile and bottomless, botched and overcompli-
cated youthful intelligences in the service of an anger and of a love and of an undiscernible truth, and
in the frightening vanity of their would-be purity; the sustaining, even now, and forward moving, lifted
on the lifting of this day as ships on a wave, above whom, in a few hours, night once more will stand up
in his stars, and they decline through lamplight and be dreaming statues, of those, each, whose lives
we knew and whom we love and intend well toward, and of whose living we know little in some while now,
save that quite steadily, in not much possible change for better or much worse, mute, innocent, helpless
and incorporate among that small-moted and inestimable swarm and pollen stream and fleet of single, ir-
reparable, unrepeatable existences, they are led, gently, quite steadily, quite without mercy, each a
little farther toward the washing and the wailing, the sunday suit and the prettiest dress, the pine box,
and the closed clay room whose frailly decorated roof, until rain has taken it flat into oblivion, wears
the shape of a ritual scar and of an inverted boat:
curious, obscene, terrifying, beyond all search of
dream unanswerable, those problems which stand thickly forth like light from all matter, triviality,
chance, intention, and record in the body, of being, of truth, of conscience, of hope, of hatred, of
beauty, of indignation, of guilt, of betrayal, of innocence, of forgiveness, of vengeance, of guardian-
ship, of an indenominable fate, predicament, destination, and God.

Therefore it is in some fear that I approach those matters at all, and in much confusion. And if there
are questions in my mind how to undertake this communication, and there are many, I must let the least
of them be, whether I am boring you, or whether I am taking too long getting started, and too clumsily.
If I bore you, that is that. If I am clumsy, that may indicate partly the difficulty of my subject,
and the seriousness with which I am trying to take what hold I can of it; more certainly, it will indi-
cate my youth, my lack of mastery of my so-called art or craft, my lack perhaps of talent. Those mat-
ters, too, must reveal themselves as they may. However they turn out, they cannot be otherwise than
true to their conditions, and I would not wish to conceal these conditions even if I could, for I am
interested to speak as carefully and as near truly as I am able. No doubt I shall worry myself that I
am taking too long getting started, and shall seriously distress myself over my inability to create an
organic, mutually sustaining and dependent, and as it were musical, form: but I must remind myself that
I started with the first word I wrote, and that the centers of my subject are shifty; and, again, that
I am no better an "artist" than I am capable of being, under these circumstances, perhaps under any
other; and that this again will find its measurement in the facts as they are, and will contribute its
own measure, whatever it may be, to the pattern of the effort and truth as a whole.

I might say, in short, but emphatically not in self-excuse, of which I wish entirely to disarm and dis-
encumber myself, but for the sake of clear definition, and indication of limits, that I am only human.
Those works which I most deeply respect have about them a firm quality of the superhuman, in part be-
cause they refuse to define and limit and crutch, or admit themselves as human. But to a person of my
uncertainty, undertaking a task of this sort, that plane and manner are not within reach, and could
only falsify what by this manner of effort may at least less hopelessly approach clarity, and truth.'

'For in the immediate world, everything is to be discerned, for him who can discern it, and centrally
and simply, without either dissection into science, or digestion into art, but with the whole of con-
sciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar
in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all of consciousness is shifted
from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is.

This is why the camera seems to me, next to unassisted and weaponless consciousness, the central in-
strument of our time; and is why in turn I feel such rage at its misuse:
which has spread so nearly
universal a corruption of sight that I know of less than a dozen alive whose eyes I can trust even so
much as my own.'

'If I had explained myself clearly you would realize by now that
through this non-"artistic" view, this
effort to suspend or destroy imagination, there opens before consciousness, and within it, a universe
luminous, spacious, incalculably rich and wonderful in each detail, as relaxed and natural to the human
swimmer, and as full of glory, as his breathing: and that it is possible to capture and communicate
this universe not so well by any means of art as through such open terms as I am trying it under.

In a novel, a house or person has his meaning, his existence, entirely through the writer. Here, a house
or a person has only the most limited of his meaning through me: his true meaning is much huger. It is
that he exists, in actual being, as you do and as I do, and as no character of the imagination can pos-
sibly exist. His great weight, mystery, and dignity are in this fact. As for me, I can tell you of him
only what I saw, only so accurately as in my terms I know how: and this in turn has its chief stature
not in any ability of mine but in the fact that I too exist, not as a work of fiction, but as a human
Because of his immeasurable weight in actual existence, and because of mine, every word I tell
of him has inevitably a kind of immediacy, a kind of meaning, not at all necessarily "superior" to that
of imagination, but of a kind so different that a work of the imagination (however intensely it may
draw on "life") can at best only faintly imitate the least of it.'

'The communication is not by any means so simple. It seems to me now that to contrive techniques appro-
priate to it in the first place, and capable of planting it cleanly in others, in the second, would be
a matter of years, and I shall probably try none of it or little, and that very tortured and diluted,
at present. I realize that, with even so much involvement in explanations as this, I am liable ser-
iously, and perhaps irretrievably, to obscure what would at best be hard enough to give its appropriate
clarity and intensity; and
what seems to me most important of all: namely, that these I will write of
are human beings, living in this world, innocent of such twistings as these which are taking place over
their heads; and that they were dwelt among, investigated, spied on, revered, and loved, by other quite
monstrously alien human beings, in the employment of still others still more alien; and that they are
now being looked into by still others, who have picked up their living as casually as if it were a book,

and who were actuated toward this reading by various possible reflexes of sympathy, curiosity, idleness,
et cetera, and almost certainly in a lack of consciousness, and conscience, remotely appropriate to
the enormity of what they are doing.

If I could do it, I'd do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of
cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors,
plates of food and of excrement. Booksellers would consider it quite a novelty; critics would murmur,
yes, but is it art; and I could trust a majority of you to use it as you would a parlor game.

A piece of the body torn out by the roots might be more to the point.

As it is, though, I'll do what little I can in writing. Only it will be very little. I'm not capable of
it; and if I were, you would not go near it at all. For if you did, you would hardly bear to live.

As a matter of fact, nothing I might write could make any difference whatever. It would only be a
"book" at the best. If it were a safely dangerous one it would be "scientific" or "politcal" or "rev-
olutionary.'' If it were really dangerous it would be "literature" or "religion" or "mysticism" or
"art," and under one such name or another might in time achieve the emasculation of acceptance. If it
were dangerous enough to be of any remote use to the human race it would be merely "frivo1ous" or
"pathological," and that would be the end of that.
Wiser and more capable men than I shall ever be have
put their findings before you, findings so rich and so full of anger, serenity, murder, healing, truth,
and love that it seems incredible the world were not destroyed and fulfilled in the instant, but you
are too much for them: the weak in courage are strong in cunning; and one by one, you have absorbed and
have captured and dishonored, and have distilled of your deliverers the most ruinous of all your poisons;
people hear Beethoven in concert halls, or over a bridge game, or to relax; Cezannes are hung on walls,
reproduced, in natural wood frames; van Gogh is the man who cut off his ear and whose yellows became
recently popular in window decoration; Swift loved individuals but hated the human race; Kafka is a
fad; Blake is in the Modern Library; Freud is a Modern Library Giant; Dovschenko's Frontier is disliked
by those who demand that it fit the Eisenstein esthetic; nobody reads Joyce any more; Celine is a madman
who has incurred the hearty dislike of Alfred Kazin, reviewer for the New York Herald Tribune book sect-
ion, and is, moreover, a fascist; I hope I need not mention Jesus Christ, of whom you have managed to
make a dirty gentile.

However that may be, this is a book about "sharecroppers," and is written for all those who have a soft
place in their hearts for the laughter and tears inherent in poverty viewed at a distance, and espe-
cially for those who can afford the retail price; in the hope that the reader will be edified, and may
feel kindly disposed toward any well-thought-out liberal efforts to rectify the unpleasant situation
down South, and will somewhat better and more guiltily appreciate the next good meal he eats;
and in
the hope, too, that he will recommend this little book to really sympathetic friends, in order that our
publishers may at least cover their investment and that (just the merest perhaps) some kindly thought
may be turned our way, and a little of your money fall to poor little us.'

'Above all else: in God's name don't think of it as Art.

Every fury on earth has been absorbed in time, as art, or as religion, or as authority in one form or
another. The deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor. Swift, Blake,
Beethoven, Christ, Joyce, Kafka, name me a one who has not been thus castrated. Official acceptance is
the one unmistakable symptom that salvation is beaten again, and is the one surest sign of fatal misun-
derstanding, and is the kiss of Judas.

Really it should be possible to hope that this be recognized as so, and as a mortal and inevitably re-
current danger. It is scientific fact. It is disease. It is avoidable. Let a start be made. And then
exercise your perception of it on work that has more to tell you than mine has. See how respectable
Beethoven is; and by what right any wall in museum, gallery or home presumes to wear a Cezanne; and
by what idiocy Blake or work even of such intention as mine is ever published and sold. I will tell you
a test. It is unfair. It is untrue. It stacks all the cards. It is out of line with what the composer
intended. All so much the better.

Get a radio or a phonograph capable of the most extreme loudness possible, and sit down to listen to a
performance of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony or of Schubert's C-Major Symphony. But I don't mean just
sit down and listen. I mean this: Turn it on as loud as you can get it. Then get down on the floor and
jam your ear as close into the loudspeaker as you can get it and stay there, breathing as lightly as
possible, and not moving, and neither eating nor smolung nor drinking. Concentrate everything you can
into your hearing and into your body. You won't hear it nicely. If it hurts you, be glad of it. As near as
you will ever get, you are inside the music; not only inside it, you are it; your body is no longer your shape
and substance, it is the shape and substance of the music.

Is what you hear pretty? or beautiful? or legal? or accepta- ble in polite or any other society? It is
beyond any calculation savage and dangerous and murderous to all equilibrium in human life as human
life is; and nothing can equal the rape it does on all that death;
nothing except anything, anything
in existence or dream, perceived anywhere remotely toward its true dimension.'

'Beethoven said a thing as rash and noble as the best of his work. By my memory, he said: "He who un-
derstands my music can never know unhappiness again." I believe it. And I would be a liar and a coward
and one of your safe world if I should fear to say the same words of my best perception, and of my best

Performance, in which the whole fate and terror rests, is another matter.'


               The house had now descended

               All over Alabama the lamps are out

(On the Porch: I

THE house and all that was in it had now descended deep beneath the gradual spiral it had sunk through;
it lay formal under the order of entire silence. In the square pine room at the back the bodies of the
man of thirty and of his wife and of their children lay on shallow mattresses on their iron beds and on
the rigid floor, and they were sleeping, and the dog lay asleep in the hallway.
Most human beings, most
animals and birds who live in the sheltering ring of human influence, and a great portion of all the
branched tribes of living in earth and air and water upon a half of the world, were stunned with sleep.
That region of the earth on which we were at this time transient was some hours fallen beneath the fasc-
ination of the stone, steady shadow of the planet, and lay now listing toward the last depth; and now
by a blockade of the sun were clearly disclosed those discharges of light which teach us what little we
can learn of the stars and of the true nature of our surroundings. There was no longer any sound of the
settling or ticking of any part of the structure of the house;
the bone pine hung on its nails like an
abandoned Christ. There was no longer any sound of the sinking and settling, like gently foundering,
fatal boats, of the bodies and brains of this human family through the late stages of fatigue unhar-
nessed or the early phases of sleep; nor was there any longer the sense of any of these sounds, nor was
there, even, the sound or the sense of breathing.
Bone and bone, blood and blood, life and life dis-
jointed and abandoned they lay graven in so final depth, that dreams attend them seemed not plausible.
Fish halted on the middle and serene of blind sea water sleeping lidless lensed; their breathing, their
sleeping subsistence, the effortless nursing of ignorant plants; entirely silenced, sleepers, delicate
planets, insects, cherished in amber, mured in night, autumn of action, sorrow's short winter, water-
hole where gather the weak wild beasts; night; night: sleep; sleep.

In their prodigious realm, their field, bashfully at first, less timorous, later, rashly, all calmly
boldly now, like the tingling and standing up of plants, leaves, planted crops out of the earth into
the yearly approach of the sun,
the noises and natures of the dark had with the ceremonial gestures of
music and of erosion lifted forth the thousand several forms of their entrancement, and had so reso-
nantly taken over the world that this domestic, this human silence obtained, prevailed, only locally,
shallowly, and with the childlike and frugal dignity of a coal-oil lamp stood out on a wide night mea-
dow and of a star sustained, unraveling in one rivery sigh its irremediable vitality, on the alien
size of space.

Where beneath the ghosts of millennial rain the clay land lay down in creek and the trees ran thick
there disposed upon the sky the cloud and black shadow of nature, hostile encampment whose fires were
drenched, drawn close, held sleeping, near, helots; and it was feasible that within a few hours now,
at the signaling of the primary changes of the air, the wave which summer and darkness had already so
heavily overcrested that it leaned above us, snaring its snake-tongued branches, birnam wood, casually
would lounge in and suddenly and forever subdue us: at most, some obscure act of guerrilla warfare,
some prowler, detached from his regiment, picked off in a back country orchard, some straggling camp
whore taken, had; for the sky:

The sky was withdrawn from us with all her strength. Against some scarcely conceivable imprisoning wall
this woman held herself away from us and watched us: wide, high, light with her stars as milk above our
heavy dark; and like the bristling and glass breakage on the mouth of stone spring water: broached on
grand heaven their metal fires,

And now as by the slipping of a button, the snapping and failures on air of a spider's cable, there broke
loose from the room, shaken, a long sigh closed in silence. On some ledge overleaning that gulf which is
more profound than the remembrance of imagination they had lain in sleep and at length the sand, that by
degrees had crumpled and rifted, had broken from beneath them and they sank. There was now no further
extreme, and they were sunken not singularly but companionate among the whole enchanted swarm of the
living, into a region prior to the youngest quaverings of creation.

(We lay on the front porch:

                        July 1936


THEY came into the Coffee Shoppe while we were finishing breakfast, and Harmon introduced the other,
whose name I forget, but which had a French sound.
He was middle-sized and dark, beginning to grizzle,
with the knotty, walnut kind of body and a deeply cut, not unkindly monkey's face
. He wore dark trousers,
a starched freshly laundered white collarless shirt, and a soft yellow straw hat with a band of flowered
cloth. His shoes were old, freshly blacked, not polished; his suspenders were nearly new, blue, with gold
lines at the edge. He was courteous, casual, and even friendly, without much showing the element of
strain: Harmon let him do the talking and watched us from behind the reflecting lenses of his glasses.
People in the street slowed as they passed and lingered their eyes upon us. Walker said it would be all
right to make pictures, wouldn't it, and he said,
Sure, of course, take all the snaps you're a mind to;
that is, if you can keep the niggers from running off when they see a camera. When they saw the amount
of equipment stowed in the back of our car, they showed that they felt they had been taken advantage of,
but said nothing of it.

Harmon drove out with Walker, I with the other, up a loose wide clay road to the northwest of town in
the high glittering dusty sunday late morning heat of sunlight. The man I drove with made steady conver-
sation, in part out of nervous courtesy, in part as if to forestall any questions I might ask him. I was
glad enough of it; nearly all his tenants were negroes and no use to me,
and I needed a rest from asking
questions and decided merely to establish myself as even more easygoing, casual, and friendly than he
was. It turned out that I had not been mistaken in the French sound of his name; ancestors of his had es-
caped an insurrection of negroes in Haiti. He himself, however, was entirely localized, a middling well-
to-do landowner with a little more of the look of the direct farmer about him than the average. He was
driving a several-years-old tan sedan, much the sort of car a factory worker in a northern city drives,
and was pointing out to me how mean the cotton was on this man's land, who thought he could skimp by on a
low grade of fertilizer, and how good it was along this pocket and high lift, that somehow caught whatever
rain ran across this part of the country, though that was no advantage to cotton in a wet year or even an
average; it was good in a drowt year like this one, though; his own cotton, except for a stretch of it a-
long the bottom, he couldn't say yet it was going to do either very good or very bad; here we are at it,

A quarter of a mile back in a flat field of short cotton a grove of oaks spumed up and a house stood in
their shade. Beyond, as we approached, the land sank quietly away toward woods which ran tendrils along
it, and was speckled near and far with nearly identical two-room shacks, perhaps a dozen, some in the part
shade of chinaberry bushes, others bare to the brightness, all with the color in the sunlight and frail
look of the tissue of hornets' nests.
This nearest four-room house we were approaching was the foreman's.
We drew up in the oak shade as the doors of this house filled. They were negroes. Walker and Harmon drew
up behind us. A big iron ring hung by a chain from the low branch of an oak. A heavy strip of iron leaned
at the base of the tree, Negroes appeared at the doors of the two nearest tenant houses. From the third
house away, two of them were approaching. One was in clean overalls; the other wore black pants, a white
shirt, and a black vest unbuttoned.

Here at the foreman's home we had caused an interruption that filled me with regret: relatives were here
from a distance, middle-aged and sober people in their sunday clothes,
and three or four visiting children,
and I realized that they had been quietly enjoying themselves, the men out at the far side of the house,
the women getting dinner, as now, by our arrival, they no longer could.
The foreman was very courteous,
the other men were non-committal, the eyes of the women were quietly and openly hostile;
the landlord and
the foreman were talking. The foreman's male guests
hovered quietly and respectfully in silence on the
outskirts of the talk until they were sure what they might properly do, then withdrew to the far side of
the house, watching carefully to catch the landowner's eyes, should they be glanced after, so that they
might nod, smile, and touch their foreheads
, as in fact they did, before they disappeared. The two men
from the third house came up; soon three more came, a man of forty and
a narrow-skulled pair of sapling
They all approached softly and strangely until they stood within the shade of the grove, then stayed
their ground as if floated, their eyes shifting upon us sidelong and to the ground and to the dis- tance,
speaking together very little, in quieted voices: it was as if they had been under some sort of magnetic
obligation to approach just this closely and to show themselves. The landlord began to ask of them
through the foreman,
How's So-and-so doing, all laid by? Did he do that extra sweeping I told you? -and
the foreman would answer, Yes sir, yes sir, he do what you say to do, he doin all right; and So-and-so
shifted on his feet and smiled uneasily while, uneasily, one of his companions laughed and the others
held their faces in the blank safety of deafness. And you, you ben doin much coltn lately, you horny old
bastard?--and the crinkled, old, almost gray-mustached negro who came up tucked his head to one side look-
ing cute, and showed what was left of his teeth, and whined, tittering, Now Mist So-and-so, you know I'm
settled down, married-man, you wouldn't--and the brutal negro of forty split his face in a villainous
grin and said, He too ole, Mist So-and-so, he don't got no sap lef in him; and everyone laughed, and the
landowner said, These yer two yere, colts yourn ain't they? -and the old man said they were, and the
landowner said, Musta found them in the woods, strappin young niggers as that; and the old man said, No
sir, he got the both of them lawful married, Mist So-and-so; and the landowner said that eldest on em
looks to be ready for a piece himself, and the negroes laughed, and the two boys twisted their beau-
tiful bald gourdlike skulls in a unison of shyness and their faces were illumined with maidenly smiles
of shame, delight and fear; and meanwhile the landowner had loosened the top two buttons of his trousers,
and he now reached his hand in to the middle of the forearm, and, squatting with bent knees apart, clawed,
scratched and rearranged his genitals.

But now three others stood in the outskirts who had been sent for by a running child; they were young men,
only twenty to thirty, yet very old and sedate; and their skin was of that sootiest black which no light
can make shine and with which the teeth are blue and the eyeballs gold
. They wore pressed trou- sers, washed
shoes, brilliantly starched white shirts, bright ties, and carried newly whited straw hats in their hands,
and at their hearts were pinned the purple and gilded ribbons of a religious and burial society. They had
been summoned to sing for Walker and for me, to show us what nigger music is like (though we had done all
we felt we were able to spare them and ourselves this summons), and they stood patiently in a stiff frieze
in the oak shade, their hats and their shirts shedding light, and were waiting to be noticed and released,
for they had been on their way to church when the child caught them; and now that they were looked at and
the order given they stepped forward a few paces, not smiling, and stopped in rigid line, and, after a con-
stricted exchange of glances among themselves, the eldest tapping the clean dirt with his shoe, they sang.
It was as I had expected, not in the mellow and euphonious Fisk Quartette style, but in the style I have
heard on records by Mitchell's Christian Singers,
jagged, tortured, stony, accented as if by hammers and
cold-chisels, full of a nearly paralyzing vitality and iteration of rhythm, the harmonies constantly split-
ting the nerves; so that of western music the nearest approach to its austerity is in the first two centu-
ries of polyphony. But here it was entirely instinctual; it tore itself like a dance of sped plants out of
three young men who stood sunk to their throats in land, and whose eyes were neither shut nor looking
at anything; the screeching young tenor, the baritone, stridulant in the height of his register, his throat
tight as a fist, and the bass, rolling the iron wheels of his machinery, his hand clenching and loosening
as he tight- ened and relaxed against the spraining of his ellipses: and they were abruptly silent; totally
wooden; while the landowner smiled coldly.
There was nothing to say. I looked them in the eyes with full
and open respect and said, that was fine. Have you got time to sing us another? Their heads and their
glances collected toward a common center, and restored, and they sang us another, a slow one this time; I
had a feeling, through their silence before entering it, that it was their favorite and their particular
the tenor lifted out his voice alone in a long, plorative line that hung like fire on heaven, or
whistle's echo, sinking, sunken, along descents of a modality I had not heard before, and sank along the
arms and breast of the bass as might a body sunken from a cross; and the baritone lifted a long black line
of comment; and they ran in a long and slow motion and convolution of rolling as at the bottom of a stormy
sea, voice meeting voice as ships in dream, retreated, met once more, much woven, digressions and returns
of time, quite tuneless, the bass, over and over, approaching, drooping, the same declivity, the baritone
taking over, a sort of metacenter, murmuring along monotones between major and minor, nor in any determin-
able key, the tenor winding upward like a horn, a wire, the flight of a bird, almost into full declamation,
then failing it, silencing;
at length enlarging, the others lifting, now, alone, lone, and largely, questi-
oning, alone and not sustained, in the middle of space, stopped; and now resumed, sunken upon the bosom of
the bass, the head declined; both muted, droned; the baritone makes his comment, unresolved, that is a ques-
tion, all on one note: and they are quiet, and do not look at us, nor at anything.

The landlord objected that that was too much howling and too much religion on end and how about something
with some life to it, they knew what he meant, and then they could go.

They knew what he meant, but it was very hard for them to give it just now. They stiffened in their bodies
and hesitated, several seconds, and looked at each other with eyes ruffled with worry; then the bass nodded,
as abruptly as a blow, and with blank faces they struck into a fast, sassy, pelvic tune whose words were
loaded almost beyond translation with comic sexual metaphor; a refrain song that ran like a rapid wheel,
with couplets to be invented, progressing the story; they sang it through four of the probably three dozen
turns they knew, then bit it off sharp and sharply, and for the first time, relaxed out of line, as if they
knew they had earned the right, with it, to leave.

Meanwhile, and during all this singing, I had been sick in the knowledge that they felt they were here at
our demand, mine and Walker's, and that I could communicate nothing otherwise; and now,
in a perversion
of self-torture, I played my part
through. I gave their leader fifty cents, trying at the same time, through
my eyes, to communicate much more, and said I was sorry we had held them up and that I hoped they would
not be late; and
he thanked me for them in a dead voice, not looking me in the eye, and they went away,
putting their white hats on their heads as they walked into the sunlight.


0N A ROAD between the flying shadows of loose woods toward the middle of an afternoon, far enough thrust
forward between towns that we had lost intuition of our balance between them, we came to a fork where the
sunlight opened a little more widely, but not on cultivated land, and stopped a minute to

Marion would lie some miles over beyond the road on our left; some other county seat, Centerville most like-
ly, out beyond the road on our right; but on which road the woods might give way to any extension of farm
country there was no deducing: for we were somewhere toward the middle of one of the wider of the gaps on
the road map, and had seen nothing but woods, and infrequent woods farms, for a good while now.

Just a little behind us on our left and close on the road was a house, the first we had passed in several
miles, and we decided to ask directions of the people on the porch, whom, in the car mirror, I could see
still watching us. We backed slowly, stopping the car a little short of the house, and I got slowly out
and walked back toward them,
watching them quietly and carefully, and preparing my demeanors and my words
for the two hundredth time.

There were three on the porch, watching me, and
they must not have spoken twice in an hour while they
watched beyond the rarely traveled road the changes of daylight along the recessions of the woods, and
while, in the short field that sank behind their house, their two crops died silently in the sun
: a young
man, a young woman, and an older man; and the two younger, their chins drawn inward and their heads tall a-
gainst the grained wall of the house, watched me steadily and sternly as if from beneath the brows of hel-
mets, in the candor of young warriors or of children.

They were of a kind not safely to be described in an account claiming to be unimaginative or trustworthy,
for they had too much and too outlandish beauty not to be legendary. Since, however, they existed quite ir-
relevant to myth, it will be neces- sary to tell a little of them.

The young man's eyes had the opal lightings of dark oil and, though he was watching me in a way that relax-
ed me to cold weakness of ignobility, they fed too strongly inward to draw to a focus: whereas those of the
young woman had each the splendor of a monstrance, and were brass. Her body also was brass or bitter gold,
strong to stridency beneath the unbleached clayed cotton dress, and her arms and bare legs were sharp with
metal down. The blenched hair drew her face tight to her skull as a tied mask; her features were baltic. The
young man's face was deeply shaded with soft short beard, and luminous with death. He had the scornful-
ly ornate nostrils and lips of an aegean exquisite. The fine wood body was ill strung, and sick even as he
sat there to look at, and the bone hands roped with vein; they rose, then sank, and lay palms upward in
his groins. There was in their eyes so quiet and ultimate a quality of hatred, and contempt, and anger,
toward every creature in existence beyond themselves, and toward the damages they sustained, as shone
scarcely short of a state of beatitude; nor did this at any time modify itself.

These two sat as if formally, or as if sculptured, one in wood and one in metal, or as if enthroned, about
three feet apart in straight chairs tilted to the wall, and constantly watched me, all the while communica-
ting thoroughly with each other by no outward sign of word or glance or turning, but by emanation.

The other man might have been fifty by appearance, yet, through a particular kind of delicateness upon his
hands, and hair, and skin--they were almost infantine--I was sure he was still young, hardly out of his
twenties, though again the face was seamed and short as a fetus.
This man, small-built and heavy jointed,
and wandering in his motions like a little child, had the thorny beard of a cartoon bolshevik, but suggest-
ed rather a hopelessly deranged and weeping prophet, a D. H. Lawrence whom male nurses have just managed
to subdue into a straitjacket. A broken felt hat struck through with grass hair was banged on flat above his
furious and leaky eyes, and from beneath its rascally brim as if from ambush he pored at me walleyed while,
clenching himself back against the wall, he sank along it trembling and slowly to a squat, and watched up
at me.

None of them relieved me for an instant of their eyes; at the intersection of those three tones of force I
was transfixed as between spearheads as I talked. As I asked my questions, and told my purposes, and what
I was looking for, it seemed to me they relaxed a little toward me, and at length a good deal more, almost
as if into trust and liking; yet even at its best this remained so suspended, so conditional, that in any
save the most hopeful and rationalized sense it was non-existent
. The qualities of their eyes did not in
the least alter, nor anything visible or audible about them, and their speaking was as if I was almost cer-
tainly a spy sent to betray them through trust, whom they would show they had neither trust nor fear of.

They were clients of Rehabilitation. They had been given a young sick steer to do their plowing with; the
land was woods-clearing, but had been used as long as the house (whose wood was ragged and light as pith);
no seed or fertilizer had been given them until the end of May. Nothing they had planted was up better than
a few inches, and that was now withering faster than it grew. They now owed the Government on the seed
and fertilizer, the land, the tools, the house, and probably before long on the steer as well, who was now so
weak he could hardly stand. They had from the start given notice of the weakness and youth of the steer, of
the nearly total sterility of the soil,
and of the later and later withholding of the seed and fertilizer; and this
had had a great deal to do with why the seed was given them so late, and they had been let know it
in so many words.

The older man came up suddenly behind me, jamming my elbow with his concave chest and saying fiercely Awnk,
, while he glared at me with enraged and terrified eyes
. Caught so abruptly off balance, my reflexes went
silly and I turned toward him questioning 'politely' with my face, as if he wanted to say something, and
could, which I had not quite heard.
He did want urgently to say something, but all that came out was this
blasting of Awnk, awnk, and a thick roil of saliva that hung like semen in his beard. I nodded, smiling at
him, and he grinned gratefully with an expression of extreme wickedness and tugged hard at my sleeve, nod-
ding violently in time to his voice and rooting out over and over this loud vociferation of a frog. The woman
spoke to him sharply though not unkindly (the young man's eyes remained serene), as if he were a dog mastur-
bating on a caller, and he withdrew against a post of the porch and sank along it to the floor with his knees
up sharp and wide apart and the fingers of his left hand jammed as deep as they would go down his gnashing
mouth, while he stayed his bright eyes on me.
She got up abruptly without speaking and went indoors and came
back out with a piece of stony cornbread and gave it to him, and took her place again in her chair.
He took
the bread in both hands and struck his face into it like the blow of a hatchet, grappling with his jaws
slowly cradling his head like a piece of heavy machinery, while grinding, passionate noises ran in his throat,
and we continued to talk, the young woman doing most of the talking, corroborative and protective of the
young man, yet always respectful toward him.

The young man had the asthma so badly the fits of it nearly killed him. He could never tell when he was going
to be any good for work, and he was no good for it even at the best, it was his wife did the work;
and him
--the third--they did not even nod nor shift their eyes toward him; he was just a mouth. These things were
said in the voice not of complaint but of statement, quietly stiff with hatred for the world and for living: nor
was there any touch of pride, shame, resentment, or any discord among them.

Some niggers a couple of miles down a back road let them have some corn and some peas.
Without those niggers
there was no saying what they'd be doing by now. Only the niggers hadn't had a bit too much for themselves in
the first place and were running very short now; it had been what was left over from the year before, and not
much new corn, nor much peas, was coming through the drought. It was--

The older man came honking up at my elbow, holding out a rolled farm magazine. In my effort to give him what-
ever form of attention could most gratify him I was stupid again; the idea there was something he wanted me
to read; and looked at him half-questioning this, and not yet taking what he offered me. The woman, in a voice
that somehow, though contemptuous (it implied, You are more stupid than he is), yielded me for the first time
her friendship and that of her husband, so that happiness burst open inside me like a flooding of sweet water,
said, he wants to give it to you.
I took it and thanked him very much, looking and smiling into his earnest
eyes, and he stayed at my side like a child, watching me affectionately while I talked to them.

They had told me there was farm country down the road on the right a piece:
the whole hoarded silence and quiet
of a lonesome and archaic American valley it was to become, full of heavy sunflowers and mediocre cotton,
where the women wore sunbonnets without shyness
before us and all whom we spoke to were gracious and melancholy,
and where we did not find what we sought. Now after a little while I thanked them here on the porch and told
them good-bye. I had not the heart at all to say, Better luck to you, but then if I remember rightly I did say
it, and, saying it or not, and unable to communicate to them at all what my feelings were,
I walked back the
little distance to the car with my shoulders and the back of my neck more scalded-feeling than if the sun
were on them.
As we started, I looked back and held up my hand. The older man was on the dirt on his hands and
knees coughing like a gorilla and looking at the dirt between his hands. Neither of the other two raised a hand.
The young man lowered his head slowly and seriously, and raised it.
The young woman smiled, sternly be- neath
her virulent eyes, for the first time.
As we swung into the right fork of the road, I looked back again. The
young man, looking across once more into the woods, had reached his hand beneath the bib of his overalls and
was clawing at his lower belly. The woman, her eyes watching us past her shoulder, was walking to the door.
Just as I glanced back, and whether through seeing that I saw her I cannot be sure, she turned her head to the
front, and disappeared into the house.


IT WAS a good enough church from the moment the curve opened and we saw it that I slowed a little and we kept
our eyes on it. But as we came even with it
the light so held it that it shocked us with its goodness straight
through the body, so that at the same instant we said Jesus
. I put on the brakes and backed' the car slowly,
watching the light on the building, until we were at the same apex, and we sat still for a couple of minutes
at least before getting out, studying in arrest what had hit us so hard as we slowed past its perpendicular.

It lost nothing at all in stasis, but even more powerfully strove in through the eyes its paralyzing classi-
cism: stood from scoured clay, a light lift above us, no trees near, and few weeds; every grain, each nailhead,
distinct; the subtle almost strangling strong asymmetries of that which has been hand wrought toward symmet-
ry (as if it were an earnest description, better than the intended object): so intensely sprung against so
scarcely eccentric a balance that my hands of themselves spread out their bones, trying to regiment on air
between their strengths its tensions and their mutual structures as they stood subject to the only scarcely
eccentric, almost annihilating stress, of the serene, wild, rigorous light: empty, shut, bolted, of all that
was now withdrawn from it upon the fields the utter statement, God's mask and wooden skull and home stood
empty in the meditation of the sun: and this light upon it was strengthening still further its imposal and embrace,
and in about a quarter of an hour would have trained itself ready, and there would be a triple convergence in the
keen historic spasm of the shutter.

I helped get the camera ready and we stood away and I watched what would be trapped, possessed, fertil-
ized, in the leisures and shyness which are a phase of all love for any object: searching out and reg-
istering in myself all its lines, planes, stresses of relationship, along diagonals withdrawn and ap-
proached, and vertical to the slightly off-centered door, and broadside, and at several distances, and
near, examining merely the ways of the wood, and the nails, the three new boards of differing lengths
that were let in above the left of the door, the staring small white porcelain knob, the solesmoothed
stair-lifts, the wrung stance of thick steeple, the hewn wood stoblike spike at sky, the old hasp and
new padlock, the randomshuttered windowglass whose panes were like the surfaces of springs,
the fat
gold fly who sang and botched against a bright pane within, and within, the rigid benches, box organ,
bright .stops, hung charts, wrecked hymnals, the platform, pine lectern doilied, pressed-glass pitcher,
suspended lamp, four funeral chairs, the little stove with long swan throat aluminum in the hard sober
shade, a button in sun, a flur of lint, a torn card of Jesus among children:

While we were wondering whether to force a window, a young negro couple came past up the road. Without
appearing to look either longer or less long, or with more or less interest, than a white man might care
for, and without altering their pace, they made thorough observation of us, of the car, and of the tri-
pod and camera. We spoke and nodded, smiling as if casually; they spoke and nodded, gravely, as they
passed, and glanced back once, not secretly, nor long, nor in amusement. They made us, in spite of our
knowledge of our own meanings, ashamed and insecure in our wish to break into and possess their church,
and after a minute or two I decided to go after them and speak to them, and ask them if they knew where
we might find a minister or some other person who might let us in, if it would be all right. They were
fifty yards or so up the road, walking leisurely, and following them,
I watched aspects of them which
are less easily seen (as surrounding objects are masked by looking into a light) when one's own eyes
and face and the eyes and face of another are mutually visible and appraising. They were young, sober-
ly buoyant of body, and strong, the man not quite thin, the girl not quite plump, and I remembered their
mild and sober faces, hers softly wide and sensitive to love and to pleasure, and his resourceful and
intelligent without intellect and without guile, and their extreme dignity, which was as effortless,
unvalued, and undefended in them as the assumption of superiority which suffuses a rich and social ado-
lescent boy; and I was taking pleasure also in the competence and rhythm of their walking in the sun,
which was incapable of being less than a muted dancing,
and in the beauty in the sunlight of their
clothes, which were strange upon them in the middle of the week. He was in dark trousers, black dress
shoes, a new-laundered white shirt with lights of bluing in it, and a light yellow, soft straw hat with
a broad band of dark flowered cloth and a daisy in the band; she glossy-legged without stockings, in
freshly whited pumps, a flowered pink cotton dress, and a great sun of straw set far back on her head.
Their swung hands touched gently with their walking, stride by stride, but did not engage. I was walking
more rapidly than they but quietly; before I had gone ten steps they turned their heads (toward each o-
ther) and looked at me briefly and impersonally, like horses in a field, and faced front again; and this,
I am almost certain, not through having heard sound of me, but through a subtler sense. By the time I
raised my hand, they had looked away, and did not see me, though nothing in their looking had been
quick with abruptness or surreptition. I walked somewhat faster now, but I was overtaking them a little
slowly for my patience; the light would be right by now or very soon; I had no doubt Walker would do what
he wanted whether we had 'permission' or not, but I wanted to be on hand, and broke into a trot.
At the
sound of the twist of my shoe in the gravel, the young woman's whole body was jerked down tight as a fist
into a crouch from which immediately, the rear foot skidding in the loose stone so that she nearly fell,
like a kicked cow scrambling out of a creek, eyes crazy, chin stretched tight, she sprang forward into
the first motions of a running not human but that of a suddenly terrified wild animal. In this same in-
stant the young man froze, the emblems of sense in his wild face wide open toward me, his right hand stiff
toward the girl who, after a few strides, her consciousness overtaking her reflex, shambled to a stop and
stood, not straight but sick, as if hung from a hook in the spine of the will not to fall for weakness,

while he hurried to her and put his hand on her flowered shoulder and, inclining his head forward and side-
wise as if listening, spoke with her, and they lifted, and watched me while, shaking my head, and raising
my hand palm outward, I came up to them (not trotting) and stopped a yard short of where they, closely, not
touching now, stood, and said, still shaking my head (No; no; oh, Jesus, no, no, no!) and looking into
their eyes; at the man, who was not knowing what to do, and at
the girl, whose eyes were lined with tears,
and who was trying so hard to subdue the shaking in her breath, and whose heart I could feel, though not
hear, blasting as if it were my whole body, and I trying in some fool way to keep it somehow relatively
light, because I could not bear that they should receive from me any added reflection of the shattering of
their grace and dignity, and of the nakedness and depth and meaning of their fear, and of my horror and
pity and self-hatred; and so, smiling, and so distressed that I wanted only that they should be restored,
and should know I was their friend, and that I might melt from existence:
'I'm very sorry! I'm very sorry
if I scared you! I didn't mean to scare you at all. I wouldn't have done any such thing for anything.'
They just kept looking at me. There was no more for them to say than for me. The least I could have done was
to throw my- self flat on my face and embrace and kiss their feet. That im- pulse took hold of me so power-
fully, from my whole body, not by thought, that I caught myself from doing it exactly and as scarcely as you
snatch yourself from jumping from a sheer height: here, with the realization that it would have frightened
them still worse (to say nothing of me) and would have been still less explicable; so that I stood and look-
ed into their eyes and loved them, and wished to God I was dead. After a little the man got back his voice,
his eyes grew a little easier, and he said without conviction that that was all right and that I hadn't scar-
ed her. She shook her head slowly, her eyes on me; she did not yet trust her voice.
Their faces were secret,
soft, utterly without trust of me, and utterly without understanding; and they had to stand here now and hear
what I was saying, because in that country no negro safely walks away from a white man, or even appears not
to listen while he is talking,
and because I could not walk away abruptly, and relieve them of me, without
still worse a crime against nature than the one I had committed, and the second I was committing by staying,
and holding them. And so, and in this horrid grinning of faked casualness, I gave them a better reason why I
had followed them than to frighten them, asked what I had followed them to ask; they said the thing it is usu-
ally safest for negroes to say,that they did not know; I thanked them very much, and was seized once more and
beyond resistance with the wish to clarify and set right, so that again, with my eyes and smile wretched and
out of key with all I was able to say,
I said I was awfully sorry if I had bothered them; but they only re-
treated still more profoundly behind their faces, their eyes watching mine as if awaiting any sudden move
they must ward
, and the young man said again that that was all right, and I nodded, and turned away from
them, and walked down the road without looking back.

ALL over Alabama, the lamps are out. Every leaf drenches the touch; the spider's net is heavy. The roads lie
there, with nothing to use them. The fields lie there, with nothing at work in them, neither man nor beast.
The plow handles are wet, and the rails and the frogplates and the weeds between the ties: and not even the
hurryings and hoarse sorrows of a distant train, on other roads, is heard.
The little towns, the county seats,
house by house white-painted and elaborately sawn among their heavy and dark-lighted leaves, in the spaced
protections of their mineral light they stand so prim, so voided, so undefended upon starlight, that it is
inconceivable to despise or to scorn a white man, an owner of land;
even in Birmingham, mile on mile, save
for the sudden frightful streaming, almost instantly diminished and silent, of a closed black car, and save
stone lonesome sinister heelbeats, that show never a face and enter, soon, a frame door flush with the pave-
ment, and ascend the immediate lightless staircase, mile on mile, stone, stone, smooth charted streams of
stone, the streets under their lifted lamps lie void before eternity.
New Orleans is stirring, rattling,
and sliding faintly in its fragrance and in the enormous richness of its lust; taxis are still parked along
Dauphine Street and the breastlike, floral air is itchy with the stilettos and embroiderings above black
blood drumthroes of an eloquent cracked indiscoverable cornet, which exists only in the imagination and
somewhere in the past, in the broken heart of Louis Armstrong; yet even in that small portion which is the
infested genitals of that city, never free, neither of desire nor of waking pain, there are the qualities
of the tender desolations of profoundest night. Beneath, the gulf lies dreaming, and beneath, dreaming,
that woman, that id, the lower American continent, lies spread before heaven in her wealth. The parks of
her cities are iron, loam, silent, the sweet fountains shut, and the pure facades, embroiled, limelike in
street light are sharp, are still:

                        Part One


IT IS late in a summer night, in a room of a house set deep and solitary in the country; all in this house
save myself are sleeping; I sit at a table, facing a partition wall; and I am looking at a lighted coal-oil
lamp which stands on the table close to the wall,
and just beyond the sleeping of my relaxed left hand; with
my right hand I am from time to time writing, with a soft pencil, into a school-child's composition book;
but just now, I am entirely focused on the lamp, and light.

It is of glass, light metal colored gold, and cloth of heavy thread.

The glass was poured into a mold, I guess, that made the base and bowl, which are in one piece; the glass is
thick and clean, with icy lights in it. The base is a simply fluted, hollow skirt; stands on the table; is
solidified in a narrowing, a round inch of pure thick glass, then hollows again, a globe about half flatten-
ed, the globe-glass thick, too; and this holds oil, whose silver line I see, a little less than half down
the globe, its level a very little--for the base is not quite true-tilted against the axis of the base.

This 'oil' is not at all oleaginous, but thin, brittle, rusty feeling, and sharp; taken and rubbed between
forefinger and thumb, it so cleanses their grain that it sharpens their mutual touch to a new coin edge, or
the russet nipple of a breast erected in cold; and the odor is clean, cheerful and humble, less alive by
far than that of gasoline, even a shade watery:
and a subtle sweating of this oil is on the upward surface
of the globe, as if it stood through the glass, and as if the glass were a pitcher of cool water in a hot

room. I do not understand nor try to deduce this, but I like it; I run my thumb upon it and smell of my
thumb, and smooth away its streaked print on the glass; and I wipe my thumb and forefinger dry against my
pants, and keep on looking.

In this globe, and in this oil that is clear and light as water, and reminding me of creatures and things
once alive which I have seen suspended in jars in a frightening smell of alcohol--serpents, tapeworms,
toads, embryons, all drained one tan pallor of absolute death; and also of the serene, scarved flowers
in untroubled wombs (and pale-tanned too, flaccid, and in the stench of exhibited death, those children of
fury, patience and love which stand in the dishonors of accepted fame, and of the murdering of museum star-
ing); in this globe like a thought, a dream, the future, slumbers the stout-weft strap of wick, and up this
wick is drawn the oil, toward heat; through a tight, flat tube of tin, and through a little slotted smile
of golden tin, and there ends fledged with flame, in the flue; the flame, a clean, fanged fan:


THE LIGHT in this room is of a lamp. Its flame in the glass is of the dry, silent and famished delicateness
of the latest lateness of the night, and of such ultimate, such holiness of silence and peace that all on
earth and within extremest remembrance seems suspended upon it in perfection as upon reflective water: and
I feel that if I can by utter quietness succeed in not disturbing this silence, in not so much as touch-
ing this plain of water, I can tell you anything within realm of God, whatsoever it may be
, that I wish to
tell you, and that what so ever it may be, you will not be able to help but understand it.

It is the middle and pure height and whole of summer and a summer night, the held breath, of a planet's
year; high shored sleeps the crested tide: what day of the month I do not know, which day of the week I am
not sure, far less what hour of the night. The dollar watch I bought a few days ago, as also from time to
time I buy a ten cent automatic pencil, and use it little before I lose all track of it, ran out at seventeen
minutes past ten the day before yesterday morning, and time by machine measure was over for me at that
hour, and is a monument.
I know of the lateness and full height by the quietly starved brightness of my
senses, which some while ago made the transition past any need for sleep without taking much notice of it,
as, in the late darkness, the long accustomed liner loses the last black headland, and quietly commends her
forehead upon the long open home of the sea: and by a quality in the night itself not truly apparent to any one
of the senses, yet, by some indirection, to every sense in one, of a most complete and universally shared
withdrawal to source, like that brief paralysis which enchants a city while wreaths are laid to a cenotaph, and,
muted, a bugle's inscription shines, in the tightening just before the relaxation of this swarmed, still, silence
till, hats-on, gears grow and smooth, the lifted foot arrested in the stopshot completes its step, once more
the white mane of the drayhorse flurrs in the sunny air: now vibrates all that vast stone hive: into resumption,
reassumption, of casual living.

And it is in these terms I would tell you, at all leisure, and in all detail, whatever there is to tell: of
where I am; of what I perceive.

Lamplight here, and lone, late: the odor is of pine that has stood shut on itself through the heat of a hot
day: the odor of an attic at white noon: and all of the walls save that surface within immediate touch of the
lamp, where like water slept in lantern light the grain is so sharply discerned in its retirement beyond the
sleep of the standing shape of pines, and the pastings and pinnings of sad ornaments, are a most dim scarce-
color of grayed silver breathed in yellow red which is the hue and haze in the room; and above me, black:
where, beyond bones of rafters underlighted, a stomach sucked against the spine in fear, the roof draws up
its peak:
and this is a frightening dark, which has again to do with an attic: for it is the darkness that
stands just up the stairs, sucking itself out of sight of the light, from an attic door left ajar, noticed
on your way to bed, and remembered after you are there: so that I muse what not quite creatures and what not
quite forms are suspended like bats above and behind my bent head; and how far down in their clustered weight
they are stealing while my eyes are on this writing; and how skillfully swiftly they suck themselves back
upward into the dark when I turn my head: and above all, why they should be so coy, who, with one slather of
cold membranes drooping, could slap out light and have me: and who own me since all time's beginning. Yet
this mere fact of thinking holds them at dis tance, as crucifixes demons, so lightly and well that I am al-
most prsuaded of being merely fanciful; in which exercise I would be theirs most profoundly beyond rescue,
not knowing, and not fearing, I am theirs.

Above that shell and carapace, more frail against heaven than fragilest membrane of glass, nothing, straight
to the terrific stars: whereof all heaven is chalky; and of whom the nearest is so wild a reach my substance
wilts to think on: and we, this Arctic flower snow-rooted, last matchflame guarded on a windy plain, are seat-
ed among these stars alone: none to turn to, none to make us known; a little country settlement so deep, so
lost in shelve and shade of dew, no one so much as laughs at us. Small wonder how pitiably we love our home,
cling in her skirts at night, rejoice in her wide star-seducing smile, when every star strikes us sick with
the fright: do we really exist at all?

This world is not my home, I'm, only passing through,
My treasures and my hopes, are, all, beyond the sky,
I've many, friends, and kindreds, that's gone, along before,
And I can't, feel, at home, in this world, any, more.

And thus, too, these families, not otherwise than with every family in the earth, how each, apart, how incon-
ceivably lonely, sorrowful, and remote! Not one other on earth, nor in any dream, that can care so much what
comes to them, so that even as they sit at the lamp and eat their supper, the joke they are laughing at could
not be so funny to anyone else; and the littlest child who stands on the bench solemnly, with food glittering
all over his cheeks in the lamplight, this littlest child I speak of is not there, he is of another family,
and it is a different woman who wipes the food from his cheeks and takes his weight upon her thighs and against
her body and who feeds him, and lets his weight slacken against her in his heavying sleep; and the man who puts
another soaked cloth to the skin cancer on his shoulder; it is his wife who is looking on, and his child who
lies sunken along the floor with his soft mouth broad open and his nakedness up like a rolling dog, asleep:
and the people next up the road cannot care in the same way, not for any of it: for they are absorbed upon
themselves: and the negroes down beyond the spring have drawn
their shutters tight, the lamplight pulses like
wounded honey through the seams into the soft night
, and there is laughter: but nobody else cares. All over
the whole round earth and in the settlements, the towns, and
the great iron stones of cities, people are drawn
inward within their little shells of rooms, and are to be seen in their wondrous and pitiful actions through
the surfaces of their lighted windows by thousands, by millions, little golden aquariums,
in chairs, reading,
setting tables, sewing, playing cards, not talking, talking, laughing inaudibly, mixing drinks, at radio dials,
eating, in shirt-sleeves, carefully dressed, courting, teasing, loving, seducing, undressing,
leaving the room
empty in its empty light, alone and writing a letter urgently, in couples married, in separate chairs, in family
parties, in gay parties, preparing for bed, preparing for sleep: and none can care, beyond that room; and none
can be cared for, by any beyond that room: and it is small wonder they are drawn together so cowardly close, and
small wonder in what dry agony of despair a mother may fasten her talons and her vampire mouth upon the soul of
her struggling son and drain him empty, light as a locust shell:
and wonder only that an age that has borne
its children and must lose and has lost them, and lost life, can bear further living; but so it is:

A man and a woman are drawn together upon a bed and there is a child and there are children:

First they are mouths, then they become auxiliary instruments of labor:
later they are drawn away, and become
the fathers and mothers of children, who shall become the fathers and mothers of children:

Their father and their mother before them were, in their time, the children each of different parents, who in
their time were each children of parents:

This has been happening for a long while: its beginning was before stars:

It will continue for a long while: no one knows where it will end:

While they are still drawn together within one shelter around the center of their parents, these children and
their parents together compose a family:

This family must take care of itself; it has no mother or father: there is no other shelter, nor resource, nor
any love, interest, sustaining strength or comfort, so near, nor can anything happy or sorrowful that comes to
anyone in this family possibly mean to those outside it what it means to those within it: but it is, as I have
inconceivably lonely, drawn upon itself as tramps are drawn round a fire in the cruelest weather; and
thus and in such loneliness it exists among other families, each of which is no less lonely, nor any less with-
out help or comfort, and is likewise drawn in upon itself:

Such a family lasts, for a while: the children are held to a magnetic center:

Then in time the magnetism weakens, both of itself in its tiredness of aging and sorrow, and against the strength
of the growth of each child, and against the strength of pulls from out- side, and one by one the children are
drawn away:

Of those that are drawn away, each is drawn elsewhere toward another: once more a man and a woman, in a loneli-
ness they are not liable at that time to notice, are tightened together upon a bed: and another family has begun:

these flexions are taking place every where, like a simultaneous motion of all the waves of the water
of the world: and these are the classic patterns, and this is the weaving, of human living
: of whose fabric each
individual is a part: and of all parts of this fabric let this be borne in mind:

Each is intimately connected with the bottom and the extremest reach of time:

Each is composed of substances identical with the substance of all that surrounds him, both the common objects of
his disregard, and the hot centers of stars:

All that each person is, and experiences, and shall never ex- perience, in body and in mind, all these things are
differing expressions of himself and of one root, and are identical: and not one of these things nor one of
these persons is ever quite to be duplicated, nor replaced, nor has it ever quite had precedent: but each is a
new and incommunicably tender life, wounded in every breath, and almost as hardly killed as easily wounded: sus-
taining, for a while, without defense, the enormous assaults of the universe:

So that how it can be that a stone, a plant, a star, can take on the burden of being; and how it is that a child
can take on the burden of breathing; and how through so long a continuation and cumulation of the burden of each
moment one on another, does any creature bear to exist, and not break utterly to fragments of nothing: these
are matters too dreadful and fortitudes too gigantic to meditate long and not forever to worship:

Just a half-inch beyond the surface of this wall I face is another surface, one of the four walls which square
and collaborate against the air another room, and there lie sleeping, on two iron beds and on pallets on the
floor, a man and his wife and her sister, and four children, a girl, and three harmed boys. Their lamp is out,
their light is done this long while, and not in a long while has any one of them made a sound. Not even straining,
can I hear their breathing: rather,
I have a not quite sensuous knowledge of a sort of suspiration, less breathing
than that indiscernible drawing-in of heaven by which plants live, and thus I know they rest and the profundity
of their tiredness, as if I were in each one of these seven bodies whose sleeping I can almost touch through this
wall, and which in the darkness I so clearly see, with the whole touch and weight of my body: George's red body,
already a little squat with the burden of thirty years, knotted like oakwood, in its clean white cotton summer un-
ion suit that it sleeps in; and his wife's beside him, Annie Mae's, slender, and sharpened through with bone, that
ten years past must have had such beauty, and now is veined at the breast, and the skin of the breast translucent,
delicately shriveled, and blue,
and she and her sister Emma are in plain cotton shifts; and the body of Emma, her
sister, strong, thick and wide, tall, the breasts set wide and high, shallow and round, not yet those of a full
woman, the legs long thick and strong; and Louise's green lovely body, the dim breasts faintly blown between wide
shoulders, the thighs long, clean and light in their line from hip to knee, the head back steep and silent to the
floor, the chin highest, and the white shift up to her divided thighs;
and the tough little body of Junior, hard-
skinned and gritty, the feet crusted with sores; and the milky and strengthless littler body of Burt whose veins
are so bright in his temples; and the shriveled and hopeless, most pitiful body of Squinchy, which will not grow:

But it is not only their bodies but their postures that I know, and their weight on the bed or on the floor, so that
I lie down inside each one as if exhausted in a bed, and I become not my own shape and weight and self, but
that of each of them
, the whole of it, sunken in sleep like stones; so that I know almost the dreams they will not
remember, and the soul and body of each of these seven, and of all of them together in this room in sleep, as if
they were music I were hearing, each voice in relation to all the others, and all audible, singly, and as one or-
ganism, and a music that cannot be communicated: and thus they lie in this silence, and rest.

Burt half-woke, whimpering before he was awake, an in- articulated soprano speaking through not quite weeping in
complaint to his mother as before a sure jury of some fright of dream: the bed creaked and I heard her bare feet
slow, the shufffing soles, and
her voice, not whispering but stifled and gentle, Go to sleep now, git awn back to
sleep, they aint nothin agoin to pester ye, git awn back to sleep, in that cadence of strength and sheltering com-
fort which anneals all fence of language and surpasses music;
and George's grouched, sleepy voice, and hers to
him, no words audible; and the shuffling; and a twisting in beds, and grumbling of weak springs; and the whimpering
sinking, and expired; and the sound of breathing, strong, not sleeping, now, slowed, shifted across into sleep,
now, steadier; and now, long, long, drawn off as lightest lithest edge of bow, thinner, thinner, a thread, a fil-
ament; nothing: and once more that silence wherein more deep than starlight this home is foundered.

I am fond of Emma, and very sorry for her, and I shall probably never see her again after a few hours from now. I
want to tell you what I can about her.

She is a big girl, almost as big as her sister is wiry, though she is not at all fat: her build is rather that of a young
queen of a child's magic story who throughout has been coarsened by peasant and earth living and work, and
that of her eyes and her demeanor, too, kind, not fully formed, resolute, bewildered, and sad. Her soft abundant
slightly curling brown hair is cut in a square bob which on her large fine head is particularly childish, and indeed
Emma is rather a big child, sexual beyond propriety to its years, than a young woman; and this can be seen in
a kind of dimness of definition in her features, her skin, and the shape of her body, which will be lost in a few
more years.
She wears a ten cent store necklace and a sunday cotton print dress because she is visiting, and is
from town, but she took off her slippers as soon as she came, and worked with Annie Mae. According to her father
she is the spitn image of her mother when her mother was young; Annie Mae favors her father and his people, who
were all small and lightly built.

Emma is very fond of her father and very sorry for him, as her sister is, and neither of them can stand his second
wife. I have an idea that his marrying her had a lot to do with Emma's own marriage, which her father so strongly
advised her against. He married the second time when Emma was thirteen, and for a long while they lived almost in-
sanely, as I will tell you of later, far back in a swamp: and when Emma was sixteen she married a man her father's
age, a carpenter in Cherokee City. She has been married to him two years; they have no children.
Emma loves good
times, and towns, and people her own age, and he is jealous and mean to her and suspicious of her. He has given her
no pretty dresses nor the money to buy cloth to make them.
Every minute he is in the house he keeps his eye right
on her as if she was up to something, and when he goes out, which is as seldom as he can, he locks her in: so that
twice already she has left him and come home to stay, and then after a while he has come down begging, and crying,
and swearing he'll treat her good, and give her anything she asks for, and that he'll take to drink or kill himself
if she leaves him, and she has gone back: for it isn't any fun at home, hating that woman the way she does,
and she can't have fun with anyone else because she is married and nobody will have fun with her that way: and
now (and I think it may be not only through the depression but through staying in the house because of jealousy
and through fear of living in a town with her, and so near a home she can return to), her husband can no longer get
a living in Cherokee City; he has heard of a farm on a plantation over in the red hills in Mississippi and has al-
ready gane, and taken it, and he has sent word to Emma that she is to come in a truck in which a man he knows, who
has business to drive out that way, is moving their furniture; and this truck is leaving tomorrow.
She doesn't want
to go at all, and during the past two days she has been withdrawing into rooms with her sister and crying a good
deal, almost tearlessly and almost without voice, as if she knew no more how to cry than how to take care for her
and Annie Mae is strong against her going, all that distance, to a man who leaves her behind and then just
sends for her, saying, Come on along, now; and George too is as committal over it as he feels will appear any
right or business of his to be, he a man, and married, to the wife of another man, who is no kin to him, but only
the sister of his wife, and to whom he is himself unconcealably attracted: but she is going all the same, without
at all understanding why. Annie Mae is sure she won't stay out there long, not all alone in the country away from
her kin-folks with that man; that is what she keeps saying, to Emma, and to George, and even to me; but actually

she is surer than not that she may never see her young sister again, and she grieves for her, and for the loss of
her to her own loneliness, for she loves her, both for herself and her dependence and for that softness of youth
which already is drawn so deep into the trap, and in which Annie Mae can perceive herself as she was ten years
past; and she gives no appearance of noticing the clumsy and shamefaced would-be-subtle demeanors of flirtation
which George is stupid enough to believe she does not understand for what they are:
for George would only be shock-
ed should she give him open permission, and Emma could not be too well trusted either. So this sad comedy has been
going on without comment from anyone, which will come to nothing: and another sort has been going on with us, of
a kind fully as helpless.
Each of us is attractive to Emma, both in sexual immediacy and as symbols or embodiments
of a life she wants and knows she will never have; and each of us is fond of her, and attracted toward her. We are
not only strangers to her, but we are strange, unexplainable, beyond what I can begin yet fully to realize. We
have acted toward her with the greatest possible care and shyness and quiet, yet we have been open or 'clear' as
well, so that she knows we understand her and like her and care for her almost intimately. She is puzzled by this
and yet not at all troubled, but excited; but there is nothing to do about it on either side. There is tenderness
and sweetness and mutual pleasure in such a 'flirtation' which one would not for the world restrain or cancel, yet
there is also an essential cruelty, about which nothing can be done,
and strong possibility of cruelty through mis-
understanding, and inhibition, and impossibility, which can be restrained, and which one would rather die than
cause any of: but it is a cruel and ridiculous and restricted situation, and everyone to some extent realizes it.
Everyone realizes it, I think, to such a degree even as this: supposing even that nothing can be helped about the
marriage, supposing she is going away and on with it, which she shouldn't, then if only
Emma could spend her last
few days alive having a gigantic good time in bed, with George, a kind of man she is best used to, and with Walker
and with me, whom she is curious about and attracted to, and who are at the same moment tangible and friendly and
not at all to be feared, and on the other hand have for her the mystery or glamour almost of mythological creatures.
This has a good many times in the past couple of days come very clearly through between all of us except the child-
ren, and without fear, in sudden and subtle but unmistakable expressions of the eyes, or ways of smiling: yet not
one of us would be capable of trusting ourselves to it unless beyond any doubt each knew all the others to be thus
capable: and even then how crazily the conditioned and inferior parts of each of our beings would rush in, and take
revenge. But this is just a minute specialization of a general brutal pity: almost any person, no matter how damaged
and poisoned and blinded, is infinitely more capable of intelligence and of joy than he can let himself be or than
he usually knows; and even if he had no reason to fear his own poisons, he has those that are in others to fear, to
assume and take care for, if he would not hurt both himself and that other person and the pure act itself beyond cure.

But here I am going to shift ahead of where I am writing, to a thing which is to happen, or which happened, the next
morning (you mustn't be puzzled by this, I'm writing in a continuum), and say what came of it

The next morning was full of the disorganized, half listless, yet very busy motions of ordinary life broken by an
event: Emma's going away. I was going to take her and Annie Mae to her brother Gallatin's house near Cookstown,
where she was to meet the man with his truck, and I was waiting around on the front porch in the cool-hot increas-
ing morning sunlight, working out my notes, while the morning housework was done up in special speed. (George
was gone an hour or more ago, immediately after the breakfast they had all sat through, not talking much.
had been a sort of lingering in eating and in silences, and a little when the food was done, broken by talk to
keep the silences from becoming too frightening;
I had let the breakfast start late by telling him I would take
him in the car; then abruptly he got up saying, 'Well, Jimmy, if you -' Whether he would kiss Emma goodbye, as a
sort of relative, was on everybody's mind. He came clumsily near it: she half got from her chair, and their bodies
were suddenly and sharply drawn toward each other a few inches: but he was much too shy, and did not even touch
her with the hand he reached out to shake hers. Annie Mae drawled, smiling, What's wrong with ye George; she ain't
agoin' to bite ye; and everyone laughed, and Emma stood up and they embraced, laughing, and he kissed her on her
suddenly turned cheek, a little the way a father and an adolescent son kiss, and told her goodbye and wished her
good luck,
and I took him to work in the car, and came back. And now here I was, as I have said, on the porch.)
Here I was on the porch, diddling around in a notebook and hearing the sounds of work and the changing patterns
of voices inside, and the unaccustomed noise of shoeleather on the floor, because someone was dressed up for tra-
vel; and a hen thudded among dried watermelon seeds on the oak floor, looking, as they usually do, like a near-
sighted professor; and down hill beyond the open field a little wind laid itself in a wall against the glistening
leaves of the high forest and lay through with a long sweet granular noise of rustling water; and the hen dropped
from the ledge of the porch to the turded dirt with a sodden bounce, and an involuntary cluck as her heaviness hit
the ground on her sprung legs; and the long lithe little wind released the trees and was gone on, wandering the
fringed earth in its affairs like a saturday schoolchild in the sun, and the leaves hung troubling in the after-
and I heard footsteps in the hall and Emma appeared, all dressed to go, looking somehow as if she had come
to report a decision that had been made in a conference, for which I, without knowing it, seemed to have been
waiting. She spoke in that same way, too,
not wasting any roundabout time or waiting for an appropriate rhythm,
yet not in haste, looking me steadily and sweetly in the eyes, and said, I want you and Mr. Walker to know how
much we all like you, because you make us feel easy with you; we don't have to act any different from what it
comes natural to act, and we don't have to worry what you're thinking about us, it's just like you was our own
people and had always lived here with us, you all are so kind, and nice, and quiet, and easygoing, and we wisht
you wasn't never going to go away but stay on here with us, and Ijust want to tell you how much we all keer about
; Annie Mae says the same, and you please tell Mr. Walker, too, if I don't see him afore I go. (I knew she
could never say it over again, and I swore I certainly would tell him.)

What's the use trying to say what I felt. It took her a long time to say what she wanted so much to say, and it
was hard for her, but there she stood looking straight into my eyes, and I straight into hers, longer than you'd
think it would be possible to stand it. I would have done anything in the world for her (that is always character-
istic, I guess, of
the seizure of the strongest love you can feel: pity, and the wish to die for a person, because
there isn't anything you can do for them that is at all measurable to your love), and all I could do, the very
most, for this girl who was so soon going on out of my existence into so hopeless a one of hers
, the very most I
could do was not to show all I cared for her and for what she was saying, and not to even try to do, or to indi-
cate the good I wished I might do her and was so utterly helpless to do.
I had such tenderness and such gratitude
toward her that while she spoke I very strongly, as something steadier than an 'impulse,' wanted in answer to take
her large body in my arms and smooth the damp hair back from her forehead and to kiss and comfort and shelter her
like a child, and I can swear that I now as then almost believe that in that moment she would have so well under-
stood this, and so purely and quietly met it,
that now as then I only wish to God I had done it; but instead the
most I did was to stand facing her, and to keep looking into her eyes (doing her the honor at least of knowing
that she did not want relief from this), and, manag- ing to keep the tears from running down my face, to smile to
her and say that there was nothing in my whole life that I had cared so much to be told, and had been so grateful
for (and I believe this is so); and that I wanted her to know how much I liked them, too, and her herself, and
that I certainly felt that they were my own people, and wanted them to be, more than any other kind of people in
the world, and that if they felt that of me, and that I belonged with them, and we all felt right and easy with
each other and fond of each other, then there wasn't any- thing in the world I could be happier over, or be more
glad to know (and this is so, too)
; and that I knew I could say all of the same of Walker (and this, too, I know
I was true in saying), I had stood up, almost without realizing I was doing it, the moment she appeared and be-
gan to speak, as though facing some formal, or royal, or ritual action, and we stayed thus standing, not leaning
against or touching anything, about three feet apart, facing each other. I went on to say that whatever might hap-
pen to her or that she might do in all her life I wished her the best luck anyone could think of, and not ever to
forget it, that nobody has a right to be unhappy, or to live in a way that makes them unhappy, for the sake of be-
ing afraid, or what people will think of them, or for the sake of anyone else, if there is any way they can pos-
sibly do better, that won't hurt other people too much. She slowly and lightly blushed while I spoke and her
eyes became damp and bright, and said that she sure did wish me the same.
Then we had nothing to say, unless we
should invent something, and nothing to do, and quite suddenly and at the same instant we smiled, and she said
well, she reckoned she'd better git on in and help Annie Mae, and I nodded, and she went, and a half-hour later
I was driving her, and Annie Mae, and her father, and Louise, and Junior, and Burt, and the baby, to her brother's
house near Cookstown. The children were silent and intent with the excitement of riding in the car, stacked on
top of each other around their mother on the back seat and looking out of the windows like dogs, except Louise,
whose terrible gray eyes met mine whenever I glanced for them in the car mirror. Emma rode between me and her fa-
ther, her round sleeveless arms cramped a little in front of her.
My own sleeves were rolled high, so that in the
crowding our flesh touched. Each of us at the first few of these contacts drew quietly away, then later she rel-
axed her arms, and her body and thighs as well, and so did I, and for perhaps fifteen minutes we lay quietly and
closely side to side, and intimately communicated also in our thoughts. Our bodies were very hot, and the car was
packed with hot and sweating bodies, and with a fine salt and rank odor like that of crushed grass:
thus in a short while, though I knew speed was not in the mood of anyone and was going as slowly as I felt I could
with propriety,
we covered the short seven mileage of clay, then slag, to Cookstown, and slowed through the town
(eyes, eyes on us, of men, from beneath hatbrims), and down the meandering now sandy road to where her brother
lived. I had seen him once before, a man in his thirties with a bitter, intelligent, skull-formed face; and his
sour wife, and their gold skinned children: and now here also was another man, forty or so, leathery-strong, black-
shaven, black-hatted, booted, his thin mouth tightened round a stalk of grass showing gold stained teeth, his cold,
mean eyes a nearly white blue; and he was sardonically waiting, and his truck, loaded with chairs and bed-iron,
stood in the sun where the treeshade had slid beyond it. He was studying Emma coldly and almost without furtiveness,
and she was avoiding his eyes.
It was impossible to go quite immediately. We all sat around a short while and had
lemonade from a pressed-glass pitcher, from which he had already taken at least two propitiatory glasses. It had
been made in some hope of helping the leavetaking pass off as a sort of party, from two lemons and spring water,
without ice, and it was tepid, heavily sweetened (as if to compensate the lack of lemons), and scarcely tart;
was half a glass for each of us, out of five tumblers, and we all gave most of it to the children. The children of
the two families stayed very quiet, shy of each other; the others, save the black-hatted man, tried to talk, without
managing much; they tried especially hard when Emma got up, as suddenly as if she had to vomit, and went into the
next room and shut the door, and Annie Mae followed her. Gallatin said it was mighty hard on a girl so young as that
leaving her kinfolks so far behind. The man in the hat twisted his mouth on the grass and, without opening his teeth,
said Yeah-ah, as if he had his own opinions about that.
We were trying not to try to hear the voices in the next
room, and that same helpless, frozen, creaky weeping I had heard before; and after a little it quieted; and after a
little more they came out, Emma flourily powdered straight to the eyes, and the eyes as if she had cried sand in-
stead of tears;
and the man said--it was the first kind gesture I had seen in him and one of the few I suspect in
his life, and I am sure it was kind by no intention of his: 'Well, we can't hang around here all day. Reckon you'd
better come on along, if you're coming.'

With that, Emma and her father kiss, shyly and awkwardly, children doing it before parents; so do she and her bro-
ther; she and Annie Mae embrace; she and I shake hands and say goodbye: all this in the sort of broken speed in
a family takes leave beside the black wall of a steaming train when the last crates have been loaded and it
seems certain that at any instant the windows, and
the leaned unpitying faces, will begin to slide past on iron.
Emma's paper suitcase is lifted into the truck beside
the bedsprings which will sustain the years on years of her
cold, hopeless nights
; she is helped in upon the hard seat beside the driver above the hot and floorless engine,
her slippered feet propped askew at the ledges of that pit into the road;
the engine snaps and coughs and catches
and levels on a hot white moistureless and thin metal roar, and with a dreadful rending noise that brings up the
mild heads of cattle a quarter of a mile away the truck rips itself loose from the flesh of the planed dirt of the
yard and wrings into the road and chucks ahead, we waving, she waving, the black hat straight ahead, she turned a-
way, not bearing it, our hands drooped, and we stand disconsolate and emptied in the sun; and all through these co-
ming many hours while we slow move within the anchored rondures of our living, the hot, screaming, rattling, twenty-
mile-an-hour traveling elongates steadily crawling, a lost, earnest, and frowning ant, westward on red roads and on
white in the febrile sun above no support, suspended, sustained from falling by force alone of its outward growth,
like that long and lithe incongruous slender runner a vine spends swiftly out on the vast blank wall of the earth,
like snake's head and slim stream feeling its way, to fix, and anchor, so far, so wide of the strong and stationed
stalk: and that is Emma.

But as yet this has not happened, and now she sleeps, here in this next room, among six others dear in their lives
to me, and
if I were but to section and lift away a part of this so thin shell and protection of wall, there they
would be as in a surgery, or a medical drawing, the brain beneath the lifted, so light helmet of the skull, the
deep-chambered, powerful and so vulnerable, so delicately ruined, emboweled, most vital organs, behind the placid
lovedelighting skin;
and a few hours past, they were going to bed, and not long before, they were eating supper,
and because of their sadness, and because of the excitement of her being here, supper had in its speaking and
its whole manner a tone out of the ordinary, a quality of an occasion, almost of a party, almost of gaiety, with

a pale chocolate pudding, made out of cocoa and starch, for dessert, and a sort of made-conversation and joking
half forced by fear of sadness, and half genuinely stimulated by her presence and by a shyness and liking for us:
and in the middle of the table stood the flower of the lighted lamp, more kind, more friendly in the still not de-
parted withering daylight and more lovely, than may be set in words beneath its fact: and when the supper was fin-
ished, it disintegrated without suture or transition into work, sleep, rest:
Annie Mae, Emma, Louise, the three
women, rising to the work they had scarcely ceased during the meal (for they had served us, eating betweentimes),
clearing, scraping, crumbing the damp oilcloth with damp cloth in the light, dishwashing, meanwhile talking (Lou-
ise not talking, listening to them, the older women,
absorbing, absorbing deeply, grain by grain, ton by ton, that
which she shall not escape
): the women lifting themselves from their chairs into this work; the children mean-
sinking and laid out five fathom five mile deep along the exhausted floor: and we, following manners, trans-
ferred with George, a few feet beyond the kitchen door, in the open porch hall, leaned back in chairs against the
wall, or leaned between our knees and our planted feet, he, with his work shoes off,
his feet taking, thirstily
drinking like the sunken heads of horses at the trough, the cool and beauty quiet of the grained and gritted boards
of the floor
; and he talking a little, but too tired for talk, and rolling a damp cigarette and smoking its short
sweetness through to the scorching of the stony thumb
, with a child's body lifted sleeping between his knees:

and when the women are through, they may or may not come out too, with their dresses wet in front with the dishwash-
ing and their hard hands softened and seamed as if withered with water, and sit a little while with the man or the
men: and if they do, it is not for long, for everyone is much too tired, and has been awake and at work since day-
light whitened a little be- hind the trees on the hill, and it is now very close to dark, with daylight scarcely
more than a sort of tincture on the air, and this diminishing, and the loudening frogs, and the locusts, the crick-
ets, and the birds of night, tentative, tuning, in that great realm of hazy and drowned dew, who shall so royally
embroider the giant night's fragrant cloud of earthshade: and so, too, the talking is sporadic, and sinks into long
unembarrassed silences; the sentences, the comments, the monosyllables, drawn up from deepest within them without
thought and with faint creaking of weight as if they were wells, and spilled out in a cool flat drawl, and quietly
answered; and a silence; and again, some words: and it is not really talking, or meaning, but another and profounder
kind of communication, a rhythm to be completed by answer and made whole by silence, a lyric song, as horses who
nudge one another in pasture, or like drowsy birds who are heavying a dark branch with their tiredness before sleep:
and it is their leisure after work; but it does not last; and in fifteen minutes, or a half-hour at most, it is done,
and they draw themselves into motion for bed:

one by one, in a granite-enameled, still new basin which is for that single purpose, they wash their feet in cold
water--for this is a very cleanly and decent family--and begin to move into the bedroom: first the children, then
the women, last George: the pallets are laid; the lamp is in the bedroom; George sits in the porch dark, smoking an-
other cigarette.
Junior, morose and whimpering and half blind with sleep, undresses himself, sliding the straps
from his shoulders and the overalls from his nakedness and sinking in his shirt asleep already, along the thin
cotton pallet. Burt scarcely half awakens as
his sister strips him, a child of dough, and is laid like a corpse be-
side his cruel brother.
Squinchy is drugged beyond doomcrack: his heavy tow head falls back across her bent arm
loose as that of a dead bird, the mouth wide open, the eyelids oily gleaming, as his mother slips from his dwarf
body the hip length, one-button dress
; and the women, their plain shifts lifted from the closet nails, undress
themselves, turned part away from each other, and careful not to look:
the mother, whose body already at twenty-
seven ib so wrung and drained and old, a scrawny, infinitely tired, deiicate animal, the poor emblems of delight
no longer practicable to any but most weary and grunting use: her big young sister, childless still, and dim, soft
as a bloomed moon, and still in health, who emanates some disordering or witless violation: and the still invio-
late, lyric body of a child, very much of the earth, yet drawn into that short and seraphic phase of what seems un-
earthliness which it will so soon lose: each aware of herself and of the others, and each hiding what shames or
grieves her:
and the two elder talking (and the child, the photographic plate, receiving: These are women, I am a
woman, I am not a child any more, I am undressing with women, and this is how women are, and how they talk),
ing ahead, the two women, in flat, secure, drawled, reedy voices, neither shy nor deliberately communicative, but
utterly communicative, the talk loosening out of them serenely and quietly steady and in no restraint of uncertain-
ty of one another like the alternate and plaited music of two slow-dribbling taps;
and they are in bed and George
throws his cigarette, hurdling its spark into the night yard, and comes in, and they turn their faces away while
he undresses; and he takes the clean thin union suit from its nail by the scrolled iron head of the bed; and he
slides between the coarse sheets and lets down his weight; and for a little while more, because they are stimu-
lated, they keep talking, while the children sleep, and while Louise lies looking and listening, with the light
still on, and there is almost volubility in the talk, and almost gaiety again, and inaudible joking, and little
runs of laughter like startled sparrows; and gradually this becomes more quiet, and there is a silence full of
muted thought; and George, says; Well; and fluffs out the lamp, and its light from the cracks in my wall, and
there is silence; and George speaks, low, and is answered by both women; and a silence; and Emma murmurs some-
thing; and after a few seconds Annie Mae murmurs. a reply; and there is a silence, and a slow and constrained
twisting on springs and extension of a body, and silence; and a long silence in the darkness of the peopled
room that is chambered in the darkness of the continent before the unwatching stars;
and Louise says, Good night
Immer, and Emma says, Good night Louise; and Louise says, Good night mamma; and Annie Mae says, Good night Louise;
and Louise says, Good night daddy; and George says, Good night Louise; good night George; night, Immer; night,
Annie Mae; night, George; night, Immer; night, Annie Mae; night, Louise; night; good night, good night:

      BRING: Bring up:
Thou wound thy mien before the jurying stars:

      And wild earth lifted streams in peace so noble, the wide dream-
          ing forehead
      and water mapped of earth, serene, serene;

      0 infant skull, back-fallen from an arm upon tall starlight,
          that ran in the bright barnyard:
0 world, thou richly peopled, thou sober-steering ark, quiet
          stone, thou granule,
      that finds no ararat

      0 thou girl's breast:


THERE are on this hill three such families I would tell you of: the Gudgers, who are sleeping in the next
room; and the Woods, whose daughters are Emma and Annie Mae; and besides these, the Ricketts, who live
on a little way beyond the Woods; and we reach them thus:

Leave this room and go very quietly down the open hall that divides the house, past the bedroom door, and
the dog that sleeps outside it, and move on out into the open, the back yard, going up hill: between the
tool shed and the hen house (the garden is on your left), and turn left at the long low shed that passes
for a barn. Don't take the path to the left then: that only leads to the spring; but cut straight up the
slope; and down the length of the cotton that is planted at the crest of it, and through a space of pine,
hickory, dead logs and blackberry brambles (damp spider webs will bind on your face in the dark; but the
path is easily enough followed); and out beyond this, across a great entanglement of clay ravines, which
finally solidify into a cornfield. Follow this cornfield straight down a row, go through a barn, and turn
left. There is a whole cluster of houses here; they are all negroes'; the shutters are drawn tight. You may
or may not
waken some dogs: if you do, you will hardly help but be frightened, for in a couple of minutes
the whole country will be bellowing in the darkness,
and it is over your movements at large at so late and
still an hour of the night, and the sound, with the knowledge of
wakened people, their heads lifted a lit-
tle on the darkness from the crackling hard straw pillows of their iron beds, overcasts your very existence,
in your own mind, with a complexion of guilt, stealth, and danger:

But they will quiet.

They will quiet, the lonely heads are relaxed into sleep; after a little the whippoorwills resume, their
tireless whipping of the pastoral night, and the strong frogs;
and you are on the road, and again up hill,
that was met at those clustered houses; pines on your left, one wall of bristling cloud, and the lifted
hill; the slow field raised, in
the soft stare of the cotton, several acres, on the right; and on the left
the woods yield off, a hundred yards; more cotton; and set back there, at the brim of the hill, the plain
small house you see is
Woods' house, that looks shrunken against its centers under the starlight, the tin
roof scarcely taking sheen, the floated cotton staring

The house a quarter-mile beyond, just on the right of the road, standing with shade trees, that is the
Ricketts'. The bare dirt is more damp in the tempering shade; and damp, tender with rottenness, the ragged
wood of the porch, that is so heavily littered with lard buckets, scraps of iron, bent wire, torn rope, old
odors, those no longer useful things
which on a farm are never thrown away. The trees: draft on their stalks
their clouds of heavy season;
the barn: shines on the perfect air; in the bare yard a twelve-foot flowering
bush: in shroud of blown bloom slumbers, and within: naked, naked side by side those brothers and sisters,
those most beautiful children; and the crazy, clownish, foxy father; and the mother; and the two old daugh-
ters; crammed on their stinking beds, are resting the night:

Fred, Sadie, Margaret, ParaIee, Garvrin, Richard, Flora Merry Lee, Katy, Clair Bell; and the dogs, and the cats,
and the hens, and the mules, and the hogs, and the cow, and the bullcalf:

Woods, and his young wife, and her mother, and the young wife's daughter, and her son by Woods, and their
baby daughter, and that heavy-browed beast which enlarges in her belly; Bud, and Ivy, and Miss-Molly, and
Pearl, and Thomas, and Ellen, and the nameless plant of unknown sex; and the cat, and the dog, and the mule,
and the hog, and the cow, and the hens, and the huddled chickens:

And George, and his wife, and her sister, and their children, and their animals; and
the hung wasps, lanc-
ing mosquitoes, numbed flies, and browsing rats

All, spreaded in high quietude on the hill:

Sadie the half-sister of Bud, and drowned in their remembrance:
that long and spiral shaft they've climb-
ed, from shacks on shale, rigid as corn on a cob, out of the mining country
, the long wandering, her pride
of beauty, his long strength in marriage, into this: this present time, and this near future:

George his lost birthright, bad land owned, and
that boyhood among cedars and clean creeks where no fever
laid its touch, and where in the luminous and great hollow night the limestone shone like sheep: and the
strong, gay girls:

Fred, what of him: I can not guess. And
Annie Mae, that hat; which still, so broken, the death odor of fea-
thers and silk in menthol, is crumpled in a drawer; and those weeks when she was happy, and to her husband
and to her heart it was pleasing to be alive:

She is dreaming now, with fear, of a shotgun: George has directed it upon her; and there is no trigger:

Ivy, and her mother: what are the dreams of dogs?

Margaret, of a husband, and strong land, and ladies nodding in the walks.

And all these children:

These children, still in the tenderness of their lives, who will draw their future remembrance, and their
future sorrow, from this place: and the strangers, animals: for work, for death, for food: and the scant crops:
doing their duty the best they can, like temperless and feeble-minded children: rest now, between the wrench-
ings of the sun:

0, we become old; it has been a long, long climb; there will not be much more of this; then we will rest:
sorrow nor sweat- ing nor aching back, sickness, nor pity, hope gone, heaven's deafness; nothing shall take
or touch us more: not thunder nor the rustling worms nor scalding kettle nor weeping child shall rouse us
where we rest:
these things shall be the business of others: these things shall be the business of our chil-
dren, and their children; we will rest:

In what way were we trapped? where, our mistake? what, where, how, when, what way, might all these things
have been different, if only we had done otherwise? if only we might have known.
Where lost that bright
health of love that knew so surely it would stay; how, how did it sink away, beyond help, beyond hope, bey-
ond desire, beyond remembrance; and where the weight and the wealth of that strong year when there was more
to eat than we could hold, new clothes, a grafanola, and money in the bank? How, how did all this sink so
swift away, like that grand august cloud who gathers -the day quiets dark and chills, and the leaves lather
--and scarcely steams the land?
How are these things?

In the years when we lived down by the river we had all the fish we wanted, and yellow milk, enough to sell,
and we bought two mules:

When we moved in here I wanted to make the house pretty, I folded a lot of pattern-paper and cut it into a
pretty lace pattern and hung it on the mantelpiece: but now I just don't care any longer, I don't care how
anything looks:

My mother made me the prettiest kind of a dress, all fresh for school; I wore it the first day, and everyone
laughed and poked fun at me; it wasn't like other dresses, neither the cloth, nor the way it was cut, and I

I made her such a pretty dress and she wore it once, and she never wore it away from home again:

Oh, thank God not one of you knows how everyone snickers at your father.

I reckon we're just about the
meanest people in this whole country.

George Gudger? Where'd you dig him up? I haven't been back out that road in twenty-five year.

Fred Ricketts? Why, that dirty son-of-a-bitch, he brags that he hasn't bought his family a bar of soap in
five year.

Ricketts? They're a bad lot. They've got Miller blood mixed up in them. The children are a bad problem in

Why, Ivy Pritchert was one of the worst whores in this whole part of the country: only one that was worse
was her own mother. They're about the lowest trash you can find.

Why, she had her a man back in the woods for years before he married her; had two children by him.

Gudger? He's a fair farmer. Fair cotton farmer, but he hain't got a mite a sense.

None of these people has any sense, nor any initiative. If they did, they wouldn't be farming on shares.

Give them money and all they'll do with it is throw it away.

Why, times when I envy them. No risk, we take all the risk; all the clothes they need to cover them; food
coming up right out of their land.

So you're staying out at Gudgers', are you? And how do you like the food they give you? Yeah, aheh-heh-heh-
heh, how do you like that fine home cookin'; how do you like that good wholesome country food?

Tell you the honest truth, they owe us a big debt. Now you just tell me, if you can, what would all those
folks be doing if it wasn't for us?

How did we get caught? Why is it things always seem to go against us?
Why is it there can't ever be any
pleasure in living? I'm so tired it don't seem like I ever could get rest enough. I'm as tired when I get
up in the morning as I am when I lay down at night.
Sometimes it seems like there wouldn't never be no end
One year it'll look like things was going to be pretty good; but you get a little bit of money saved, some-
thing always happens.

I tell you Iwon't be sorry when I die. I wouldn't be sorry this minute if it wasn't for Louise and Squin-

Rest vmd git along all right:

(But Iam young; and I am young, and strong, and in good health; and I am young, and pretty to look at; and I
am too young to worry; and so am I, for my mother is kind to me; and we run in the bright air like animals,
and our bare feet like plants in the wholesome earth: the natural world is around us like a lake and a wide
smile and we are growing: one by one we are becoming stronger, and one by one in the terrible emptiness and
the leisure we shall burn and tremble and shake with lust, and one by one we shall loosen ourselves from
this place, and shall be married, and it will be different from what we see, for we will be happy
and love
each other, and keep the house clean, and a good garden, and buy a cultivator, and use a high grade of fert-
ilizer, and we will know how to do things right; it will be very different:) (? :)

               (      (?)         )            :)

How were we caught?

What, what is it has happened? What is it has been happening that we are living the way we are?

The children are not the way it seemed they might be:

She is no longer beautiful:

He no longer cares for me, he just takes me when he wants me:

There's so much work it seems like you never see the end of it:

I'm so hot when I get through cooking a meal it's more than I can do to sit down to it and eat it

How was it we were caught?

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain; and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

And he opened 'his mouth and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against
you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exseeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets
which were before you.



Oh, nevertheless:

Spired Europe is out, up the middle of her morning, has brought her embossed cities, her front of coun-
try snailed with steel;

the Atlantic globe is burnished, ship-crawled, pathed and paved of air, brightens to blind;

shoulder clean shoulder from their hangar, Brazil and Labrador; flash flame;

from stone shore, bluff-browed tree, birds are drawn sparkling and each plant: erects upon his root,
lifts up his head, accepts once more the summer:

and so must these: while the glistening land drives east: they shall be drawn up like plants with the
burden of being upon them, their legs heavy, their eyes quiet and sick, the weight of the day watching
them quietly from the ceiling, in the sharpening room; they will lift; lift--there is no use, no help
for it--their legs from the bed and their feet to the floor and the height of their bodies above their
feet and the load above them, and let it settle upon the spine, and the width of the somewhat stooped
shoulders, the weight that is not put by; and are drawn loose from their homes a million upon the land,
beneath the quietly lifted light, to work:

And here:

Watch from the crackling mattress how the stars, through the roof, though strong, are yet so tired.

The night has dried.

Nothing is yet visible in the room, but one begins again to be aware: of the walls, and their odor and
lightness, facing each other; and of the postures of the furniture. The bureau, squared on a corner, and
its blind mirror receiving, reflecting, the blindness of the bed. The iron of the bed. The sewing-machine,
the tin trunk, and the wicker chair. The beauties on the walls.

Outside, from near, there is a new sound. It happens every night, and it is most sorrowful. It is the
voice of a blond, fat, and craven rooster, a creature half-frightened of his own wives; and in this poor
voice of his, lugubrious, almost surreptitious, he is making a statement he so rnisbelieves that it is ra-
ther a question that expects no answer save the utter scorn and denial of silence; and it gets none:
serves only to remind one of the noises of the night, which perhaps have not at any time ceased.

They have perhaps at no time ceased, but that will never be surely known, they are, after a while, so ea-
sily lost: and one hears them once again with a quiet sort of surprise, that only slowly becomes the real-
ization, or near certainty, that they have been there all the while:

They are still there, they still convey to one no merely intimate vicinity, but the whole blind earth dis-
pread: they chainlike stream like water violins, a straight and upward rain extracted from the world
: yet
they are in this hour so profoundly retired upon themselves, they are scarcely the echo of an echo, music's
remembrance in a dying dream,
lashed through with weltering whippoorwill, the mourner and genius of great
summer night
: and even that weeping bird now twice has faltered, and on blurred bark-hued flight has taken
his song more deeply among the groves
. And the land:

The land, pale fields, black cloudy woodlands, and the late lamps in the central streets of the rare and
inexpiable cities: New Orleans; Birmingham; whose faqades stand naked in the metal light of their fear:

the land, in its largeness: stretches: is stretched:

it is stretched like that hollow and quietness of water that is formed at the root of a making wave, and
it waits: not a leaf, not a grass blade, trembles even: but is stretched: stretched: stretched: and waits
(the blood stream stridence meanwhile coursing) :
waits (the whippoorwill has established in a much nearer
tree; one almost knows the feathers that work at his larynx; but he is uncertain):

not suddenly, nor with fright, but certainly with no line of crossing, no beginning, there has been a
change in the air, a crisis passed in sleep;
for now, that in the same instant it seems was so enchanted
still, there is a nearly noiseless trembling of every leaf of the vegetation of all this part of the world,
so delicate a turning in fright of sleep as that needle which records a minute disturbance on the far
side of the thick planet, and so nearly noiseless, yet so unanimous, it is the indistinguishable and whis-
pered sigh of all the generations of the dead, the crumbling of a world-long wave so distant, that one
yard more removed, could not be audible:yet that shuddering: that of a body hopeless standing, though the
air is mild: does not break, but rather intensifies the waiting (this is happening not only here but in a
stripe, a few miles wide, straight up through Canada, and down the Andes): the air darkens to black violet,
and the stars refresh:

and casually, and with rending triumph, the signal is delivered on the dusk: the sure wild glittering yell
of a rooster; light on a lifted sword.

He is some long distance away, it seems infinite miles, the utmost ledge of the universe, to the east.
He has a little while ago awakened,
full awake immediately, and intensely aware, as one wakes and is aware,
in the total darkness, of someone alien in the room, and his round eye has sharpened on the dark a fierce
button, the head cocked, and whole being listening; what is it: what is it; tightening with excitement and
premonition, a sort of joyful fear, the hackles roughed with it:

And with the brusqueness of an epileptic seizure a power much stronger than himself has taken him whole;
it must be the voice of another rooster, who received it from another, and so to the brim of the continent,
where the first, their bright backs warm and splendid in the light, are stabbing at corn; he is taken whole;
he clenches the whole strength of his body and his fiery soul deep into one fist, and strives it at the sky,
all his strength shuddering:

and it is heard: and distant though it is, it cleaves in its full fortissimo:
so valiant a noise as rescuing
bugle, or tenor broke his throat for: and no answer:

and then the answer: deep, steep back behind beneath my prostrated head :

(the violet grays; the gray walks through the walls)

silence: the whippoorwill; pleading; deploring:

the first again, much fiercer:

and, almost interrupting him, a third, beyond the woods:

('whip-pawill! whipp-awilll!')

The second again; at last, our blond, his androgynous voice chortling with fake confidence:
a fourth: the
first (the country is taking shape): another: now the third (it is emerging like a print in a tank; I see
distinctly the walls of the room, and on the earth the medallioned cities) : three new ones now: another:
now another: strain on their horn toes and shout.

By now it is full glass light, clean, whitening gray, without shadow, and the air is cold, with an odor of
pork and damp earth,
and the spiring of the roosters has become a commonplace. The whippoorwill has
stayed it out long beyond the last ditch, whispering almost visible from among the distinct gray leaves of
a near tree; now he is sunk and gone, and
the air is brisk with small and skillful birds, who whistle, and beat
metals with light hammers
; and a dog comes casually though somewhat stiffly round the corner of the
house, and
smoke sprowls up from chimneys: and the light still whitens:

But much earlier, while it was not yet light, at about the crowing of the second cock, Annie Mae woke,
on her back, and watched up at the ceiling; and at this time Margaret Ricketts is already a half-hour up,
and the stove crackling, and she is cooking by lamp before the windows are even pale, for her father suffers
from stirrup corns, and has four miles through the woods to walk to work. And Fred, and his wife, and Par-
alee, lie in their beds collecting their strength, and the children still sleep:

Annie Mae watches up at the ceiling, and she is as sick with sleep as if she had lain the night beneath a
just-supportable weight: and watching up into the dark, beside her husband, the ceiling becomes visible, and
watching into her eyes, the weight of the day. She has not lacked in utter tiredness, like a load in her whole
body, a day since she was a young girl, nor will she ever lack it again; and is of that tribe who by glandular
arrangement seem to exhaust rather than renew themselves with sleep, and to whom the act of getting up
is almost unendurably painful. But when the ceiling has become visible there is no longer any help for it, and
she wrenches herself up, and wriggles a dress on over her head, and shuffles barefooted across the porch to
the basin, and ladles out two dippers of water from the bucket, and cups it in her hands, and drenches her
face in it, with a shuddering shock that straightens her; and dries on the split flour sack that hangs from a
nail; and is capable now of being alive, to work:

Her first work being, to build the fire, and to cook biscuits and eggs and meat and coffee:

With the noise at the stove, George wakes. U'ithout having to look for it, he reaches on the floor by the bed
and finds the book of cigarette papers and the tobacco, and the sweatproof matchbox he has made of a trun-
cated Prince Albert tin. In a skillful and beautiful collusion of his stiff, thick fingers he rolls a cigarette, and
he props his head, and smokes it, staring through the ornate iron at the wall, while the birds whet and sweet-

(Ivy is meantime up: she was
wakened in the serene quietness of a woods animal, neither tired nor rested, but
blank and fresh like water; her fine big feet soothe and seethe the floor, and Bud comes to, lifting his sar-
donic-gentle, innocent, dimly criminal, birdlike, little-boy's head
a little from the pillow, the sheet drawn
to his chin: the cleaning light is cool: the children sleep;
Pearl, pale, adenoidal, already erotic; and Thomas
like a dance, frog-legged, his fists in his eyes;
and Ellen, like a baby, fish-mouthed between her enormous

The cleaning light is cool; the older Ricketts are hurrying through breakfast. There is a rapid smattering of
feet and Clair Bell sprints in affrighted: that her father has left for work before kissing her good-bye.
They take her on their laps assuring her that he would never do no such a thang, and help her drink her

I used as a child in the innocence of faith to bring myself out of bed through the cold lucid water of the
Cumberland morning and to serve at the altar at earliest lonely Mass, whose words were thrilling brooks of
music and whose motions, a grave dance: and there between spread hands the body and the blood of Christ
was created among words and lifted before God in a threshing of triplicate bells,
and from the rear of the em-
pty church stole forward a serene widow and a savage epileptic, softly blind, and knelt, and on the palms of
their hands and at their mouths they took their strength and, blind, retired: and the morning was clangorous
with the whole of a roused school when we were done, and out, and that was the peace of a day: and it is in
no beauty less that the gestures of a day here begin; and in just such silence and solitude:
the iron lids are
lifted: the kindling is laid in the grate: and the lids replaced: and a squirting match applied beneath: and the flour
is sifted through shaken window-screen, and mixed with lard and water, soda, and a little salt: the coffee is set
on the stove, its grounds afloat on the cold water: more wood laid in: the biscuits poured, and stuck into the
oven: all these things with set motions, progressions, routines and retracings, of bare feet and of sticklike
arms, stick hands, contractions of the sharp body: and the meat sliced and sliding, spitting, in the black skillet;
and the eggs broken, and their shells consigned;
and the chairs lifted from the porch to the table, and the sor-
ghum set on, and the butter, sugar, salt, pepper, a spoon straightened, the lamp set at the center; the eggs turn-
ed; the seething coffee set aside; the meat reheated; the biscuits looked at;
the straight black hair, saturated
with sweat and smoke of pork, tightened more neatly to the head between four black pins
; the biscuits tan, the
eggs ready, the coffee ready, the meat ready, the breakfast ready:

and they come in, by order of age, masked with the chill of the water that holds them together, and silent with
sleep; and the animals raise themselves out of the floor and establish themselves beneath the table, lifting open

and breakfast is too serious a meal for speaking; and it is difficult and revolting to eat heavily before one is a-
wake; but it is necessary, for on this food must be climbed the ardent and steep hill of the morning, steadily hotter,
up to noon, and for Fred and George then a cold lunch only, and resumption, and hours more of work: so that your
two halves are held together and erect by this food as by a huge tight buckle as big as the belly, giving no ease but
chunk, stone, fund, of strength: endurance in it, or leverage on the day, like a stiff stone: this slowly thaws and is
absorbed more evenIy throughout the body, and the strength becomes easy leather:

it is much the same at the Woods', a little different; Ivy drawls and chaffers like water, her loose hair lays a-
round on her head; and
Pearl's face at the edge of the table is a solemn pouch with swampy eyes; and Woods, his
body is elderly, not strong, he must draw it together like strings into a knot; and his eyes look out at the morn-
ing, from his intelligent unequipped brain, with a sort of sour part-smiling, hopeless speculation
, while he talks
a little:

and at the Ricketts', more vivacious, for there are many people; the father talks continuously, and though he has
now gone, walking as if barefoot on a field of burrs, there are accidents to food and to children, and enough con-
fusion over who is at what task, to keep them going;

the breakfasts ended, the houses are broken open like pods in the increase of the sun, and they are scattered
on the wind of a day's work.

(How was it we were caught?)


FOUR miles back into the northeast, on a relaxation to flat- ness in the middle of the low, roiling, and tree-man-
tled hills, there is a long rectangle cut clean of timber, and beyond it, standing pine.

The rectangle is stacked along the middle with fresh lumber that stands in a yellow nimbus. The road splits round
it between tall drenched weeds and meets itself at the far end where, still close within the cold, dark, early
shade, are the soot-black scaffolded structures of sawmill machinery and of power;
the tall black candle of stack
torched-off with clear curling heat beneath the stained flag of rust-lighted smoke;
and a negro waiting, glancing
frequently at his watch with a little left in him, after years of habituation, of a child's excitement in respons-
ibility and in power: and the space is meanwhile struggling full of more and more men, not really many, yet in
this woodland and keen morning quietness they seem a crowd, drawn in on rattling wagons and by truck and afoot
the chill hickory smell and fronded shade of the morning forest; and the sun is strong.

It is strong already, and steadfastly strengthening like the held note of a horn.
It is lifted square in the mid-
dle of the far end among the tops of the black pines and burns a whorl of cobwebs through them, and the pines are
sheeted and shredded, carded wool, in a keen mist its brightness refracts among and burns and brightens, so that
they are lifted slowly and splendidly in long planes and slashed uncoiling streamers, and there is a sheen on the
whole of the clear air of such intensity that it all but hurts the eyes.

Over to the left the brass padlock hangs loosened on the new pine shed of tools and slung harness, and in a bark-
ed enclosure behind it are the mules, and along the fence the wagons are ranged in a line, their tongues in the
air like a salute of elephants. They are long, low skeleton wagons of tough beams, no sides, for hauling logs;
some of them auto-wheeled and rubber-tired; and their oak wood is now blanching with warmth, and their details
of metal already warm to the touch.
The mules loiter in a hooved muck of tattered water in a tract of brown-
lighted shadow slivered with sun, a sapling grove licked leafless within their reach, the trunks rubbed slick:

very naked-looking and somehow shy without harness, as if they had not quite the right to nature, they stand,
they drift, they wait, they glide among the vertical wax saplings in the camouflaging light, and lift back
their cynical heads like flowers as the men who master their days lift open the gate and advance toward them:

some stand docile, and accept the halter with a kind of sneering meekness; others quietly lift their hoofs in
the chopped earth and drift, as a matter of decent form rather than rebellion; two or three draw themselves
back as deep among the narrow trees as the squared sharp wire will allow them, and abide a close approach,
then slither away, and these are kicked in the belly and slashed along the jaws and across the eyes: there is
among these negroes a scarred yet pure white mule, whose presence among them in this magic light is that of
an enslaved unicorn: and these are led out and stood along the shafts and harnessed in teams in geometries of
leather, rope and bird-jingling metal as sweet in their stresses as the rigging of sloops; and the men now
wait quietly and in a casually tense listlessness, talking a little, rolling damp cigarettes, and adjusting
the iron violence of their breakfasts inside them;
and a negro, harnessing his mules, lifts forth wet-throat-
ed, joyfully, three times into the emblazoned morning the long black sorrow-foundered and incompleted phrase
of anarchaic mode in whose glorying he begins each day; and the men still wait; and the trapped mules, twitch-
ing the metal flies, conniving their long heads: and though the air is still cool, there is now the cutting
odor of grass and weeds, and a cool sweat starts out and faintly stings in patterns upon the forehead, the
wrists, the beam of the shoulders, and the spine; and down in the shortening and uncooling shade at the black
altar of machinery, the negro stands with one hand hung in a triangular wire and with time like a lake in the
palm of the other, into whose surface he gazes, and on the second, he pulls down on the wire; and in a stiff
standing-out of steam, the air is one rich reeking shriek through which the sunlight is vibrated:
and the
mules tighten; and the negro slides the watch, which is tethered to him by a still new black shoestring, back
into the small pocket at the center of his chest; and the whistle is cut off like a murder, leaving the aqua-
rium clearing weak with silence from all sides of which are reflexed in diminishment the noise like a welter-
ing, withering flat of the contour waves from a center: they are spread on the hills like the explosive sudden
flowering of a steel rose and it is retracted to the root: and there is a tightening of strength against har-
ness under slashing of sharp leather and they move, the long clattering wagons, in a drawn line round the
stacked pine lumber and down the far side of the clearing and on, past the machinery and uphill to the right
along a wide broken trough of stumps rank weeds iron shade and iron and splendid light, and are deployed
along the ragged and stump-spiked woodlands into the resumption of yesterday's work: chopping, sawing, snak-
ing, hauling, the shearing surflike shriek of the saw:
and it is now thirty-two minutes past six, and among
these men are George Gudger and--



BUT there must be an end to this: a sharp end and clean silence: a steep and most serious withdrawal: a new
and more succinct beginning:

Herein I must screen off all mysteries of our comminglings--all these, all such, must be deferred--and must
here set in such regard as I can the sorry and brutal infuriate yet beautiful structures of the living which
is upon each of you daily: and this in the cleanest terms I can learn to specify: must mediate, must attempt
to record, your warm weird human lives each in relation to its world:

Nor may this be lightly undertaken: not lightly, not easily by any means: nor by any hope 'successfully':

For one who sets himself to look at all earnestly, at all in purpose toward truth, into the living eyes of
a human life: what is it he there beholds that so freezes and abashes his ambitious heart? What is it,
found behind the outward windows
of each one of you, beneath touch even of your own suspecting, drawn
tightly back at bay against the backward wall and blackness of its prison cave, so that
the eyes alone shine
of their own angry glory
, but the eyes of a trapped wild animal, or of a furious angel nailed to the ground
by his wings
, or however else one may faintly designate the human 'soul,' that which is angry, that which is
wild, that which is untamable, that which is healthful and holy, that which is
competent of all advantaging
within hope of human dream
, that which most marvelous and most precious to our knowledge and most extremely
advanced upon futurity of all flowerings within the scope of creation is of all these the least destructible,
the least corruptible, the most defenseless, the most easily and multitudinously wounded, frustrate, pris-
oned, and nailed into a cheating of itself: so situated in the universe that those three hours upon the cross
are but a noble and too trivial an emblem how in each individual among most of the two billion now alive and
in each successive instant of the existence of each existence not only human being but
in him the tallest and
most sanguine hope of godhead is in a billionate choiring and drone of pain
of generations upon generations
unceasingly crucified and is bringing forth crucifixions into their necessities and is each in the most casual
of his life so measurelessly discredited, harmed, insulted, poisoned, cheated, as not all the wrath, compas-
sion, intelligence, power of rectification in all the reach of the future shall in the least expiate or make
one ounce more light: how, looking thus into your eyes and seeing thus, how each of you is a creature which
has never in all time existed before and which shall never in all time exist again and which is not quite
like any other and which has the grand stature and natural warmth of every other and
whose existence is all
measured upon a still mad and incurable time
; how am I to speak of you as 'tenant' 'farmers,' as 'representa-
tives' of your 'class,' as social integers in a criminal economy, or as individuals, fathers, wives, sons,
daughters, and as my friends and as I 'know' you? Granted--more, insisted upon--that it is in all these par-
ticularities that each of you is that which he is; that particularities, and matters ordinary and obvious,
are exactly themselves beyond designation of words, are the members of your sum total most obligatory to
human searching of perception: nevertheless to name these things and fail to yield their stature, meaning,
power of hurt, seems impious, seems criminal, seems impudent, seems traitorous in the deepest: and to do
less badly seems impossible: yet in withholdings of specification I could but betray you still worse.

Let me say, then, how I would wish this account might be constructed.

I might suggest, its structure should be globular: or should be eighteen or twenty intersected spheres,
the interlockings of bubbles on the face of a stream; one of these globes is each of you.

The heart, nerve, center of each of these, is an individual human life.

We should first meditate and establish its ancient, then more recent, its spreaded and more local, history
and situation: how it is a child of the substance and bowels of the stars and of all space: how it is crea-
ted forth of an aberration special to one speck and germ and pollen fleck this planet, this young planet,
on that broadblown field:
how on the youth of this planet it is youngest, scarcely yet breathed-upon yet
born, into its future growth: how it is blossomed forth upon that branch most sportive, most precarious,
most propitious, potential and most frightful in known creation, of human existence, of human conscious-
ness, of human possibility to build itself ruin or wonder: how it is the bearer of whatever the future
shall be: how in itself, no matter which individual mote it is, it is in its beginning capable, in its
terms, of health, which is perfection, which is holiness, which is simple and salted, blooded functioning
of each animal in his own best: and is capable likewise of all harm to itself and to others:
how all that
is to make all this difference is circumstance, physical and mental: how there is nothing within con-
sciousness and the receiving of our senses which is not incorporate of this bulk and strength to shape
of circumstance, and nothing so minute but that it impounds more power, more importance, more meaning of
impingement upon this human life, than most exact or violent words might ever tell:

At this center we set this seed, this flower, whose genealogy we have suggested and whose context in
eternal history, his royalty, his miracu!ousness, his great potentiality:
we try at least to suggest also
his incomparable tenderness to experience, his malleability, the almost inimaginable nakedness and defense-
lessness of this wondrous fivewindowed nerve and core: the size, the pity, the abomination of the crimes he
is to sustain, against the incredible sweetness, strength, and beauty of what he might be and is cheated of:

Never relaxing the simultaneity of his ancestral and brotherly stars, we bring his sources into a more near
convergence in local place of time:
how he is brought forth of a chain and weaving, a texture of sorrowful
and demented flesh, which in all previous centuries has scarcely in few meaningless hundreds wrought up a
head from the blind bottom of the human sea and breathed one cup of brightness and plain air
, and in these
disadvantaging were drawn up and woven upon the crookedness of one continent and were drawn upon seas and
upon a newer to no better faring,
and here a few generations have dwelt in the woodlands and dead clays in
bestial freedom or in servitude, shaken with fevers, grieved and made sick with foods, wrungout in work
to lassitude in the strong sun and to lack of hope or caring, in ignorance of all cause, all being, all
conduct, hope of help or cure, saturated in harm and habit, unteachable beliefs, the germens they carry at
their groins strained, cracked, split, tainted, vitiate to begin with, a wallet of cheated coinage:

Here we have two, each crucified, further crucify one another upon the shallow pleasure of an iron bed and
instigate in a belly a crucifixion of cell and whiplashed sperm: whose creature is our center, our nerve we
spoke of; in this instant already his globe is rounded upon him and is his prison, which might have been
his kingdom: it is begun in a redblack cherishing of a blind and beating of hurt unvanquishable blood and
is informed entirely of the ferment of this blood,
of whom likewise hard work is done, indecent diet is
taken, there is fright and sorrow in dream, and not much or no love at all, a weaponless mind is meditating
as it may;
this creature, the motive even of his creation, is sprung, is sprained, is slaved and ordered by
a crimesoaked world: for he is made for work, for a misuser, not his own even illusive master nor even mere
slave of his parents or a healthful state, but of misuse without which he shall not live at all: and it is
in obedience to these pressures that the marriage was made and that he was conceived, and that he is nur-
sed and emboweled among the discouragements of this beating of beaten blood; and it is toward this bondage
that the germ unfurls and flowers, climbs from that soft and floated sea through darkness and petting blood
the steep ladder
through all shifts of nature and, low helmet huge and cowering mild, hands covering light-
less eyes, knees, feet drawn tight as if he were receiving the blow of a bayonet in his solar plexus, he
floats steadily upward in balance upon his deafness and at length, like the bursting beating of the lungs of
a deep diver, is broken forth on gladness of the air

to find himself:

how should he know it, how should these poor parents who so earnestly wish him well, ever suspect it better
than a little, how in their ignorance and skinned sadness shall they ever learn, how all the help they wquld
do him is but harm

to find himself:

weakened, internally hurt already beyond all use of estimate, yet still amenable of all goodness were it

and defenseless and unknowing, without choice, without knowledge for choice if he had it, without power of
choice if he had knowledge

to find himself

Ahh, so set about so pressed upon, so searched to the very soul already by poisons, monsters, all shapes of
ruin, smiling jaws of traps, that that true-mythic natural man of racial dream, that self-venturous hero,
that strong young man were much more fortunate who at the end of so steep and arduous a journey and flight
from the floor of creation revisited, his lungs ready to burst his heart breaking, his body naked, his pri-
mal weapons lost that he might swim at all, bursts bleeding into freedom of his breathing element to find,
surrounding him, not just in circle on a floor
in closured den as Daniel, but in such complex of such cir-
cle as blows round him one bubble and sutureless globe, his
grinning grincing machinearmed scorcheyed love-
taloned raving foes

For this man is aware; he may have skill; it is by skill; by consciousness by innocence by intelligence by
love, by magic we shall win and only thus; this skill he may have and
by this skill may speak; may talk or
flute such mild commodious language that these beasts dissolve their brows, yearn sweetly in quaverings
and sobs of ardor toward and upon him, roll down before, and undefend their gold inhuman bellies at his feet

in all heaven's astonishment:

and if' he lack; or if he fail; his death is soon, is done, as a shock of lightning:

whereas this other: his death, his destroying, it is quiet, subtle, continuous, very slow, in quite great
part deluded, in some part the doing of most tenderly intended love, his foes being of this silent, insin-
uous, and masked kind,
and he void of all skill against:

This creature, this center, soul, nerve, see he is now born, and I have said, how he is globed round, with
what shall make and harm him: what are the constituents of this globe? What are the several strengths of
their forces upon him?

It was beyond all use of hoping to say, while yet he was in his mother's blood scarce conscious, when this
globe was at its simplest and least: how then should we say more now, when with a few hours' wrenching he
is wrung out of this haven through such cataclysmic change to take forever, no retreat, his uprooted,
root-cut and human place in so immane and outrageous, wild, irresponsible, dangerous-idiot a world:
still shall we better than blankly suggest, or lay down, a few possible laws?

Our five or twenty known human senses: there is no reason to assume but they are few, are crudely woven,
swarms of immediacy slide through these nets at best, assisted though they be by dream, by reason, and
by those
strictures of diamond glass and light whereby we punch steep holes in the bowels of the gliding
taste out the salt small of the earth, step measurements upon the grand estate of being: neverthe-
less: nevertheless and at their weakest, weakest and most weaponless of these instruments,
their taking
is titanic beyond exhaustion of count or valuation
, and is all but infinitely populous beyond the know-
ledge of each moment or a lifetime: and that which we receive yet do not recognize, nor hold in the mo-
ment's focus, is nevertheless and
continuously and strengthfully planted upon our brains, upon our blood:
it holds: it holds:
each cuts its little mark: each blown leaf of a woodland a quarter-mile distant while I
am absorbed in some close exactitude: each of these registers, cuts his mark: not one of these is negligible:
and they measure, not only
by multitudes within each granular instant, but by iteration, which is again be-
yond our counting not alone but as well
the remotest realization of our flesh and even brain: and with each
iteration the little cut is cut a little distincter, a little deeper, a little more of a scar and a shaping of a
substance which might have taken other shape and which in each re-registration loses a little more and
a little more the power to meet this possibility: and more and more inexorably and fixedly is drawn and shap-
ed into
that steepest-sunken of all graves wherein human hope is buried alive, the power and blindness, stif-
and helplessness of habituation, of acceptance, of resignation so totally deep it has sailed beyond
memory of resignation or thought of other possibility: a benumbing, freezing, a paralysis, a turning to
merciful in the middle of all that storm of torture, relatively resistant of much further keenness
of harm, but always in measure of that petrifaction obtused ten times over against hope, possibility, cure:

Moreover, these globular damagements are of many kinds and degrees and colors and of an infinite talent for
being of as many kinds as that particular set of senses and that particular intelligence at their
heart can perceive and can receive and can react to and reflect upon: all that is 'physical,' all that is
of the 'mind,' all that is of the 'emotions,' all that is of the 'economic' and the 'mental' and the 'gland-
ular' and the 'medical' predica- ment, all that is of 'belief,' and is of 'habit,' and is of 'morality,'
and is of 'fear,' 'pride,' need of 'love,' 'warmth,' 'approbation,' all that is attached in the 'meanings'
of 'ideas,' 'words,' 'actions,' 'things,' 'symbols': all these apart, all these in orchestral complex
wherein they interlock, interform one another, and conspire in their companionship still sharper fiercer
stricter subtler more bonebiting traps and equations of destruction than is in the power of any one or five
of them independent of one another:

Here, again, in the midst of all these, is this human creature, born, awaiting their touch:

We specialize him a little more: yes, he is of the depth of the working class; of southern alabamian tenant
farmers; certain iildividuals are his parents, not like other individuals; they are living in a certain
house, it is not quite like other houses; they are farming certain shapes and strengths of land, in a cer-
tain exact vicinity, for a certain landholder: all such things as these qualify this midge, this center, a
good deal:

Born otherwise, he would break his shell upon other forms of madness: he might, for instance, have sprung
up in the sheltering and soft shame and guilt of money, which in this earth at present is had at the ex-
pense of other spirits and of human good, and which brings on its own diseases, so ghastly that one cannot
in wisdom and honesty either envy or hate the image, say, of the landowner whom I suggest beside this child:

Or otherwise again, in the guilty sheltering even of a little ease, the mind, the spirit, the heart, which
in him shall all so swiftly be killed or obtunded, this might have grown its fight, and would discover. and
have to bear, something of the true proportions of the savageness of the world, and something of the true
weight of responsibility which each human being must learn to undertake for all others, and something of
the true magnitude of the terror and the doubt in which in each human being this responsibility must be
searched out and undertaken; and might easily have deceived himself, and become an instrument of poison, or,
less deceived, have sustained those further agonies of perception so great that one may very doubtfully feel
any glad or guiltless embrace of the joys and lacerations of this consciousness short of the whole uncomprom-
ised and seldom piercing and intention of 'genius' itself: see,
in this 'consciousness,' what a swarm and
slime of monsters he would encounter, whose skill, pain, disease, deceitfulness is multiplied in propor-
tion to the reach and edge of this same 'consciousness' which is our one hope, this monster world's one
sure, most shriveling enemy:
of this particular world of hope and of smile-masked horror he is nearly free,
for in his world few such beasts exist, and the instruments whereby he might see them if they did, or of
his own born doing; the lenses of these are smashed in his infancy, the adjustment screws are blocked;
his is more nearly purely a tactile, a fragrant, a visible, physical world, wherein through his deep isola-
tion these plainfeatured physiques drive and impose their stresses all the mpre keenly upon him; and should
he by faint and most irregular chance make his little, terrific, faithful struggle to escape, into a sphere
how much less tortured shall this escape be made: for this human sphere is all one such interlocked and mar-
velously variegated and pre- hensile a disease and madness, what man in ten million shall dare to presume he
is cleansed of it or more so than another, shall dare better than most hesitantly to venture, that one form
of this ruin is more than a millionth preferable to another?

Here then he is, or here is she: here is this tender and helpless human life: subjected to its immediacy and
to all the enlargid dread of its future: out of a line, weight, and burthen of sorrow and poison of fatigue
whereof its blood is stained and beneath which it lifts up its little trembling body into standing, wearing
upon its shoulders the weight of all the spreaded generations of its dead: surrounded already, with further
pressures, impingements: the sorrow, weariness, and nescience of its parents in their closures above and
round it: the ghastly influence of their lovelessness, their lack of knowledge hope or chance, how to love,
what is joy, why they are locked together here: his repeated witness of the primal act, that battling and
brutality upon a bed which from his pallet on the floor of the same room he lifts his head and hears and
sees and fears and is torn open by:
their hopeless innocence how to 'raise' him, an ignorance no less enor-
mous than in the parents of the rest of the world, yet not less relevant nor less horrifying on that account:
the food which is drawn out of his mother distilled of the garbage she must eat; and the garbage to which
he graduates: the further structures of psychological violence, strangling, crippling, which take shape and
stress between him and his brothers and his sisters
and between all of these and their parents; for of all
these all are utterly innocent, totally helpless: the slow, silent, sweet, quiet yet so profoundly piercing
enlargement of the physical sensual emotional world whereof, as we have said, not the least detail whose
imposure and whose power to trench and habituate is not intense beyond calculation: all such that in the
years of his very steepest defenselessness, who shall always be defenseless, and in the years of his extrem-
est malleability, by the time he is five or six years old,
he stands at the center of his enormous little globe
a cripple of whose curability one must at least have most serious doubt: and now new worlds open upon
him in the manifold swift unfoldings of a great flower, and in each opening he is the more firmly shut upon,
his first wounds the more salted, the little slit graves of angelic possibility the more savagely danced on
and defiled beyond memory of their existence: all accepted, all taken in, all new burdens taken on, the
early laboring, subservience, acclimation to insult and slendering of forms of freedom, the hideous jokes of
education and their sharp finish into early worse, the learning of one's situation relative to the world and the
acceptance of it, the swellings and tremblings of adolescence, the bursting free from home into wandering,
the fatal shining and sweet wraths of joy in love and the locked marriage
and the work, the constant lack of
money, need, leanness, backbroken work, knowledge of being cheated, helplessness to protest or order this
otherwise, clothes worn, landlords imposed on one, towns traded in--

This is all one colon:

Here at a center is a creature: it would be our business to show how through every instant of every day of
every year of his existence alive
he is from all sides streamed inward upon, bombarded, pierced, destroyed
by that enormous sleeting of all objects forms and ghosts
how great how small no matter, which surround and
whom his senses take: in as great and perfect and exact particularity as we can name them:

This would be our business, to show them each thus
transfixed as between the stars' trillions of javelins
and of each the transfixions
: but it is beyond my human power to do. The most I can do--the most I can hope
to do--is to make a number of physical entities as plain and vivid as possible, and to make a few guesses,
a few conjectures;
and to leave to you much of the burden of rea.lizing in each of them what I have wanted
to make clear of them as a whole: how each is itself; and how each is a shapener.

We undertake not much yet some, to say: to say, what is his house: for whom does he work: under what arrange-
ments and in what results: what is this work: who is he and where from, that he is now here; what is it his
life has been and has done to him: what of his wife and of their children, each, for of all these each is a
life, a full universe: what are their clothes: what food is theirs to eat: what is it which is in their
senses and their minds: what is the living and manner of their day, of a season, of a year: what, inward and
outward, is their manner of living; of their spending and usage of these few years' openness out of the black
vast and senseless death; what is their manner of life:

All this, all such, you can see, it so intensely surrounds and takes meaning from a certain center which we
shall be unable to keep steadily before your eyes, that should be written, should be listed, calculated, an-
alyzed, conjectured upon, as if all in one sentence and
spread suspension and flight or fugue of music: and
that I shall not be able so to sustain it, so to sustain its intensity toward this center human life, so to
yield it out that it all strikes inward upon this center at once and in all its intersections and in the
meanings of its
interrelations and inter-enhancements: it is this which so paralyzes me: yet one can write
only one word at a time, and if these seem lists and inventories merely,
things dead unto themselves, de-
void of mutual magnetisms, and if they sink, lose impetus, meter, intension
, then bear in mind at least my
wish, and perceive in them and restore them what strength you can of yourself:
for I must say to you, this
is not a work of art or of entertainment, nor will I assume the obligations of the artist or entertainer,
but is a human effort which must require human co-operation.

That steep withdrawal and silence and meditation of whose need I spoke; we are now drawn back at the peak of
in quite silence: whence let me hope the whole of that landscape we shall essay to travel in is visible and
may be known as there all at once:
let this be borne in mind, in order that, when we de- scend among its
windings and blockades, into examination of' slender particulars, this its wholeness and simultaneous liv-
ing map may not be neglected, however lost the breadth of the country may be in the winding walk of each

                        PART TWO



                        You are farmers; I am a farmer myself.
                        -FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT

Woods and Ricketts work for Michael and T. Hudson
Margraves, two brothers, in partnership, who live in Cooks- town. Gudger worked for the Margraves for three
years; he now (1936) works for Chester Boles, who lives two miles south of Cookstown.

On their business arrangements, and working histories, and on their money, I wrote a chapter too long for
inclusion in this volume without sacrifice of too much else. I will put in its place here as extreme a pre
cis as I can manage.

Gudger has no home, no land, no mule; none of the more im- portant farming implements. He must get all
these of his land- lord. Boles, for his share of the corn and cotton, also advances him rations money dur-
ing four months of the year, March through June, and his fertilizer.

Gudger pays him back with his labor and with the labor of his family.

At the end of the season he pays him back further: with half his corn; with half his cotton; with half his
cottonseed. Out of his own half of these crops he also pays him back the rations money, plus interest, and
his share of the fertilizer, plus interest, and such other debts, plus interest, as he may have incurred.

What is left, once doctors' bills and other debts have been deducted, is his year's earnings.

Gudger is a straight half-cropper, or sharecropper.

Woods and Ricketts own no home and no land, but Woods owns one mule and Ricketts owns two, and they own
their farming implements. Since they do not have to rent these tools and animals, they work under a slight-
ly different arrangement. They give over to the landlord only a third of their cotton and a fourth of their
corn. Out of their own parts of the crop, however, they owe him the price of two thirds of their cotton
fertilizer and three fourths of their corn fertilizer, plus interest; and, plus interest, the same debts
on rations money.

Woods and Ricketts are tenants: they work on third and fourth.

A very few tenants pay cash rent: but these two types of ar-rangement, with local variants (company stores;
food instead of rations money; slightly different divisions of the crops) are basic to cotton tenantry all
over the South.

From March through June, while the cotton is being cultivated, they live on the rations money.

From July through to late August, while the cotton is making, they live however they can.

From late August through October or into November, during the picking and ginning season, they live on the
money from their share of the cottonseed.

From then on until March, they live on whatever they have earned in the year; or however they can.

During six to seven months of each year, then- that is, during exactly such time as their labor with the
cotton is of absolute necessity to the landlord -they can be sure of whatever living is possible in ra-
tions advances and in cottonseed money.

During five to six months of the year, of which three are the hardest months of any year, with the worst
of weather, the least adequacy of shelter, the worst and least of food, the worst of health, quite normal
and inevitable, they can count on nothing except that they may hope least of all for any help from their

Gudger--a family of six--lives on ten dollars a month rations money during four months of the year. He
has lived on eight, and on six. Woods--a family of six--until this year was unable to get better than
eight a month during the same period; this year he managed to get it up to ten. Ricketts--a family of
nine--lives on ten dollars a month during this spring and early summer period.

This debt is paid back in the fall at eight per cent interest. Eight per cent is charged also on the fer-
tilizer and on all other debts which tenants incur in this vicinity.

At the normal price, a half-sharing tenant gets about six dollars a bale from his share of the cotton-
seed. A one-mule, half-sharing tenant makes on the average three bales. This half-cropper, then, Gudger,
can count on eighteen dollars, more or less, to live on during the picking and ginning: though he gets
nothing until his first bale is ginned.

Working on third and fourth, a tenant gets the money from two thirds of the cottonseed of each bale: nine
dollars to the bale. Woods, with one mule, makes three bales, and gets twenty-seven dollars. Ricketts, with
two mules, makes and gets twice that, to live on during the late summer and fall.

What is earned at the end of a given year is never to be depended on and, even late in a season, is
never predictable. It can be enough to tide through the dead months of the winter, sometimes even better:
it can be enough, spread very thin, to take through two months, and a sickness, or six weeks, or a month:
it can be little enough to be completely meaningless: it can be nothing: it can be enough less than no-
thing to insure a tenant only of an equally hopeless lack of money at the end of his next year's work:
and whatever one year may bring in the way of good luck, there is never any reason to hope that that
luck will be repeated in the next year or the year after that.

The best that Woods has ever cleared was $1300 during a war year. During the teens and twenties he fair-
ly often cleared as much as $300; he fairly often cleared $50 and less; two or three times he ended the
year in debt. During the depression years he has more often cleared $50 and less; last year he cleared
$150, but serious illness during the winter ate it up rapidly.

The best that Gudger has ever cleared is $125. That was in the plow-under year. He felt exceedingly
hopeful and bought a mule: but when his landlord warned him of how he was coming out the next year, he
sold it. Most years he has not made more than $25 to $30; and about one year in three he has ended in
debt. Year before last he wound up $80 in debt; last year, $12; of Boles, his new landlord, the first
thing he had to do was borrow $15 to get through the winter until rations advances should begin.

Years ago the Ricketts were, relatively speaking, almost prosperous. Besides their cotton farming they
had ten cows and sold the milk, and they lived near a good stream and had all the fish they wanted.
Ricketts went $400 into debt on a fine young pair of mules. One of the mules died before it had made
its first crop; the other died the year after; against his fear, amounting to full horror, of sinking
to the half-crop level where nothing is owned, Ricketts went into debt for other, inferior mules; his
cows went one by one into debts and desperate exchanges and by sickness; he got congestive chills;
his wife got pellagra; a number of his children died; he got appendicitis and lay for days on end und-
er the ice cap; his wife's pellagra got into her brain; for ten consecutive years now, though they
have lived on so little rations money, and have turned nearly all their cottonseed money toward their
debts, they have not cleared or had any hope of clearing a cent at the end of the year.

It is not often, then, at the end of the season, that a tenant clears enough money to tide him through
the winter, or even an appreciable part of it. More generally he can count on it that, during most of
the four months between settlement time in the fall and the beginning of work and resumption of ra-
tions advances in the early spring, he will have no money and can ex- pect none, nor any help, from
his landlord: and of having no money during the six midsummer weeks of laying by, he can be still more
sure. Four to six months of each year, in other words, he is much more likely than not to have nothing
whatever, and during these months he must take care for himself: he is no responsibility of the land-
lord's. All he can hope to do is find work. This is hard, because there are a good many chronically
unemployed in the towns, and they are more convenient to most openings for work and can at all times
be counted on if they are needed; also there is no increase, during these two dead farming seasons,
of other kinds of work to do. And so, with no more jobs open than at any other time of year, and with
plenty of men already convenient to take them, the whole tenant popu- lation, hundreds and thousands
in any locality, are desperately in need of work.

A landlord saves up certain odd jobs for these times of year: they go, at less than he would have to
pay others, to those of his tenants who happen to live nearest or to those he thinks best of; and
even at best they don't amount to much.

When there is wooded land on the farm, a landlord ordinarily permits a tenant to cut and sell fire-
wood for what he can get. About the best a tenant gets of this is a dollar a load, but more often
(for the market is glutted, so many are trying to sell wood) he can get no better than half that and
less, and often enough, at the end of a hard day's peddling, miles from home, he will let it go for
a quarter or fifteen cents rather than haul it all the way home again: so it doesn't amount to much.
Then, too, by no means everyone has wood to cut and sell: in the whole south- ern half of the county
we were working mainly in, there was so little wood that the negroes, during the hard winter of 1935-
36, were burning parts of their fences, outbuildings, furniture and houses, and were dying off in
great and not seriously counted numbers, of pneumonia and other afflictions of the lungs.

WPA work is available to very few tenants: they are, techni- cally, employed, and thus have no right
to it: and if by chance they manage to get it, landlords are more likely than not to intervene.
They feel it spoils a tenant to be paid wages, even for a little while. A tenant who so much as
tries to get such work is under disapproval.

There is not enough direct relief even for the widows and the old of the county.

Gudger and Ricketts, during this year, were exceedingly lucky. After they, and Woods, had been turn-
ed away from government work, they found work in a sawmill. They were given the work on condition
that they stay with it until the mill was moved, and subject strictly to their landlords' permission:
and their employer wouldn't so much as hint how long the work might last. Their landlords quite grudg-
ingly gave them permis- sion, on condition that they pay for whatever help was needed in their absence
during the picking season. Gudger hired a hand, at eight dollars a month and board. Ricketts did not
need to: his family is large enough. They got a dollar and a quarter a day five days a week and seven-
ty-five cents on Satur- day, seven dollars a week, ten hours' work a day. Woods did not even try for
this work: he was too old and too sick.


I will go unto the altar of God

                     SHELTER: AN OUTLINE

A home in its fields
The spring: the garden: the outbuildings


   The house is left alone
   In front of the house: its general structure
   In front of the house: the facade

   The room beneath the house

   The hallway
   Structure of four rooms

   Bareness and space


   I. The Front Bedroom

      Placement of furniture
      The furniture
      The altar
      The tabernacle

   II. The Rear Bedroom

      The fireplace
      The mantel
      The closet
      The beds

   III. The Kitchen

      The table: the lamp

   IV. The Storeroom

      Two essentials
      In the room


In the front bedroom: the Signal
The return



      Relations and averages
      Further comments on relations and averages
      General habitability
      Sanitation and lighting




A home in its fields

GEORGE GUDGER has of Chester Boles a little over twenty acres of open farm land, a few more acres
of woods and of hillside ravines, a house, a barn, a smokehouse, a henroost, a garden, and a spring,
all suspended and emplaced in solitude out at the end of a mile of dwindled branch road, and not with-
in sight nor within a half-mile's walk of any other inhabited house. A little of his land is on the
flat crest of the hill; the rest is broken into large patches among ravines and woods along the fall-
ing shapes of the hill and into little patches along the road that leads him out.
The house and out-
buildings, the garden and the spring, stand about midway in the main pieces of this land, and about
halfway down the hill.

The top three acres are a long flat rectangle of keenly red clay and are planted in cotton. Between
the edge of the hill and his barnyard there is nothing planted,
only wild weeds and briars on a scrub-
bed-looking set of rounded and trenched surfaces,
and a narrow path slid winding among them, but
from this edge, standing at the edge of the cotton, you see the house and barnyard, resembling a
large museum model or an
establishment for large dolls, set at the middle of the slope, back-to-
you, facing due west, and the two large fields in front of it and on its left which make up most of
the rest of the farm, the whole bound in by a bluff horizon of trees. Now and then a faint windy
noise of speed or a noise of grinding, sweeping a western crescent beyond the trees
and through one
thin sector of trees, for two seconds, the
uncertain glimpse of a gliding bulk: and these are the
thinly spaced sedans and trucks which use a minor artery between two county seats profoundly distant
to a walking man.

One of these fields begins very deep behind the house on its left, and along its left flank the cot-
ton plants nearly touch the wall; it is nearly all in cotton. Back beyond it and beneath it, in a
clearing in the tall woods, is a smaller patch of corn.
The field that falls away two hundred yards
in front of the house is all in adolescent corn, softly flashing, ending at tall forest whose leaves
run like quicksilver wheat in the lesions of heated air. Out at the right of the house is the rough
stretch of mid-hill, partly bare, fluted with rain, not planted, sprung with tall weeds and smoky
grasses and with berry briars, young pines and little runs and islands of young trees, seeming open,
yet merged before long in a solid coastline of well-grown woods.
Out along the road that, beginning
just below the house, leads out to the right and north, there are further small floors and slivers
of farm land, all but one less than an acre, and lying much within the moistures of trees during
several hours of the day, in cotton, in corn, in sorghum cane, in peanuts, in watermelons, and in
sweet potatoes. Some of this land of Gudger's is
sandy clay, dull-orange to a dead sort of yellow;
some is dark sand; a little is loam. He has in all about eleven acres in cotton, nine in corn, a
quarter in sorghum cane, about half an acre divided among the melons, peanuts, and potatoes, and
there are field peas planted in the corn rows.

These fields are workrooms, or fragrant but mainly sterile workfloors without walls and with a roof
of uncontrollablc chance, fear, rumination, and propitiative prayer, and are as the spread and bro-
ken petals of a flower whose bisexual center is the house.

Or the farm is also as a water spider whose feet print but do not break the gliding water membrane:
it is thus delicately and briefly that, in its fields and structures, it sustains its entity upon
the blind breadth and steady heave of nature.

Or it is the wrung breast of one human family's need and of an owner's taking, yielding blood and
serum in its thin blue milk, and the house, the concentration of living and taking, is the cracked
nipple: and of such breasts, the planet is thickly and desperately paved as the enfabled front of
a goddess of east india.

The fields are organic of the whole, and of their own nature, and of the work that is poured into
them: the spring, the garden, the outbuildings, are organic to the house itself.

The spring

The garden

The outbuildings

The spring is out to the rear of the house and above it, about a hundred and fifty yards away to the
right, not a short distance to walk for every drop of water that is needed. The path lifts from the
end of the back hall between the henroost and the smokehouse to just below the barn, swings left here,
parts from the hill path, and runs narrowly, but
slick as a scalp, among thick weeds under sunlight
and toward trees whose green- brown gloom and coolness is sudden and whose silence, different from
that of the open light, seems to be conscious and to await the repetition of a signal. Not five feet
deeper, a delicate yet powerful odor of wetness in constant shade, a broad wind- less standing-forth
of a new coolness as from a refrigerator door, and a diminutive wrinkling noise of water: and ten
feet deep within the roof of leaves, low, on the upward right, the spring, the dirt all round dark
and strong-rooted and fragrant, tamped smooth as soap with bare feet, and a mottled piece of plank to
kneel to water on. The water stands forward from between rounded strata of submerged dark stone as
from between lips or rollers, in a look not of motion yet of quiet compulsion, into a basin a foot
deep floored with dead oakleaves and shored up with slimy wood. On a submerged shelf small crocks of
butter, cream, and milk stand sunken to their eyes, tied over with pieces of saturated floursack. A
sapling next the spring has been chopped short to make a stob, and on it hangs a coffee can rusted
black and split at the edges. The spring is not cowled so deeply under the hill that the water is
brilliant and nervy, seem- ing to break in the mouth like crystals, as spring water can: it is about
the temper of faucet water, and tastes slack and faintly sad, and as ifjust short of stale. It is not
quite tepid, however, and it does not seem to taste of sweat and sickness, as the water does which
the Woods family have to use.

Ten feet below, in a little alcove cleared at the edge of the woods, the water lets out through a
rusted pipe and rambles loose. There is a brute oak bench here for washtubs, and burnt stones are
squared round the bright ashes of wood fires, and, next these stones, is one of those very heavy and
handsome black iron kettles in which people one remove more primitive still make their own soap.

at the end of a slim liana of dry path running out of the heart of the house, a small wet flower
suspended: the spring

The garden plot is close on the right rear of the house. It is about the shape and about two thirds
the size of a tennis court, and is caught within palings against the hunger and damage of animals.
These palings are thin slats of split pine about three and a half feet tall and an inch and a half
wide, wired together vertically, about their width apart from each other.
The erratic grain and
cleavage of this pine have given each of them a different welter and rippling streaming of surface
and pattern structure; the weather has made this all as it were a muted silver and silk, exquis-
itely sensitive to light; and these slats closely approximate yet seldom perfect their perpendicu-
lars; so that when the sun is on them, and with the segments of garden be- tween each of them,
there is here such a virtuosity as might be watched by speechless days on end
merely for the vari-
ety and distinction of their beauty, without thought or any relevant room for thinking, and without
possibility of absorbing all that is there to be seen. Outside, the frowsy weeds stand halfway up
these walls:
inside, the planting is concentrated to the utmost possible, in green and pink-veined
wax and velvet butter beans, and in rank tomatoes, hung low, burst against the ground, in hairy
buds of okra, all these sprung heavy with weeds and smothered in textured shades of their leaves,
blown like nearly exploding balloons in the full spread of the summer, each in its shape and nature,
so that the whole of this space is one blowsy bristling pool and splendor of worm-and insect-embro-
idered plants and the savage odors of their special lusts that sting the face in gathering
, nuzzling
the paling as the bars of a zoo: waist-deep to wade in, so twined and spired and reached among each
other that the paths between rows are discernible only like steps confounded in snow: a paling gate,
nearest the kitchen, is bound shut against their bursting with a piece of wire.

Behind the house the dirt is blond and bare, except a little fledging of grass-leaves at the roots
of structures, and
walked-out rags of grass thickening along the sides. It lifts up gently, perhaps
five feet in twenty yards: across the top line of this twenty yards is the barn, set a few feet to
the right of center of the rear of the house. Half between the barn and house, symmetrical to the
axis of the house, the henroost and the smoke-house face each other across a bare space of perhaps
twelve feet of dirt.

These, like the house, are all made of unpainted pine. In some of this wood, the grain is broad and
distinct: in some of it the grain has almost disappeared, and
the wood has a texture and look like
that of weathered bone

The henroost is about seven feet square and five high, roofed with rotted shingles. It is built ra-
ther at random of planks varying in width between a foot and four inches, nailed on horizontally
with narrow spaces between their edges. On the uphill side a short pole leans against the roof
with chips and sticks nailed along it for steps and a box nailed at the top with straw in it; but
most of the eggs are found by the children in places which are of the hens' own selection and return.
Inside the roost, three or four sections of saplings, so arranged that the hens will not dirty each
other; these poles rubbed smooth by their feet;
the strong slits of light between the boards; the
odor of closured and heated wood; and the nearly unbearably fetid odor of the feathers and excre-
tions of the hens.

The smokehouse is about eight feet square and about seven tall to the peak of the roof. It is built
of vertical boards of uniform width. The door is flush to the wall without a frame and is held shut
by a wood button. On the uphill side, at center of the wall and flat to it, hangs a nearly new washtub,
the concentrics on its bottom circle like a target.
Its galvanized material is brilliant and dryly
eating in the sun
; the wood of the wall itself is not much less brilliant. The natural usage of a
smokehouse is to smoke and store meat, but meat is not smoked here: this is a storage house. Mainly,
there are a couple of dozen tin cans here, of many differing sizes and former uses, now holding sor-
ghum; four hoes; a set of sweeps; a broken plow-frame; pieces of an ice-cream freezer; a can of rusty
nails; a number of mule shoes; the strap of a white slipper; a pair of greenly eaten, crumpled work-
shoes, the uppers broken away, the soles worn broadly through, still carrying the odor of feet; a
blue coil of soft iron wire;
a few yards of rusted barbed wire; a rotted mule-collar; pieces of wire
at random: ' all those same broken creatures of the Ricketts' porch, of uselessness and of almost
endless saving.

It should hardly be called a 'barn,' it is too thin an excuse for one: a long low shed divided into
three chambers, a wired-in yard, a hog wallow and the hog's dirty little house. One room is made of
thick and thin logs, partly stopped with clay, and this is the stall for the mule when he is there:
the rest is pine boards. The next partition is for the cow. In one corner of the small wired yard
which squares off this part of the barn, in somewhat trampled and dunged earth, is the hogpen, made
of logs; be- yond that, a room used, in turn, as a corncrib and as a storage house for cotton prior
to ginning. There is no hayloft. The Invention here: I did not make inventory; there was more than
I could remem- ber. I remember for certain only the sorghum cans, the sweeps, the hoes, the work
shoes, the nails; with a vaguer remembrance of random pieces of harness and of broken machinery:
there may also have been, for instance, a ruined headlight and a boy's soggy worn-out cap. Many of
the sorghum cans, by the way, were almost the only bright and new-looking things on the farm. Gudger
may have bought them. If so, they are notable, for tenants seldom buy anything new. whole structure
is about twenty feet long and not more than seven high and seven or eight deep. The floor, except
of the corncrib, is earth.

Here I must say, a little anyhow: what I can hardly hope to bear out in the record:
that a house of
simple people which stands empty and silent in the vast Southern country morning sunlight, and ever-
ything which on this morning in eternal space it by chance contains, all thus left open and defense-
less to a reverent and cold-laboring spy, shines quietly forth such grandeur, such sorrowful holi-
ness of its exactitudes in existence, as no human consciousness shall ever rightly perceive, far less
impart to another: that there can be more beauty and more deep wonder in the standings and spacings
of mute furnishings on a bare floor between the squaring bourns of walls than in any music ever made:
that this square home, as it stands in unshadowed earth between the winding years of heaven, is, not
to me but of itself, one among the serene and final, uncapturable beauties of existence: that this
beauty is made between hurt but invincible nature and the plainest cruelties and needs of human ex-
istence in this uncured time, and is inextricable among these, and as impossible without them as a
saint born in paradise.

But I say these things only because I am reluctant to entirely lie. I can have nothing more to do with
them now. I am hoping here only to tell a little, only so well as I may, about an ordinary I house, in
which I lived a little while, and which is the home, for the time being, of the Gudger family, and is
the sort of home a tenant family lives in, furnished and decorated as they furnish and decorate.
it is so entirely static a subject, it may be slow going. That is as it may be.

                 THE GUDGER HOUSE

The house is left alone

SLOWLY they diminished along the hill path, she, and her daughter, and her three sons, in leisured en-
beneath the light
. The mother first, her daughter next behind, her eldest son, her straggler,
their bare feet pressed out of the hot earth gentle explosions of gold. She carried her
youngest child, his knees locked simian across her, his light hands at her neck, and
his erected head,
hooded with night, next hers, swiveled mildly upon the world's globe, a periscope. The dog, a convoy,
plaited his wanderings round them through the briars.
She wore the flowerlike beauty of the sunbonnet
in which she is ashamed to appear before us. At length, well up the hill, their talking shrank and be-
came inaudible, and at that point will give safe warning on the hill of their return. Their slanted
bodies slowly straightened, one by one, along the brim, and turned into the east, a slow frieze, and
sank beneath the brim in order of their height, masts foundered in a horizon; the dog, each of the
walking children, at length; at last, the guileless cobra gloatings of the baby, the mother's tall,
flared head.

They are gone.

No one is at home, in all this house, in all this land. It is a long while before their return. I
shall move as they would trust me not to, and as I could not, were they here. I shall
nothing but as I would touch the most delicate wounds, the most dedicated objects.

The silence of the brightness of this middle morning is increased upon me moment by moment and up-
on this house, and
upon this house the whole of heaven is drawn into one lens; and this house itself,
in each of its objects, it, too, is one lens.

I am being made witness to matters no human being may see.

There is a cold beating at my solar plexus. I move in exceeding slowness and silence that I shall
not dishonor nor awaken this house: and in every instant of silence, it becomes more en- tirely per-
fected upon itself under the sun. I take warmed water from the bucket, without sound, and it brings
the sweat out sharply and I wipe it away, remembering in shame his labor,
George, at this instant,
hard, in the strenuous heat, and
upon the tanned surface of this continent, this awful field where
cotton is made, infinitesimal,
the antlike glistening of the sweated labors of nine million. I remember
how in hot early puberty, realizing myself left alone the whole of a cavernous and gloomed after-
noon in my grandfather's large unsentineled home, I would be taken at the pit of the stomach
a most bitter, criminal gliding and cold serpent restiveness, and would wander from vacant
room to vacant room examining into every secrecy
from fungoid underearth to rarehot roof and from
the roof would gaze in anguish and contempt upon the
fronded suffocations of the midsummer city;
trying to read; trying to play the piano;
ravening upon volumes of soft-painted nudes; staring hun-
grily and hatefully into mirrors; rifling drawers, closets, boxes, for
the mere touch at the lips
and odor of fabrics
, pelts, jewels, switches of hair; smoking cigars, sucking at hidden liquors;
reading the piteous enthusiasms of ribboned letters stored in attic trunks: at length I took off
all my clothes, lay along the cold counterpanes of every bed,
planted my obscenities in the cold
hearts of every mirror
in foreknowledge, what unseen words and acts lurked ambushed in those deep
white seas before the innocent fixtures of a lady's hair: I permitted nothing to escape the fin-
gering of my senses nor the insulting of the cold reptilian fury of the terror of lone desire which
was upon me:

It is not entirely otherwise now, in this inhuman solitude, the nakedness of this body which sleeps
here before me, this tabernacle upon whose desecration I so reverentially proceed: yet it differs
somewhat: for there is here no open sexual desire, no restiveness, nor despair: but the quietly
triumphant vigilance of the extended senses before an intricate task of surgery, a deep stealth-
fulness, not for shame of the people, but in fear and in honor of the house itself, a knowledge of
being at work. And by this same knowledge, along with the coldness, the adoration, the pity, the
keen guilt at the heart, complete casualness. I am merely myself, a certain young man,
in my sweated clothes in the rear of a dividing porch of a certain house, foundered as stone in
sea in deepest Alabamian rurality, beneath the white scorch of a calm white morning; the leaves,
sluicing most gently in their millions what open breadth of earth I see, beneath upward coilings
of transparent air, and here, their home; and they have gone; and it is now my chance to perceive
this, their home, as it is,
in whose hollow heart resounds the loud zinc flickering heartbeat of the
cheap alarm two hours advanced upon false time
; a human shelter, a strangely lined nest, a crea-
ture of killed pine, stitched together with nails into about as rude a garment against the hostilities
of heaven as a human family may wear.

We stand first facing it, squarely in front of it, in the huge and peaceful light of this August

And it stands before us, facing us, squarely in front of us, silent and undefended in the sun.

In front of the house: its general structure

Two blocks, of two rooms each, one room behind another. Between these blocks a hallway, floored
and roofed, wide open both at front and rear: so that these blocks are two rectangular yoked
boats, or floated tanks, or coffins,
each, by an inner wall, divided into two squared chambers.
The roof, pitched rather steeply from front and rear, its cards met and nailed at a sharp angle.
The floor faces the earth closely. On the left of the hall, two rooms, each an exact square. On
the right a square front room and, built later, behind it, using the outward weatherboards for
its own front wall, a leanto kitchen half that size.

At the exact center of each of the outward walls of each room, a window. Those of the kitchen
are small, taller than wide, and are glassed. Those of the other rooms are exactly square and
are stopped with wooden shutters.

From each room a door gives on the hallway. The doors of the two front rooms are exactly oppo-
site: the doors of the rear rooms are exactly opposite. The two rooms on either side of the
hallway are also connected inwardly by doors through their partition walls.

Out at the left of the house, starting from just above the side window of the front room, a
little roof is reached out and rested on thin poles above bare ground: shelter for wagon or
for car.

At the right of the house, just beneath the side window of the front room, a commodious tool-
box, built against the wall. It is nailed shut.

The hallway yields onto a front porch about five feet long by ten wide, reaching just a little
short of the windows at either side, set at dead center of the front of the house.
A little
tongue of shingles
, the same size, is stuck out slightly slanted above it, and is sustained on
four slender posts
from which most of the bark has been stripped.

Three steps lead down at center; they are of oak: the bottom one is cracked and weak, for all
its thickness. Stones have been stacked beneath it, but they have slid awry, and it goes to the
ground sharply underfoot. Just below and beyond it is
a wide flat piece of shale the color of a
. It is broken several ways across and is sunken into the dirt.

The forty-foot square of land in front of the house, the 'front yard,' is bare of any trees or
bushes; there is nothing at all near the house of its own height, or bestowing of any shade.
This piece of land is hunched a little on itself in a rondure. Through the dry haze of weeds
and flowering fennels its dead red yellowness glows quietly, a look of fire in sunlight, and it
is visible how intricately it is trenched and seamed with sleavings of rain; as if, the skull
lifted off, the brain were exposed, of some aged not intellectual being who had lived a long
time patiently and with difficulty.

Where we stand, square toward the front, the house is almost perfectly symmetrical. Its two
front walls, square, balanced, each of a size, cloven by hallway; the lifted roof; at center
of each wall, a square window, the shutters closed; the porch and its roof and the four little
posts like candles:

Each window is framed round with a square of boards.

Ten or twelve feet out in this yard, and precisely in line with these front windows, as if they
were projections of them, and of about the same size, two hollow squares of wood are laid upon
the earth and are sunk level with it: and these are in fact two projections and are related
with these windows, and indeed are windows, of a sort: for they are intended to let through
their frames from the blank wall and darkness of the earth a particular and gracious, pleasing
light; they are flower-beds. The one at the left is sprung through with the same indiscriminate
fennels of the yard; the one on the right, the same.
But here among this rambling of bastardy
stands up, on its weak stem, one fainting pale magenta petunia, which stares at its tired foot
and this in the acreage of these three farms is the one domestic flower.

Now raising the eyes, slowly, in face of this strength of sun, to look the house in its blind

In front of the house: The facade

The porch: stands in its short square shade:

The hall: it is in shadow also, save where one wall, fifteen feet back, is slantingly slashed
with light:

At the far end of this well of hall, the open earth, lifted a little, bald hard dirt; the faced front-
ages of the smokehouse and the henhouse, and a segment of the barn: and all of this framed
image a little unnaturally brilliant and vital, as all strongly lighted things appear through corridors
of darkness:

And this hall between, as the open valve of a sea creature, steadfastly flushing the free width
of ocean through its infinitesimal existence: and on its either side, the square boxes, the
square front walls, raised vertical to the earth, and facing us as two squared prows of barge
or wooden wings, shadow beneath their lower edge and at their eaves; and the roof:

And these walls:

Nailed together of boards on beams, the boards facing the weather, into broad cards of wood
inlet with windows stopped with shutters: walls, horizontals, of somewhat narrow weatherboar-
ding; the windows bounded by boards of that same width in a square: the shutters, of wide
vertical boards laid edge to edge, not overlapped:
each of these boards was once of the liv-
ing flesh of a pine tree; it was cut next the earth, and was taken between the shrieking of
saws into strict ribbons
; and now, which was vertical, is horizontal to the earth, and another
is clamped against the length of its outward edge and its downward clamps another, and these
boards, nailed tightly together upon pine beams, make of their horizontalities a wall: and the
sun makes close horizontal parallels along the edges of these weatherboards, of sharp light
and shade, the parallels strengthened here in slight straight-line lapse from level, in the subtle
knife-edged curve of warping loose in another place: another irregular 'pattern' is made in the
endings and piecings-out of boards:

And the roof:

It is of short hand-hewn boards so thick and broad, they are shingles only of a most antique
sort: crosswise upon rigid beams, laths have been nailed, not far apart, and upon these laths,
in successive rows of dozens and of hundreds, and here again, though regularly, with a certain
shuffling of erratism against pure symmetry, these broad thick shingles are laid down overlap-
ping from the peak to the overhung edge like the plumage of a bird who must meet weather: and
not unlike some square and formalized plumage, as of a holy effigy, they seem, and made in pro-
fligate plates of a valuable metal;for they have never been stained, nor otherwise touched or
colored save only by all habits of the sky: nor has any other wood of this house been otherwise
ever touched: so that,
wherever the weathers of the year have handled it, the wood of the whole
of this house shines with the noble gentleness of cherished silver, much as where (yet differ-
ently), along the floors, in the pathings of the millions of soft wavelike movements of naked
feet, it can be still more melodiously charmed upon its knots, and is as wood long fondled in
a tender sea:

Upon these structures, light:

It stands just sufficiently short of vertical that every leaf of shingle, at its edges, and ev-
ery edge of horizontal plank (blocked, at each center, with squared verticals) is a most black
and cutting ink: and every surface struck by light is thus: such an intensity and splendor
of silver in the silver light, it seems to burn, and burns and blinds into the eyes almost as
yet in none of that burnishment or blazing whereby detail is lost: each texture in the
wood, like those of bone, is distinct in the eye as a razor: each nail-head is distinct: each
seam and split; and each slight warping; each random knot and knothole: and in each board, as
lovely a music as a contour map and unique as a thumbprint, its grain, which was its living
, and these wild creeks cut stiff across by saws; and moving nearer, the close-laid
arcs and shadows even of those tearing wheels: and this, more poor and plain than bone, more
naked and noble than sternest Doric, more rich and more variant than watered silk, is the fab-
ric and the stature of a house.

It is put together out of the cheapest available pine lumber, and the least of this is used
which shall stretch a skin of one thickness alone against the earth and air
; and this is all
done according to one of the three or four simplest, stingiest, and thus most classical plans
contrivable, which are all traditional to that country: and
the work is done by half-skilled,
half-paid men under no need to do well, who therefore take such vengeance on the world as
they may in a cynical and part willful apathy; and this is what comes of it: Most naive, most
massive symmetry and simpleness. Enough lines, enough off-true, that this symmetry is strongly
yet most subtly sprained against its centers, into something more powerful than either full
symmetry or deliberate breaking and balancing of 'monotonies' can hope to be. A look of being
most earnestly hand-made, as a child's drawing, a thing created out of need, love, patience,
and strained skill in the innocence of a race. Nowhere one ounce or inch spent with ornament,
not one trace of relief or of disguise: a matchless monotony, and in it a matchless variety
and this again throughout restrained, held rigid: and of all this, nothing which is not intrin-
sic between the materials of structure, the earth, and the open heaven.
The major lines of
structure, each horizontal of each board, and edge of shingle, the strictness yet subtle dish-
evelment of the shingles, the nail-heads, which are driven according to geometric need, yet are
not in perfect order, the grain, differing in each foot of each board and in each board from
any other, the many knots in this cheap lumber:
all these fluencies and irregularities, all
these shadows of pattern upon each piece of wood, all these in rectilinear ribbons caught
into one squared, angled, and curled music, compounding a chord of four chambers upon a soul
and center of clean air: and upon all these masses and edges and chances and flowerings of
grain, the changes of colorings of all weathers, and the slow complexions and marchings of
pure light.

Or by another saying:

'In all this house:

'In all of this house not any one inch of lumber being wasted on embellishment, or on trim, or
on any form of relief, or even on any doubling of walls: it is, rather,
as if a hard thin hide
of wood has been stretched to its utmost to cover exactly once, or a little less than once, in
all six planes the skeletal beams
which, with the inside surface of the weatherboarding, are
the inside walls; and no touch, as I have said, of any wash or paint, nor, on the floors, any
kind of covering, nor, to three of the rooms, any kind of ceiling, but in all places left bare
the plain essences of structure; in result all these almost perfect symmetries have their full
strength, and every inch of the structure, and every aspect and placement of the building mat-
erials, comes inevitably and purely through into full esthetic existence, the one further con-
ditioner, and discriminator between the functions and proprieties of indoors and out, being the
lights and operations of the sky.'

Or by a few further notes:

'On symmetry: the house is rudimentary as a child's drawing, and of a bareness, cleanness, and
sobriety which only Doric architecture, so far as I know, can hope to approach: this exact sym-
metry is sprung slightly and subtly, here and there, one corner of the house a little off vert-
ical, a course of weather-boarding failing the horizontal between parallels, a window frame
not quite square, by lack of skill and by weight and weakness of timber and time; and
slight failures, their tensions sprung against centers and opposals of such rigid and earnest
exactitude, set up intensities of relationship far more powerful than full symmetry
, or studied
dissymmetry, or use of relief or ornament, can ever be: indeed, the power is of another world
and order than theirs, and there is, as I mentioned, a particular quality of a thing hand-made,
which by comparison I can best suggest thus: by
the grandeur that comes of the effort of one man
to hold together upon one instrument, as if he were breaking a wild monster to bridle and rid-
ing, one of the larger fugues of Bach, on an organ, as against the slick collaborations and ef-
fortless climaxes of the same piece in the manipulations of an orchestra.'

Or again by materials: and by surfaces and substances: the build and shape of walls, roof, win-
dow frames, verticals of shutters, opposals and cleavings of mass as I have said, and the sur-
faces and substances: 'The front porch of oak two-by-twelves so hard they still carry a strong
piercing fell of splinters;
the four supporting posts which have the delicate bias and fluences
of young trees and whose surface is close to that of rubbed ivory; in the musculatures of their
stripped knots they have the flayed and expert strength of anatomical studies
: and the rest of
the house entirely of pine, the cheapest of local building material and of this material one of
the cheapest grades: in the surfaces of these boards are three qualities of beauty and they are
simultaneous, mutually transparent:
one is the streaming killed strength of the grain, infinite,
talented, and unrepeatable from inch to inch, the florid genius of nature which is incapable of
error: one is the close-set transverse arcs, dozens to the foot, which are the shadows of the
savage breathings and eatings of the circular saws; little of this lumber has been planed: one
is the tone and quality the weather has given it, which is related one way to bone, another to
satin, another to unpolished but smooth silver:
all these are visible at once, though one or an-
other may be strongly enhanced by degree and direction of light and by degree of humidity: more-
over, since the lumber is so cheap, knots are frequent, and
here and there among the knots
the iron-hard bitter red center is lost, and there is, instead, a knothole; the grain near these
knots goes into convulsions or ecstasies such as Beethoven's deafness compelled; and with
these knots the planes of the house are badged at random, and again moreover, these wild fugues
and floods of grain, which are of the free perfect innocence of nature, are sawn and stripped
across into rigid ribbons and by rigid lines and boundaries, in the captive perfect innocence
of science,
so that these are closely collaborated and inter-involved in every surface: and at
points strategic to structure: and regimented by need, and attempting their own symmetries, yet
not in perfect line
(such is the tortured yet again perfect innocence of men, caught between the
pulls of nature and science)
, the patternings and constellations of the heads of the driven nails:
and all these things, set in the twisted and cradling planet, take the benefit of every light and
weather which the sky in their part of the world can bestow, this within its terms being subtly
unrepeatable and probably infinite, and are qualified as few different structures can be, to make
full use of these gifts. By most brief suggestion: in full symmetry of the sun, the surfaces are
dazzling silver, the shadows strong as knives and India ink, yet the grain and all detail clear:
in slanted light, all slantings and sharpenings of shadow: in smothered light, the aspect of bone,
a relic: at night, the balanced masses, patient in the base world: from rain, out of these hues
of argent bone the colors of agate, the whole wall, one fabric and mad zebra of quartered minerals
and watered silks: and in the sheltered yet open hallway, a granite gray and seeming of nearly
granitic hardness, the grain dim, the sawmarks very strong; in the strength of these marks and pe-
culiar sobriety of the color, a look as if there has been a slow and exact substitution of calcium
throughout all the substance: within the rooms, the wood holds much nearer its original colors
of yellows, reds, and peasant golds drawn deep toward gray, yet glowing quietly through it as the
clay world glows through summer.'

But enough.

The room beneath the house

The rear edges of the house rest in part on stacked stones, in part on the dirt; in part they ov-
erhang this dirt a little. Beneath the house this dirt sinks gently, so that the flanks and for-
ward edges are lifted to level in part on taller stacks of stone, in part on thick rounded sect-
ions of logs.
The porch floor, and the forward parts of the house, are about two and a half feet
off the ground.

This cold plaque of earth beneath, which wears the shape of the house and is made different from
other earth
, as that part of a wall against which a picture has been hung for years: which might
have been field, pasture, forest, mere indiscriminate land: by chance:

At a bright time in sun, and in a suddenness alien to those rhythms the land had known these hun-
dred millions of years,
lumber of other land was brought rattling in yellow wagon-loads and caught
up between hammers upon air before unregarding heaven a hollow altar, temple, or poor shrine, a
human shelter, which for the space of a number of seasons shall hold this shape of earth denatured:
yet in whose history this house shall have passed soft and casually as a snowflake fallen on black
spring ground, which thaws in touching.

There in the chilly and small dust which is beneath porches, the subtle funnels of doodlebugs whose
teasing, of a broom-straw, is one of the patient absorptions of kneeling childhood, and there, in
that dust and the damper dust and the dirt, dead twigs of living, swept from the urgent tree, signs,
and relics: bent nails, withered and knobbed with rust; a bone button, its two eyes torn to one;
the pierced back of an alarm clock, greasy to the touch; a torn fragment of pictured print; an emp-
tied and flattened twenty-gauge shotgun shell, its metal green, lettering still visible; the white
tin eyelet of a summer shoe; and thinly scattered, the desiccated and the still soft excrement of
hens, who stroll and dab and stand, shimmying, stabbing at their lice, and stroll out again into
the sun as vacantly as they departed it.
And other things as well: a long and slender infinitesi-
mally rustling creek and system of ants in their traffic: the underside of the house, so sparsely
lifted even at the front, and meeting the quietly swollen earth so close there is scarcely light
at all at the rear: and here the earth is cold, continually damp, and in the odors of mold and of
a well, and
there are cold insects, sutured and plated, rapid on many feet that run in a rill and
nimbus along their narrow bodies; and strong spiders here, and dead ones, pale as mushrooms, sus-
pended in the ruins of their lives, or strong, avid, distinct among their clean con- structions,
still, slowly palpitant in their thick bodies, watching you with a poison sharpness of eye you can-
not be sure you see,
sudden to movement and swift, and some who jump: and the clean pine underside
of the house, blond like the floor of a turtle, that sun has never and weather has scarcely touched,
so that
it looks still new, as if as yet it had sustained no sorrow above, but only a hope that was
still in process of approach, as once this whole house was, all fresh and bridal, four hollowed
rooms brimmed with a light of honey:

(0 therefore in the cleanly quiet, calm hope, sweet odor, awaiting, of each new dwelling squared by
men on air, be sorrowful, as of the sprung trap, the slim wrist gnawn, the little disastrous fox:

It stands up in the sun and the bride smiles: quite soon the shelvts are papered: the new forks
taste in the food:

Ruin, ruin is in our hopes: nor hope, help, any healing:

it is hung and strung with their frail structures, and closes with the cool damp dirt in almost
darkness: and is of this noiseless and variegated underworld the flat scarce-lifted stone, the
roof and firmament: and above:

This underside, and firmament, and shelter and graveyard of sharp alien and short lives, and drift-
ing lot of orts of usage, and retirement of hens, and relief of dogs, and meditation space of chil-
dren, and gradation of constant shade, and yielder upward of harsh winter damp, slid through like-
wise from time to time with snakes, and sterilizer of earth which contiguous, just beyond its region
of rule, sick as it is, streams and in- audibly shrieks with green violence:
this likewise on its upward
surface is the floor and basis of still other living, a wide inch-thick plat of wood, swept with straws
and not seldom scrubbed, soaped and spreaded with warmth of water, that drains in its seams, and
kneeling, hard breathing, with hard straws scoured and pure: the walls stand up from its edges and
face one another;
and its surface sustains the distributed points and weights of the furnishings of
living, and the motions and directions of desire, need, work, and listlessness: a floor, a sustainer of
human living;
whereto children and dogs droop in their tiredness and rest, and sleep, and on a pallet
a baby lies, spread over with a floursack against infringement of flies, and sleeps and here a moving
camera might know, on its bareness, the standing of the four iron feet of a bed, the wood of a chair,
the scrolled treadle of a sewing machine, the standing up at right angles of plain wood out of plain
wood, the great and handsome grains and scars of this vertical and prostrate wood, the huge and
noble motions of brooms and of knees and of feet, and how with clay, and animals, and the leaning
face of a woman, these are among the earliest and profoundest absorptions of a very young child.

The hallway

Structure of four rooms

The hallway is long courses of weatherboard facing one another in walls six feet apart, feature-
less excepting two pair of opposite doors, not ceiled, but beneath the empty and high angling of
the roof: perhaps because of the blankness of these walls, and their facing closeness relative to
their parallel length, there is here an extremely strong sense of the nakedness and narrowness of
their presence, and of the broad openness, exposing the free land, at either end. The floor is
laid along beams rather wide apart. In all the rear end it yields to the ground under much weight:
the last few feet lie solid to the ground, and this is a strong muck in wet weather.

The one static fixture in the hallway is at the rear, just beyond the kitchen door. It is a wooden
shelf, waist-high, and on this shelf, a bucket, a dipper, a basin, and usually a bar of soap, and
hanging from a nail just above, a towel. The basin is granite-ware, small for a man's hands, with
rustmarks in the bottom. The bucket is a regular galvanized two-gallon bucket,
a little dented,
and smelling and touching a little of a fishy-metallic kind of shine and grease beyond any power
of cleaning.
It is half full of slowly heating water which was not very cold to begin with: much
lower than this, the water tastes a little ticklish and nasty for drinking, though it is still all
right for washing. The soap is sometimes strong tan 'kitchen' soap, sometimes a cheap white gelati-
nous lavender face soap. It stands on the shelf in a china saucer. The dipper again is granite-ware,
and again blistered with rust at the bottom. Sometimes it bobs in the bucket; sometimes it lies
next the bucket on the shelf. The towel is half a floursack, with the blue and red and black print-
ing still faint on it.
Taken clean and dry, it is the pleasantest cloth I know for a towel. Beyond
that, it is particularly clammy, clinging, and dirty-feeling.

A few notes of discrimination may be helpful:

The towels in such a farmhouse are always floursacks. 'Kitchen' towels are of another world and
class of farmer, and 'face' and 'turkish' towels of still another.

By no means all poor farmers use any sort of 'toilet' soap. Some seldom use soap at all. When they
use other than kitchen soap, it is of one of about three kinds, all of them of the sort available in
five-and-tens and small-town general stores.
One is 'lava' or 'oatmeal' soap, whose rough texture is
pleasing and convincing of cleanliness to a person who works with his hands.
The white soaps smell
sharply of lye: again, the odor is cleansing. Or if the soap is more fancy, it is a pink or lemon or
purple color, strongly and cheaply scented and giving a big lather. No cheap yet somewhat pleasantly
scented soap such as lux is used.

Rather more often than not, the basin and the dipper are plain unenameled tin. I expect, but am not
sure, that this is a few cents cheaper. In any case the odor, taste, and shiny, greasy texture soon
become strong.
The use of enamel ware is a small yet sharp distinction and symptom in 'good taste,'
and in 'class,' and in a sort of semi-esthetic awareness, choice and will.
The use of gray as against
white is still another discriminative.
That they bought small sizes, which are a very few cents chea-
per, speaks for itself. So does the fact that they have afforded still another basin, not quite big
enough for its use, to wash their feet in.

At times, there is also a mirror here, and a comb; but more often these are on the bedroom mantel.

The hall and front porch are a kind of room, and are a good deal used. Mrs. Gudger and her children
sit in the porch in empty times of the morning and afternoon: back in the rear of the hall is the eve-
ning place to sit, before supper or for a little while just after it.
There are few enough chairs that
they have to be moved around the house to where they are needed, but ordinarily there is a rockingchair
on the porch and a straight chair in the rear of the hall next the bedroom door. This rockingchair
is of an inexpensive 'rustic' make: sections of hickory sapling with the bark still on. On the hard
and not quite even porch floor the rocking is stony and cobbled, with a little of the sound of an auto
crossing a loose wooden bridge. Three of the straight chairs are strong, plain, not yet decrepit hick-
ory-bottoms, which cost a dollar and a half new; there is also a kitchen-type chair with a pierced
design in the dark scalloped wood at the head, and the bottom broken through.

When we first knew the Gudgers they had their eating-table in the middle of the hall, for only in the
hall is there likely to be any sort of breeze, and the kitchen, where nearly all farm farmilies eat,
was so hot that they could at times hardly stand to eat in it. This was only an experiment though, and
it was not successful. The hall is too narrow for any comfort in it for a whole family clenched
round a table. If it were even two feet wider, it would be much more use to them, but this would not
have occurred to those who built it, nor, if it had, would anything have been done about it.

Four rooms make a larger tenant house than is ordinary: many are three; many are two; more are one
than four: and three of these rooms are quite spacious, twelve feet square. For various reasons,
though, all of which could easily enough have been avoided in the building of the house, only two of
these rooms, the kitchen and the rear bedroom, are really habitable. There is no ceiling to either
of the front rooms, and the shingles were laid so unskillfully, and are now so multitudinously lea-
ky, that it would be a matter not of repairing but of complete relaying to make a solid roof. Between
the beams at the eaves, along the whole front of the house, and the top of the wall on which the beams
rest, there are open gaps. In the front room on the right, several courses of weather-boarding have
been omitted between the level of the eaves and the peak of the roof: a hole big enough for a cow to
get through.
The walls, and shutters, and floors, are not by any means solid: indeed, and beyond and
aside from any amount of laborious calking, they let in light in many dozens of places. There are
screens for no windows but one, in the rear bedroom. Because in half the year the fever mosquitoes
are thick and there are strong rainstorms, and in the other half it is cold and wet for weeks on end
with violent slanted winds and sometimes snow, the right front room is not used to live in at all
the left front room is used only dubiously and irregularly, though the sewing machine is there and it
is fully furnished both as a bed- room and as a parlor. The children use it sometimes, and it is given
to guests (as it was to us), but storm, mosquitoes and habit force them back into the other room where
the whole family sleeps together.

But now I want to take these four rooms one by one, and give at least a certain rough idea of what is
in each of them and of what each is 'like,' though I think I should begin this with a few more general


Bareness and space

The Gudgers' house, being young, only eight years old, smells a little dryer and cleaner, and more dis-
tinctly of its wood, than an average white tenant house, and it has also a certain odor I have never
found in other such houses:
aside from these sharp yet slight subtleties, it has the odor or odors which
are classical in every thoroughly poor white southern country house
, and by which such a house could be
identified blind-fold in any part of the world, among no matter what other odors. It is compacted of
many odors and made into one, which is very thin and light on the air, and more subtle than it can seem
in analysis, yet very sharply and constantly noticeable. These are its ingredients.
The odor of pine lum-
, wide thin cards of it, heated in the sun, in no way doubled or insulated, in closed and darkened
air. The odor of
woodsmoke, the fuel being again mainly pine, but in part also, hickory, oak, and cedar.
The odors of cooking. Among these, most strongly, the odors of
fried salt pork and of fried and boiled
pork lard
, and second, the odor of cooked corn. The odors of sweat in many stages of age and freshness,
this sweat being a distillation of pork, lard, corn, woodsmoke, pine, and
ammonia. The odors of sleep,
of bedding and of breathing, for the ventilation is poor. The odors of all the
dirt that in the course
of time can accumulate in a quilt and mattress. Odors of
staleness from clothes hung or stored away,
not washed. I should further describe the odor of corn: in sweat, or on the teeth, and breath, when it
is eaten as much as they eat it, it is of a particular sweet stuffy fetor, to which the nearest parallel
is the odor of the
yellow excrement of a baby. All these odors as I have said are so combined into one
that they are all and always present in balance, not at all heavy, yet so searching that all fabrics of
bedding and clothes are saturated with them, and so clinging that they stand softly out of the fibers of
newly laundered clothes. Some of their components are extremely 'pleasant,' some are 'unpleasant';
their sum total has great nostalgic power. When they are in an old house, darkened, and moist, and sucked
into all the wood, and stacked down on top of years of a moldering and old basis of themselves, as at the
Ricketts', they are hard to get used to or even hard to bear. At the Woods', they are blowsy and somewhat
moist and dirty. At the Gudgers', as I have mentioned, they are younger, lighter, and cleaner-smelling.
There too, there is another and special odor, very dry and edged: it is somewhere between the odor of
very old newsprint and of a victorian bedroom in which, after long illness, and many medicines, someone
has died and the room has been fumigated, yet the odor of dark brown medicines, dry-bodied sickness, and
staring death, still is strong in the stained wallpaper and in the mattress.

Bareness and space (and spacing) are so difficult and seem to me of such greatness that I shall not even
try to write seriously or fully of them. But a little, applying mainly to the two bedrooms.

The floors are made of wide planks, between some of which the daylighted earth is visible, and are naked
of any kind of paint or cloth or linoleum covering whatever, and paths have been smoothed on them by bare
feet, in a subtly uneven surface on which the polished knots are particularly beautiful. A perfectly bare
floor of broad boards makes a room seem larger than it can if the floor is covered, and the furniture too,
stands on it in a different and much cleaner sort of relationship. The walls as I have said are skeleton;
so is the ceiling in one of these rooms; the rooms are twelve feet square and are meagerly furnished,
they are so great and final a whole of bareness and complete simplicity that even the objects on a
crowded shelf seem set far apart from each other, and each to have a particularly sharp entity of its
own. Moreover, all really simple and naive people incline strongly toward exact symmetries, and have some
sort of instinctive dislike that any one thing shall touch any other save what it rests on
, so that chairs,
beds, bureaus, trunks, vases, trinkets, general odds and ends, are set very plainly and squarely discrete
from one another and from walls, at exact centers or as near them as possible, and
this kind of spacing
gives each object a full strength it would not otherwise have, and gives their several relationships, as
they stand on shelves or facing, in a room, the purest power such a relationship can have. This is still
more sharply true with such people as the Gudgers, who still have a little yet earnest wish that every-
thing shall be as pleasant and proper to live with as possible, than with others such as the Woods and
Ricketts, who are disheveled and wearied out of any such hope or care.


General: placement of furniture

ITS west wall is the front of the house; its north wall, the hallway; its east wall, the partition; its
south wall, the side of the house. At the center of the partition wall is a fireplace. At the center of
the side wall and of the front wall is an exactly square window, about three feet each way. At the center
of the north wall a door leads into the rear bedroom. The doors are very wide vertical planks, not panel-
ed, but crosslaid with planks in a Z. They are held shut by block wood buttons and are kept shut most of
the time. The
square shutters, hung on sagged and rusted, loud hinges, are less broad verticals. Always at
night and nearly always during the day they are drawn shut and secured, one by a leather strap over a
nail, the other by a piece af rag over a nail.
When they are shut, the room is dark and has a special heat
and odor of daylight darkness; but also there is a strong starlight of sunshine with slits and blades and
rods of light through the roof and two outward walls and, looking through the floor, the quiet sunless day-
lighted grain of the earth can be seen, strange to see as at the bottom of a lake; and in this oddly light-
ed darkness, certain flecks of the room are brilliantly picked out, and every part of it is visible. When
one of the shutters is opened, the light is new and uneasy in the room, as if the objects were blinking,
or had been surprised in secret acts, or, even, as an archaeologist who first lets daylight into an unviolated
Egyptian tomb:
and the feeling and odor of its particular darkness never leaves it: and here, on the bare
floor, between the squaring of the wide bare walls, the furniture stands: the furniture, its clothing, and
each little ornament on wall and shelf, and the contents of each box and drawer, and the cleanliness of
the central floor, such that it might be licked with the tongue and made scarcely cleaner, and the lint
curled back against itself under the bed and behind the sewing machine and thick beneath the bureau,
and the pine walls, which outside are weathered so pure, still holding their reds and yellows among their
grays, clear in their grain, and lined in strong parallels on the far sides of the strongly nailed pine two-by-
fours, through the sides of which, here and there, nails have split their points among splinters of fresh-
looking wood.

The bed, between the hall door and the front wall, in the angle of the two walls, the head toward the
wall, about six inches out from each wall, the foot at the window.

On the other side of the hall door, at center between this door and the angle of the partition wall, a

Directly before the fireplace, but not touching it, a small table. Above the fireplace, a mantel.

Again out from the walls, symmetrically across the right angle made by the partition wall and the side wall,
its tall mirror erect above it, a bureau.

Exactly beneath the window of the side wall, again a little out from the wall, a trunk:

Exactly across the angle of the side and front walls, and still again, not touching these walls, a sewing

Exactly at center behind and beneath the sewing machine, on the floor, a square-based and square-bowled
lamp of clear heavy glass, dusty, and without its chimney, the base broken and the broken piece fitted but
not mended into place:

Exactly beneath the center of the table, on a shelfjust above the floor, their toes pointed parallel into
the center of the fireplace, a large and still nearly new
pair of men's black sunday oxfords, the heels
clayed and the shining black upward heels narrowly streaked with clay of the color of angry gold.

On the bureau shelf, the mantel, the table and one wall, objects; small, simple and varied: which, the on-
ly adorned or decorated creatures of this room, bestow upon its nakedness the quality of an altar.

The furniture

The dark castiron treadle of the sewing machine spells out squarely, in the middle of its curlings, the
word CONQUEST. This is repeated in gold on the split wooden hood, but most of the gold has been rubbed off.

The 'settee': rather fancily bent out of thin canes; loud and broken; too uncomfortable to make much use
of. The seat is badly broken through. A thin homemade cushion, stuffed with raw cotton; the slip is the
frailest and cheapest kind of cotton cloth, dirty white, splotched with wide pink roses.

It is a small, elderly, once gay, now sober, and very pretty trunk, the lid shallowly domed, somewhat tall
and narrow, and thus bearing itself in a kind of severe innocence
as certain frame houses and archaic aut-
omobiles do. It is surfaced with tin which was once colored bright red and bright blue, and this tin, now
almost entirely gone brown, is
stamped in a thick complex of daisies and studded with small roundheaded
once golden nails
; and the body of the trunk is bound with wood and with two recently nailed ribbons of
bluish iron. The leather handles are gray-green and half-rotted, the hinges are loose, the lock is wrenched.
Opening this light trunk, a fragrance springs from it as if of stale cinnamon and fever powders and its in-
ward casket is unexpectedly bright as if it were a box of tamed sunlight, in its lining of torn white paper
streaked with brown, fresh yellow wood grained through the torn places, the bright white lining printed with
large and bright mauve centerless daisies.
In this trunk: an old slightly soiled cotton slip; a little boy's stiff
cheap gray cap; a baby's dress; a gray-white knit shoe for a baby;
a pair of ten-cent hard thin mercerized
bold-patterned electric-blue socks
, worn through at the heels, with a strip of green checked gingham tied
through the top of one, for a garter, and a strip of pink gingham through the other. In one corner of the
floor of the trunk,
staring blue with black centers, waxed to the ends of a wire wishbone whose juncture
is a light lead weight, the eyes of a small doll.

The bed-frame is not tall or at all ornate, as many iron frames are. Its former surface of hard white paint
is worn almost entirely away to the bare, blue-brown iron.
It is a three-quarter bed, which means a dou-
ble bed so far as tenant usage is concerned. Because it is the guest and parlor bed, and little used, it
is covered with a thin, brittle, magenta spread of chemical silk.

The bureau was at some time a definitely middle-class I piece of furniture. It is quite wide and very heavy,
veneered in gloomy red rich-grained woods, with intricately pierced metal plaques at the handles of the
three drawers, and the mirror is at least three feet tall and is framed in machine-carved wood. The veneer
has now split and leafed loose in many places from the yellow soft-wood base;
the handles of the three draw-
ers are nearly all deranged and two are gone; the drawers do not pull in and out at all easily. The mirror
is so far corrupted that it is rashed with gray, iridescent in parts, and in all its reflections a deeply sad thin
zinc-to-platinum, giving to its framings an almost incalculably ancient, sweet, frail, and piteous beauty, such
as may be seen in tintypes of family groups among studio furnishings or heard in nearly exhausted jazz
records made by very young, insane, devout men who were soon to destroy themselves, in New Orleans, in
the early nineteen twenties.
The surface of this bureau is covered with an aged, pebble-grained face towel,
too good a fabric to be used in this house for the purposes it was made for. Upon this towel rest these ob-
An old black comb, smelling of fungus and dead rubber, nearly all the teeth gone. A white clamshell
with brown dust in the bottom and a small white button on it. A small pincushion made of pink imitation silk
with the bodiced torso of a henna-wigged china doll sprouting from it, her face and one hand broken off. A
cream-colored brown-shaded china rabbit three or four inches tall, with bluish lights in the china, one ear
laid awry: he is broken through the back and the pieces have been fitted together to hang, not glued, in
delicate balance. A small seated china bull bitch and her litter of three smaller china pups, seated round
her in an equilateral triangle, their eyes intersected on her: they were given to Louise last Christmas and
are with one exception her most cherished piece of property.
A heavy moist brown Bible, its leaves almost
weak as snow, whose cold, obscene, and inexplicable fragrance I found in my first night in this house.

I shall not fully list the contents of the bureau drawers. They contain, among other things, schoolbooks;
and in one drawer there are a number of pieces of wrapping paper, each folded separately and very carefully
to make no more new creases than is necessary. Some of this paper is dark blue with large gold bells and
stars and small gold houses on it.
Some is red and green holly on a white ground. Some is plain red or white
or green or blue tissue. One is plain brown wrapping paper but has glued to it several seals of santaclaus and
of scotch terriers and of bells in holly garlands. These papers are now torn in a number of places, rather
somber and faded, and are intricately seamed and ridged over all their surfaces with years of wrapping and
unfolding. They smell stale and old. There are also red, frayed gold and silver strings here, wound some on
spools, some on matches or nails.

And, centered one upon another and at center of their square-spread art it ion wall, all squarely opposite
the square window, the table and the fireplace and the mantel which, with the wall, create a shrine and altar:

The altar

The three other walls are straight and angled beams and the inward surfaces of unplaned pine weatherboards.
This partition wall is made of horizontals of narrow and cleanly planed wood, laid tightly edge to edge;
wood is pine of another quality, slenderly grained in narrow yellow and rich iron-red golds, very smooth and
as if polished, softly glowing and shining, almost mirroring bulks
: and is the one wall of the room at all
conducive to ornament, and is the one ornamented wall. At its center the mantel and square fireplace frame,
painted, one coat, an old and thin blue-white: in front of the fireplace, not much more than covering the full
width of its frame, the small table: and through, beneath it, the gray, swept yet ashy bricks of the fireplace
and short hearth, and the silent shoes: and on the table
, and on the mantel, and spread above and wide of it
on the walls, the things of which I will now tell.

On the table: it is blue auto paint: a white cloth, hanging a little over the edges. On the cloth, at center,
a small fluted green glass bowl in which sits a white china swan, profiled upon the north.

On the mantel against the glowing wall, each about six inches from the ends of the shelf, two small twin vases,
very simply blown, of pebble-grained iridescent glass. Exactly at center between them, a fluted saucer, with a
coarse lace edge, of pressed milky glass, which Louise's mother gave her to call her own and for which she
cares more dearly than for anything else she possesses. Pinned all along the edge of this mantel, a broad
fringe of white tissue pattern-paper which Mrs. Gudger folded many times on itself and scissored into pierced
geometric of lace, and of which she speaks as her last effort to make this house pretty.

On the wall, pasted or pinned or tacked or printed, set well discrete from one another, in not quite perfected
symmetric relations:

A small octagonal frame surfaced in ivory and black ribbons of thin wicker or of straw, the glass broken out:
set in this frame, not filling it,
a fading box-camera snapshot: low, gray, dead-looking land stretched back
in a deep horizon
; twenty yards back, one corner of a tenant house, central at the foreground, two women: Ann-
ie Mae's sister Emma as a girl of twelve, in slippers and stockings and a Sunday dress, standing a little shy-
ly with
puzzling eyes, self-conscious of her appearance and of her softly clouded sex; and their mother, wide
and high, in a Sunday dress still wet from housework, her large hands hung loose and biased in against her
her bearing strong, weary, and noble, her face fainted away almost beyond distinguishing, as if in her
death and by some secret touching the image itself of the fine head her husband had cared for so well had soft-
ly withered, which even while they stood there had begun its blossoming inheritance in the young daughter at
her side.

A calendar, advertising ---'s shoes, depicting a pretty brunette with ornate red lips, in a wide-brimmed red hat,
cuddling red flowers. The title is Cherie, and written twice, in pencil, in a schoolchild's hand: Louise,

A calendar, advertising easy-payment furniture: a tinted photograph of an immaculate, new-overalled boy of
twelve, wearing a wide new straw hat, the brim torn by the artist, fishing. The title is Fishin'.

Slung awry by its chain from a thin nail, an open oval locket, glassed. In one face of this locket, a colored
picture of
Jesus, his right hand blessing, his red heart exposed in a burst spiky gold halo. In the other face,
a picture by the same artist of
the Blessed Virgin, in blue, her heart similarly exposed and haloed, and pier-
ced with seven small swords.'

Torn from a child's cheap storybook, costume pictures in bright furry colors illustrating, exactly as they
would and should be illustrated, these titles:

     The Harper was Happier than a King as He Sat by his
       Own Fireside.
     She Took the Little Prince in Her Arms and Kissed Him.
       ('She' is a goosegirl.)

Torn from a tin can, a strip of bright scarlet paper with a large white fish on it and the words:


                    EXTRA QUALITY MACKEREL

At the right of the mantel, in whitewash, all its .whorlings sharp, the print of a child's hand.

The Tabernacle

In the table drawer, in this order:

A delicate insect odor of pine, closed sweated cloth, and mildew.

One swooning-long festal baby's dress of the most frail muslin, embroidered with three bands of small white
cotton-thread flowers. Two narrow courses of cheap yet small-threaded lace are let in near the edge of the
skirt. This garment is hand-sewn in painfully small and labored stitchings. It is folded, but not pressed,
and is not quite clean.

One plain baby's dress of white cotton; a torn rag: home-sewn, less studiously; folded.

Another, as plain, save for pink featherstitching at the cuffs. Torn, not folded.

Another, thinlined gray-blue faded checks on a white ground. The silhouettes of two faded yellow rabbits, cut
out at home, are stitched on the front, the features are x'd in in pink thread.

A nearly flat blue cloth cat doll, home-made, a blue tail, nearly torn off, the features in black thread.

A broad and stiff-brimmed soft-crowned hat, the brim broken in several places, the fabrics stained and mold-
ered. The crown is gold, of thin plush or the cheapest velvet. The ribbon is wide plaid
woodsilk weltering
lights of orange and of pearl
. It is striped white at the edges and the stripes are edged in gold thread. The
brim is bordered an inch wide with gold brocade. The underbrim is creamcolored mercerized cotton, marked in
one place by an indelible pencil. Through a tear the pasteboard brim is visible: it was cut out of a shoe-box.
The stitching throughout is patient, devoted, and diminutive. The hat is one broken, half-moist, moldered

A blue foursided tall box of Dr. Peters Rose Talcum Powder, empty save for some small hard object which rat-
tles. The odor of the powder, a little like that of perfume-machines in theater toilets.

One smallchecked pink and white baby's dress.

One baby's dress, a rag. Blue featherstitching in mercerized thread.

One child's brown cotton glove, for the right hand. The index finger ends in a hole.

A scissored hexagon of newsprint:

                         GHAM .NEWS
                         hursday afternoon, March 5, 1936
                         Price: 3 cents
                         in G

                         are on d
                         cording its

                         for the Birm

(over two photographs:)

                         Glass and night sticks fly in strike


                         between police and strike sympathizers now
                         York. A cameraman was right o
                         venty-second St.

(the photographs, both flashlighted night scenes:)

1. A man in civilian clothes including gloves, back to, is doing something unidentifiable to what may be an
elevator door.

2. A street. Two policemen. One is balanced in recoil from an action just accomplished. The face signifies
uh-huh. The other, glasses, a masterful head,
his nightstick just rebounding from the palm-clenched skull of
a hatless topcoated civilian whose head is level with his hips.
Flash-lighted pavement, spotted with grease
or blood
. On the black background hands, a shirtfront, watch, poised ready to run, beneath a faint oval of
hatface bisected by dark hatband.

(To the left :)

                         NEW STRIKE MOVE
                         EARED AS PEACE
                         NFAB SPLITS UP


                         fer to Arbitrate is
                         Down by Real
                         e Group


                         s Owners
                         f Parley

                         ANY EXPANDS ARMAMEN


                         Program planned
                         Keep Pace with
                         Greater Army

(caption above small photograph:)

     Veteran Chinese War
     Lord Prepares For
     Communist Conflict


     Marshal Yen Hsi-Suan
     An impending threat of 10,000 Chinese Communists against Tai-Yuan, Shensi Province, China, led Marshal Yen Hsi-
     Suan, veteran war lord, to declare an emergeacy and mobilize an army to halt their approach. Twenty-six Ameri-
     can missionaries may be in danger. (Asso-ciated Press Photo.)

     British satirist admits he's
     a failure, since world
     won't mind him

(Above photograph:)



     Altho 4 months old Kenneth House, Jr.
     physicians with X-rays are watching progres
     which he swallowed six days ago, to date
     operation will be necessary to remove it.
     its mother, Mrs. Betty House, at Denver, C

     National Whirligig

     continued from page 1

     T O U

Held against the light, the contents of both sides of the paper are visible at once.

The two parts of a broken button.

A small black hook, lying in its eye.

Another small black hook.

In the corners of the pale inward wood, fine gray dust and a sharpgrained unidentifiable brown dust.

In a split in the bottom of the drawer, a small bright needle, pointed north, as the swan above it is.



IT IS half as bright and opened-seeming (and seems more so) as the room we left was and remains dark: all but
the window of the side wall, whose shutter is laid back flat, and which is nailed over with a square of fresh
gray screening: yet after a minute it seems somewhat somber too; or thus: the floor from the window in a wide
fan and all the opposite wall is clearly lighted, none of it in direct sun: but the rear wall and the corner
to the right are much less lighted.

There are two beds here, both three-quarter size, set parallel, their heads near the rear wall, their sides
near the two side walls. One is directly opposite this partition door, its foot frame comes just short of the
kitchen door: the other is directly op- posite the door of a very shallow closet built out from the partition.
The fireplace, in the partition wall, faces the closed rear shutter down the bare aisle of transverse planks
between them: and the two of them together almost fill their side of the room. These beds are both sheeted in
tightly drawn white sheets, and at the central head of each, a hard thin white-cased pillow is slightly tilted
from the mattress case.
On each of these surfaces is a thin constellation of perhaps a dozen black flies. Once
in a while several at orice will move a sharp inch or two in straight lines, or one will suddenly spiral off
and butt the window-screen: but for minutes on end they all stand still together.
Both these beds are iron.
This one we face, which is George's bed, and his wife's, the iron is dark and smooth and the pattern is plain,
a few round verticals, and taller verticals at the head: the other is of more slender, white rods, bent into
balanced curves.

Above the head of this nearer bed, suspended on two forked sticks nailed to the wall, is a light-gauged shot-

On a nail just beside the window hangs the white summer union suit George sleeps in.

There is a trunk beneath the side window, very similar to the trunk in the front room.

The fireplace

All the frame and mantel of the fireplace and the rather dark, blank wall, to a squared-off height of perhaps
five and a half feet, and some of the wall beyond the frame, are whitewashed, long enough ago that the wash is
scarred with matches and the grain is strong through it, yet a very cold and fine white, the edges of the work
carefully labored and inexpert. Up by the right of the fireplace, and not balanced on the other side, is
a wide
vertical board, creating between its structural dominance and the centrality of the fireplace a not wide yet
sharp dilemma of symmetries. The whitewash, with bold and fine instinct, is applied to follow the symmetry of
the wood,
so that the fireplace is sprung a few inches off center within its large white framing; yet, since
it still has so strong a central focus in its wall,
a powerful vibration is set up between the two centers.

The mantel

     On the mantel above this fireplace:
     A small round cardboard box:
(on its front:)

               Cashmere Bouquet Face Powder
                     Light Rachel

(on its back:)
               The Aristocrat of Face Powders.
                   Same quality as 50$ size.

Inside the box, a small puff. The bottom of the box and the bottom face of the puff carry a light dust of fra-
grant softly tinted powder.

A jar of menthol salve, smallest size, two thirds gone.

A small spool of number 50 white cotton thread, about half gone and half unwound.

A cracked roseflowered china shaving mug, broken along the edge. A much worn, inchwide varnish brush stands in
it. Also in the mug are eleven rusty nails, one blue composition button, one pearl headed pin (imitation), three
dirty kitchen matches, a lump of toilet soap.

A pink crescent celluloid comb: twenty-seven teeth, of which three are missing; sixteen imitation diamonds.

A nailfile.

A small bright mirror in a wire stand.

Hung from a nail at the side of the fireplace: a poker bent out of an auto part.

Hung from another nail, by one corner: a square pincushion. Stuck into it, several common pins, two large safe-
ty-pins, three or four pins with heads of white or colored glass; a small brooch of green glass in gilded tin;
a needle trailing eighteen inches of coarse white thread.

Above the mantel, right of center, a calendar: a picture in redbrown shadows, and in red and yellow lights from
a com-fortable fireplace. A young darkhaired mother in a big chair by the fire: a little girl in a long white
nightgown kneels between her knees with her palms together: the mother's look is blended of doting and teaching.
The title is Just a Prayer at Twilight.

The closet

On nails on the inside of the door of the shallow closet:

A short homesewn shift of coarse white cotton, square be- neath the arms and across the chest and back: a knot
in the right shoulderstrap.

A baby's dress, homemade. The top is gray denim; the collar is trimmed in pink; the skirt, in a thinner material,
is small yellow-and-white checks.

A long homemade shift of coarse white cotton, same recti- linear design as above.
A tincture of perspiration and
of sex.

On the closet floor, to the left, a heap of overalls, dresses, shirts, bedding, etc., ready for laundering.

On a shelf above, three or four
patchwork quilts of various degrees of elaborateness and inventiveness of pattern,
and in various degrees of raggedness, age, discoloration, dirt absorp- tion, and sense-of-vermin, stuffed with cot-
ton and giving off a strong odor.

On nails along the wall, overalls, dresses, children's clothing; the overalls holding the shape of the knee and
thigh; an odor of sweated cloth.

On the floor to the right, folded one on the other, two home- made pallets for children: flat rectangular sacks of
thin white cloth thinly padded with cotton.

On the floor at center, two by two, toes to the wall, a pair of woman's black slippers, run-over at the low heels.
A pair of workshoes, very old, molded to the shape of the feet. A pair of girl's slippers, whited over scrubbed
clay and streaked again with clay. A pair of little-boy's high black shoes, broken at the toes and worn through
the soles, the toes curled up sharply; looped straps at the heels: thick clay scrubbed off. A pair of little-girl's
slightly narrower and softer high tan button shoes, similarly worn and curled, similarly scrubbed. A pair of little-
boy's high black button shoes, similarly worn, curled, and scrubbed. One infant's brown sandal.
These shoes, particu-
larly those of the children, are somewhat gnawn, and there are rat turds on the floor.

The beds

The children's bed in the rear room has a worn-out and rusted mesh spring; the springs of the other two beds are wire
net, likewise rusty and exhausted. Aside from this and from details formerly mentioned, the beds may be described as
one. There are two mattresses on each, both very thin, padded, I would judge, one with raw cotton and one with corn-
They smell old, stale, and moist, and are morbid with bedbugs, with fleas, and, I believe, with lice. They
are homemade. The sheaths are not ticking, but rather weak unbleached cotton. Though the padding is sewn through, to
secure it, it has become uncomfortably lumpy in some places, nothing but cloth in others. The sheeting is of a coarse
and beautiful unbleached but nearly white cotton, home-sewn down the length of each center with a seam either ridged
or drawn apart.
It is cloth of a sort that takes and holds body heat rapidly, and which is humid with whatever moisture
may be in the air, and the fabric is sharp against the skin. The pillows are store-bought, the cheapest obtainable: thin,
hard, crackling under any motion of the head; and seem, like the mattresses, to carry vermin.
The pillowcases are homemade,
of the sheeting; one is a washed, soft, fifty-pound floursack. The striped ticking shows strongly through the cloth. The beds
are insecure enough in their joints that motions of the body must be gentle, balanced, and to some extent thought out be-
The mattresses and springs are loud, each in a different way, to any motion. The springs sag so deeply that two
or more, sleeping here, fall together at the middle almost as in a hammock.
The sheets are drawn tight in making the
bed, in part out of housework ritual, in part, I believe, in the wish to make the chronically sagged beds look level.
Sometimes this succeeds. At other times the bed, neatly made though it is, looks like an unlucky cake.

Very often, Burt cannot get to sleep except in his mother's arms. During nearly all the year, the whole family sleeps
in this one room. The youngest of them never sleeps elsewhere. Even when they are in the next room, the partition is
very thin. Even if there were no children, such parents are limited enough that they are deeply embarrassed and distur-
bed by noises coming of any sexual context and betraying it. Even if there were no noises,
the bed frames are insecure,
the springs sag weakly, the mattresses are thin and lumpy, the sheets are not very pleasant.

On these beds, however, and among their children, they get whatever sexual good they ever have of each other, as noise-
lessly and with as little movement as possible; and on these beds, after spending two thirds of their life in hard wearying
work and in conscious living in every way hurtful and distortive of the 'mind,' 'emotions,' and 'nerves,' they spend a third
of their lives getting the refreshment and rest of sleep.

III. The Kitchen


THERE is a tin roof on the kitchen. It leaks only when the rain is very heavy and then only along the juncture with the
roof of the main house. The difficulty is more with heat. The room is small: very little more than big enough to crowd
in the stove and table and chairs: and this slanted leanto roof is quite low above it, with no ceiling, and half the
tin itself visible.
The outdoor sunlight alone is in the high nineties during many hours of one day after another for
weeks on end; the thin metal roof collects and sends on this heat almost as powerfully as a burning-glass; wood fires
are particularly hot and violent and there is scarcely a yard between the stove and one end of the table: between the
natural heat, the cumulated and transacted heat striven downward from the roof, and the heat of the stove, the kitchen
is such a place at the noon meal time that, merely entering it, sweat is started in a sheet from the whole surface of
the body, and the solar plexus and the throat are clutched into tight kicking knots which relax sufficiently to admit
food onIy after two or three minutes.

This is a leanto room. The forward wall is the former outside of the house. The hall door is at center of its wall;
there is another door just beyond the head of the table, about four feet from the far end of the room, leading into the
front room; at center of the rear wall is a window; there is another at center of the side wall. These windows are
glassed, thin rippled and dimpled panes, and are in two parts, but lacking weights, are held open with stovewood. The
stove stands in the corner between them, the 'cupboard' stands against the front wall beyond the door to the store-
room, the table along the front wall between that door and the hall, the meal bin and foot basin in the corner made be-
tween the rear and hall walls; the wood-box stands along the near side of the stove; under the stove is the dishpan;
the coffee-pot and a kettle stand on it, set back; pots are hung on nails along the walls of the stove-corner; lids are
stuck between the walls and a two-by-four; one of the skillets stands out nearly level; its handle is stuck through a
rift between two boards of the wall and through this rift a small piece of the outdoors is visible. The broom stands in
the corner at the foot of the table and above, on nails, hang the round crockery head of the churn, and the dasher.
is pleasantly bright here, with no sunshine, but an almost cool-looking, strong, calm light, of the sort that takes up
residence in any piece of glass without glittering in it.

The room is a little small for comfort, and here, as is unnecessary in the other rooms, everything that can be is
blocked back hard against the wall. There are no chairs on the wall side of the table, but a long and quite narrow bench,
close against the wall, and the table is brought up close against it so that the children have to climb to their places
with a fair amount of difficulty: and in spite of this economizing, the table juts out beyond the hall door, the chairs
along that side a little more, and when everyone is seated the room is pretty nearly blocked. The chair at the foot is
crowded in close, too, for there is just enough room between the hall door and the store-room door. The stove has to
be set well out from the walls of its corner, a couple of feet from each at least, and this leaves just room and no better
between the stove and the corner of the table. In spite of all the open air, the kitchen smells powerfully of the cooking,
for the walls are saturated with it.

The 'cupboard,' a carry-all for kitchen implements, china, eating-tools, and the less perishable of the chronic cooking
supplies, is never known in the rural south as a cupboard, but always as a safe.' The ordinary safe is a tall, dark, flimsy
wood cabinet with several shelves, with
double doors faced in rusted tin pierced in ventilative patterns of geometry and of
radiant flowers, and smelling stuffily yet rather sweetly of hens, butter, and fried pork and of the cheap metals of its
I speak of this because the Gudgers' safe veers so wide of the ordinary as to seem comic or even surrealist in
this setting, as a frigidaire might. It is of bright yellow shellacked pine and the doors are white enameled metal in narrow
frames, and the door-latches are not buttons shaped like jazz-bows, as in the ordinary nine- teenth-century-type safe, but
are bright nickel, of the sort used on refrigerators; and it is more capacious than the oldfash- ioned safe. There is a metal-
lined bin for flour, and there are enameled and labeled cans for SUGAR, COFFEE, SALT, TEA, which look to have come with
the horse. It is a really good piece of furniture; and
has a sort of middle-class lovenest look to it which connects it to
advertisements in women's magazines and to the recipe voices of radio women, so that it is here peculiarly insulting and
; and already it has picked up tenant-kitchen redolences for which it was never intended.

The stove is of baroque rusting iron, with an oven. It is small, and low enough that it must be leaned above at a rather deep
I I don't know how this got started, but it seems to me of some interest that farm families, whose most urgent treasures are
the food they eat, use for its storage-box the name used among middle-class people for the guardian of money, ledgers, and
'valuable papers.' angle. A large black iron kettle stands at the back of it; on nails behind it, in its corner, a few dark
pots and flat baking-pans are hung, and a heavy black skillet; the skillet is stuck by its handle through a rift in the wall
and extends its round hand flat toward the center of the room.

The mealbin is a fifty-pound lard can half full. It is topped off by a sifter, homemade of windowscreen which is broken, and
three trapped flies, covered with meal, brain themselves against the lower side.

The broom is of the cheap thirty-to-forty-cent kind and is nearly new, but do not be misled: the old one, still held in limbo
because nothing is thrown away, was well used before it was discarded:
it has about the sweeping power of a club foot.

The dasher is made deliciously mild and fragrant by milk and butter, and glows as ivory might against the raw wall.

The chairs sit in exact regiment of uneven heights with the charming sobriety of children pretending to be officers or

The table: the lamp

The table is set for dinner.

The yellow and green checked oilcloth is worn thin and through at the corners and along the edges of the table and along
the ridged edges of boards in the table surface, and in one or two places, where elbows have rested a great deal, it is rub-
bed through in a wide hole.
In its intact surfaces it shines prettily and bluntly reflects the window and parts of the objects
that are on it
, for it has been carefully polished with a wet rag, and it shows also the tracings of this rag. Where it has rub-
bed through,
the wood is sour and greasy, and there are bread crumbs in the seams and under the edges of the cloth, which
smell of mold
, and these odors are so mingled with that of the oilcloth that they are in total the classic odor of a tenant eating-table.

There are two stainless steel knives and forks with neat black handles which would have cost a dime apiece, and against
what little we could do about it these are set at our places: but by actual usage they belong to the two parents.

Aside from these the forks and knives and spoons are of that very cheap, light, and dull metal which seems to be almost
universal among working-class families, and in the more charitable and idealistic kinds of institutions, and which
impart to
every ounce of food they touch their peculiar taste and stench, which is a little like that of a can which has contained
strong fish
. The tines of nearly all the forks are bent, then rippled back into approximate order; the knives are saw-edged.

Almost no two of the plates, or cups, or glasses, or saucers, are of the same size or pattern. All of the glasses except one
are different sizes and shapes of jelly glass. One of the cups is thin, blue, Woolworth's imitation of willow plate: the handle is
gone; two others are thick and white, of the sort used in lunch- wagons, but of lower quality, flinty, and a little like sand-
stone at their brims; one of these is chipped; the fourth is a taller cup of the same sort, with
a thready split running its full
height. Two of the plates are full dinner size, of the same thick lunch- wagon china, another is translucent white of a size
between saucer and dinnerplate; another,
deep cream-colored, netted with brown cracklings, is pressed with a garland of yel-
low corn and green leaves.
The children eat mainly out of slucers and bowls. The food will be served in part out of pans, and
in part out of two wide shallow soup plates and a small thick white platter. At the middle of the table is a mason jar of sor-
ghum, a box of black pepper, and a tall shaker of salt whose top is green, all surrounding the unlighted lamp which stands in
the bare daylight in the beauty of a young nude girl.


Two essentials

Two essentials, I cannot hope to embody even mildly but must say only, what they are, and what they should be if they could
be written: one is of the house as a whole; one may be realized in terms of any single room. The first is true of any house of
more than one room. The second is the privilege only of houses such as this one I am talking of.

The first is this:
In any house, standing in any one room of it, or standing disembodied in remembrance of it, it is possible, by
sufficient quiet and passive concentration, to realize for a little while at a time the simultaneity in existence of all of its rooms
in their exact structures and mutual relationships in space and in all they contain; and to realize this not merely with the
counting mind, nor with the imagination of the eye, which is no realization at all, but with the whole of the body and being,
and in translations of the senses so that in part at least they become extrahuman, become a part of the nature and be- ing of
these rooms and their contents and of this house: or in a kind of building-dream, a disembodied consciousness stands in an
open platform of floor, no walls nor roof: and in a fluttering of hammers and with wide quiet motions from all sides of this
consciousness, at the edges of the platform there are swept up the wide cards of the wooden walls like the sped closing of
the petals of flowers, and their edges join in a stitching of nails, and beginning vertical and matched against one another along
the ridgepole like the closed wings of a butterfly, the great wings of the roof are spread open and sweep downward either side
in darkening, to come to rest at length along the upward edges of this squared wooden pit: and where these walls are risen and
clasped, their square surfaces face one another two and two and make an inward square, a chamber, and all the four rooms of
this house where the Gudgers live are here at once each in its space and each in balance of each other in a chord: and it is
the full bodily recognition of this chord that I speak of particularly, which can so arrest the heart: and of how all these furnish-
ings and objects, within these rooms, are squared and enchanted as in amber.

The second, this too is true of any place, yet it is most powerful where all the materials of structure are bare before one,
as they are here. It is, having examined scientifically or as if by blueprint how such a house is made from the ground up, in ev-
ery strictly sized part of its wood, and in every tightening nail, and with nearly every inch of this open to the eye as it is with-
in one of these rooms,
to let all these things, each in its place, and all in their relationships and in their full substances, be, at
once, driven upon your consciousness, one center: and there is here such an annihilating counterpoint as might be if you could
within an instant hear and be every part, from end to end, of the most vastly spun of fugues: and this first essence of one of
the things a bare house is, the plain shell, in which the fates of successive families shall live as they may, can best be realized
in this dark room in front of the kitchen, for it is scarcely used, and is never opened to the open daylight, and is nearly empty,
and there reside there mainly the mere walls, and floor, and roof, facing one another and one center as pine mirrors.

But of this room I can only make these suggestions, and can tell very little about it, of another kind.

In the room

The way in is by the kitchen door. The hall door and the shutters are nailed shut. Because it is so constantly closed, the heat
and darkness and wood odor are different here from elsewhere in the house; and because it is so little used the silence is so
powerfully impacted and compounded upon itself that it is almost a solid block, stretching the walls apart
. What light there is
comes in by the gap above the hall, and by the eaves, and through the many imperfections of the walls and roof, splintering on
the floor. There is an odor of sackcloth and a dry odor of storage and of a vault or tomb. Along the north wall there are long
shelves with jars on them. From a nail by the kitchen door hang four or five cobs of red and yellow popcorn, years old. To-
ward the middle of the floor are several sacks, some full, some empty.
Up in the high roof a wasp cruises, stricken now and
then by sunlight; at such instants he is an electric spark
. There are dim smoky cobwebs on beams in corners. Excepting a path
along the shelves and to the sacks,
it is a floor of gentlest, rat-trailed dust, so full the grain of wood is hardly visible. Nothing
else is in the room. One of the sacks is heavy, its head nodded above its belly, it is two-thirds full of cornmeal. Another is part
full of dried peas. Another is light, full of unshelled peas. Several lie empty. They will hold peas and meal for the winter. Out at
their left are scraps of shattered leaves and twigs. They are peanut leaves, a good feed for stock. There is also a floursack
nearly full of dried peaches. Along the shelves, using very little of their space, stand perhaps three dozen mason jars of which
about twenty are empty, and fifteen or twenty jelly glasses, of which six or eight are being used: apple and wild berry jellies and
jams, and canned peaches, tomatoes, string beans: One or two have already begun to fester. There is almost none of last winter
left here now, but at this time of summer, the shelves are beginning to be banked against next winter. By cold weather, every
jar here will be used, and every other that Mrs. Gudger can get


I LIE where I lay this dawn.)

If I were not here; and I am alien; a bodyless eye; this would never have existence in human perception.

It has none. I do not make myself welcome here. My whole flesh; my whole being; is withdrawn upon nothingness.
Not even so much am I here as, last night, in the dialogue of those two creatures of darkness. What is taking
place here, and it happens daily in this silence, is intimately transacted between this home and eternal space;

and consciousness has no residence in nor pertinence to it save only that, privileged by stealth to behold,
we fear this legend: withdraw; bow down; nor dare the pride to seek to decipher it:

At this certain time of late morning, then, in the full breadth of summer, here in this dark and shuttered
room, through a knothole near the sharp crest of the roof, a signal or designation is made each day in sil-
ence and unheeded. A long bright rod of light takes to its end, on the left side of the mantel, one of the
small vases of milky and opalescent glass; in such a way, through its throat, and touching nothing else, that
from within its self this tholed phial glows its whole shape on the obscurity, a sober grail, or divinity lo-
cal to this home; and no one watches it, this archaic form, and alabastrine pearl, and captured paring of the
phosphor moon, in what inhuman piety and silent fear it shows: and after a half minute it is faded and is
changed, and is only a vase with light on it, companion of a never-lighted twin, and they stand in wide bal-
ance on the narrow shelf; and now the light has entirely left it, and oblates its roundness on the keen thumb-
print of pine wall beside it, and this, slowly, slides, in the torsion of the engined firmament, while the
round rind of the planet runs in its modulations like a sea, and along faint Oregon like jackstrewn matches,
the roosters startling flame from one another, the darkness is lifted, a steel shade from a storefront.

Here also, his noise a long drawn nerve behind him, the violin wasp returns to his house in the angle of the
roof, is silent a half minute, and streams out again beneath eaves upon broad light.

But he: he is not unwelcome here: he is a builder; a tenant. He does not notice; he is no reader of signs.

The return

But now on that hill whose mass is hung as a wave behind us I hear her voice and the voices of her children,
in knowledge of those hidden places I have opened, those griefs, beauties, those garments whom I took out,
held to my lips, took odor of, and folded and restored so orderly, so reverently as cerements, or priest the
blessed cloths, I receive a strong shock at my heart
, and I move silently, and quickly.

When at length I hear the innocence of their motions in the rear of the hall, the noise of the rude water and
the dipper, I am seated on the front porch with a pencil and an open note- book, and I get up and go toward

In some bewilderment, they yet love me, and I, how dearly, them; and trust me, despite hurt and mystery, deep
beyond making of such a word as trust.

It is not going to be easy to look into their eyes.

0N THE Woods' and Ricketts' houses I must be much more brief. Do not, through the relative brevity, presume
that they are more sparsely furnished, or that they seem to me of less significance, than the Gudgers' house.


The Woods' house is set quite far back from the road as I have described. It faces south: first a short yard
of tough thick grass and weeds, next its garden plot, whose palings are half down, and beyond this a long
deep field of very moderately good cotton. Out at the right of the house there are a log corn- crib, a small
and rotted barn, and a large convulsed apple tree whose yield is small and sour.
It is a three-room house:
two raoms built end to end and a kitchen leaned-to the far room from the barn. The single, west room, had an
opening for a front door and the marks of steps which no longer exist. In front of the door into the far room,
there is a porch. It is of soft pine, broken through in one place, and ragged at all the outward ends of the
boards. During the afternoon a quilt is hung across nails between two of the posts to guard off the sun.
There are two windows in the west room, glassed, and with thin white curtains, and three in the east room,
glassed, with no curtains, and one glassed window about eighteen inches square in the kitchen, whose main
light and ventilation comes through two opposite doors,
one into the yard, the other into the front room.
The west room is a bedroom, about ten by twelve feet, empty of floor furniture except for a small tin trunk,
a broken hickory-bottom chair, and a three-quarter bed of florid iron spread with a mainly white quilt of
uncommonly talented pattern.I On the wall beyond this bed hangs a blunt officer's sword in a rusted scabbard;
it was used by an ancestor of Mrs. Woods. Next the door there is a mirror in an early to middle nineteenth
century frame of pressed and rusty tin: stars, and an eagle grasping crossed thunder javelins. Along the
back wall from nails hang overalls, shirts, and a dirty dress, and a clean dress on a wire hanger.

The east room, about ten feet square, is the combined bedroom and sitting-room. The iron bed is so weak in
its joints that Woods has nailed it into the wall. It is
unmade and is flung over with a wrecked quilt nearly
dead-gray with dirt, the dark, crudded cotton leaking from its wounds
. Though none of the outside of the house
has ever been touched, the walls of this room and of the kitchen have been whitewashed and between the resi-
nous streakings of the grain, the wash still thinly shows. There is an iron ice-cream chair here with a home-
made seat of fresh bright pine: and on one table, next the lamp, a pot of paper flowers stemmed with still
bright tin; and above this, on the wall, 'Just a Prayer at Twilight,' and on the rear wall, a photograph with
caption, cut from some inexplicable magazine, of Barbara Drake, aged three, and of John B. Drake III, aged
perhaps six, of Chicago, who has already
perfected the poisonous expression which in due time will serve him
so well in his social-financial-sexual career.
The caption is 'The Little Drakes,' and they sit beside water.

The kitchen, eight feet square, contains chiefly a small and heroic wood stove which has already served the
lifetime of one family and is well into another. It falls a little further beyond adequate repairing, however,
each time they move, and Woods is sure that the rigors of one more moving will end its usefulness for good.

In the opposite side of the kitchen is a small bare table from which they eat; and on the walls, what you may
see in one of the photographs.

The Woods' spring

Out behind, ten feet or so of scarred red yard, then the dirt is sharply bent and goes steeply down sixty feet
to a near-level: and a little out beyond the lower edge of this bank, a small warm spring, guarded in wooden
walls. The bank is steep enough that much of it must be climbed on the hands and knees: but that is necessary
only when the device for getting water breaks down. This device, which stands close at the edge of the yard,
is called a lazyboy. It consists in a windlass, a rope, a bucket, and a heavy rock. The bucket, which is bat-
tered nearly shapeless, is let fall rapidly, for the fun of it; the stone ballast insures that it will strike
the water right and fill itself. The rope is sectioned together of pieces of sheeting, small rope, and clothes-
line, and is frayed in several places to parts of a single strand and is knotted and reknotted where it has
broken almost in every foot: the windlass is so insecurely mounted that on the uphill winding it is necessary
to guard it against collapse with one hand while you wind with the other: and even so, a third to half the
water is sloshed out by the time the bucket comes within reach. Sometimes it will go without much trouble as
long as two or three days on end; then, as if it had taken it into its head to be contrary, the rope slips its pull-
ey at the far end, or the crank slips loose under the guarding hand, or the rope breaks in mid-climb, and the
whole bucket goes banging to hell and has to be gone down after, as many as one trip in any two.

This water, as I have said, is warm and has an ugly, feathery, sickening taste; they believe it is full of fe-
ver. And they strongly attribute this sickness of the water to the fact that the spring is also used by a fam-
ily of negroes who live beneath them in the hollow. For this reason Pearl will hide in watch at the top of her
bank and, when the negro children appear (they always come as a pair; they're afraid to come alone), or even
the father and mother, pelts down rocks at them which she has collected, and chunks of wood
. And in retalia-
tion, the children have a few times had the courage to slip the rope from its pulley, or once, even, to stand
there and empty the bucket three times in a row before, coming to their senses, they stopped laughing and ran
as hard as they could go into the woods below. But mainly they know better than to fight back, and try simply
to come for their water at times of day when they will be least expected.


THE Gudgers' and Woods' houses are solidly of the tenant type and were that when they were new and first built.
The Ricketts, living in sight of Woods a few hundred yards further up the road, occupy an entirely different sort
of place: that is, a house which was originally the property of the man who lived in it, a small-farmer, not a tenant,
and designed and constructed in the order of his class. Whereas, for instance, their houses are of the simplest
kind of expanded crate construction imaginable, and are low in proportion to their ground space, and are made of
knotty lumber which has never been painted or even whitewashed, this Ricketts home is built as an ordinary lower-
middle-class frame house is, and simulates both solidity to the earth and the height and bulk of a second floor
which it lacks, and
the exterior wood is still rubbed with the last dust and scalings of a dull yellow paint with
chocolate trim
. Moreover, and again as they are not, it is overhung by two strong large shade trees, and there is
a flowering bush in the rubbed, bare, and large though shapeless yard; the barn, though it is now
shattered into
the look of makeshift and weathered white silver
, is barn-size, with actual stalls and a hayloft; and beyond the far
side of the house there is a wide pit of rocks and rotted planks surrounding a narrower shaft,
....at the bottom of
this shaft, the scummed and sullen glitter of a former well, and behind the house another pit and other rotted planks
and a sudden violent spume of weeds
where there was once a privy: in fact, a very different and at first glance
more prosperous type of establishment; but this man, whoever he may have been, evidently lost his house and
land, however much he may have cared for and tried to keep it, and probably by foreclosure, and in all probability to

the Margraves brothers, who now own it, and who drew most of their twenty-six hundred acres from beneath the
feet of just such families and by just such careful observation of the letter of the law: and this regardless of the
fact that it was from just such a family of small-farmers that they themselves came:
so now the house and land
are let to tenants; and for four years the tenants have been Fred Ricketts and his family.

The long side lies along the road. First the side porch and kitchen; next the bedroom, connected with the kitc-
hen by a windowless hall bedroom just wide and long enough to hold a three-quarter bed and still allow passage:
this bedroom is the front of the house, which is at right angles to the road. All across the front of it is a
wide porch, the roof so deep and overhanging that little light can get in by the window on this side: beyond
this porch another large square room built in a unit to itself; and between this and the main house, the porch
is extended fifteen feet or so back along the side of the house, where in the last five feet its rotted boards
are broken beneath a broken roof, and above a shallow and evil-smelling pit which was once a basement; and be-
yond this, an open stretch of high weeds, and the garden palings, and forward and swept wide on the left, a
large field of cotton which joins the Woods' land; and living here, a man and his wife and seven of the fif-
teen children they have brought into existence.

The front porch is the social and resting place and is kept nearly clear of junk. The floor gives very notice-
ably, with sounds of warning, under the legs or rockers of any chair an adult weight sits in, and is caved in
in a number of places; yet in general it is still safe, and the unsteady hickory-bottom and the kitchen rocker,
its broken seat stopped with a cushion, which are not needed at the kitchen table, are always there, along with
Clair Bell's infant-size chair.

The side porch along the kitchen is utilitarian: it is littered and in one corner stacked high with lard tins,
muleshoes, broken pieces of machinery and tools, all such things as cannot properly be called junk because they
are here in the idea that a use will be found for them; and the washstand and cistern are also here.
The wash
basin is an old and dented hub-cap of the wide disk kind, and there is no soap because it is foolish to waste
money that can be eaten with on soap when any fool knows there is nothing cleaner than water. The drinking and
cooking water is caught off the roof and routed through crumpled gutterpipes
into storage beneath the porch.
How sound the walls of this cistern are seems to me of possible importance, 'esthetically' at least, because
the wide hole in the hall, porch above the former basement, about fifteen feet away, is used for nocturnal con-
Because this cistern water must be used as sparingly as possible even for drinking and cooking if
they are to avoid using the fever-water the Woods have to use
, and even so is usually exhausted during the hot
part of the summer, the laundry is always done at the Woods' spring, a third of a mile and a steep hill away:
and because of this, and
because, too, degrees of dirt and the bearable or proper are in a sense so highly
relative and social in conception, the laundry is almost never done, and beyond their faces and hands the peo-
ple, and their clothing and bedding, and their pans and dishes, and their house, are generally by standards
other than their own insanely or completely dirty, or almost beyond possibility of being dirtier, short of a de-
liberated or cult-like acquisition of dirtiness.

Here again as at the Gudgers' there are four rooms; but here again that does not mean what it appears to. The
room built independent of the house, though it is quite large, and is the best lighted part of the house, is
not used to live in. Several of the windowpanes are broken out and though some of these are stopped with rags
and with squares of cardboard, that is not enough: for
the whole rear wall of the fireplace is burst through,
letting in a large hole of daylight
, and the stone chimney has fallen in on itself; and so this room is of no
use for living, and there is no furniture in it, but only
the odor of apples and the nearly fainting munificent
odor of warm muskmelons, in their time, or during picking season the terrible ether odor of hot stored cotton.

At the center of the stone chimney, between two windows, and in line above
the stove-in tunnel of bright gasp-
ing country
, hang a hat and a sign. The hat is round, and is homemade of brilliant cornshucks. The sign is
made on the smooth side of a rectangle of corrugated cardboard, in blue crayon, part in print and part in a
lopside running hand, and reads:




and is the relic of a religious effort I will speak of later.

So the living is done in three rooms, the kitchen very spacious, perhaps fifteen feet long by twelve wide, so
that in its meager and widely spaced furnishing and empty floor it seems larger than it is; and the front bed-
room twelve feet square, filled up thick, mainly with two beds; and the third connecting room so small, dark,
and stifled that it seems hardly honest to count it as a 'room.'

But all these three rooms are dark, for that matter. It is partly because of the set of the windows, but it is
still more that the once whitewashed walls are so dirty. They have
in the course of years absorbed smoke and
grease and dirt into a rich dark patine so labored into the wood that sweeping and scrubbing affect it as scarcely
as if it were iron;
so that even in the kitchen, where two windows are not shaded with porch or trees, but are
free to the sky's whole blaze, the brightness though powerful is restricted, fragile and chemical like
that of a flash bulb, and is blunted or drowned in the iron blackness of every wall.

These faced surfaces also compel upon the room a steel-hard fragrance of their own and in this air amorphous
and hairy as Spanish moss, as slab as old wet garments and corrupted meats, hang the odors of the bedding, and
of the cooking, and of the people in the sweating and sleeping between whose hands their living is cradled: but
this becomes bearable and generalized, indeed nearly unnoticeable, so that the odor of the eating-table, in the
kitchen, is a thing in itself: for here the oilcloth is rotted away into scarcely more than a black net, and the
cloth and the wood have stored up smoke and rancid grease and pork and corn and meat to a degree which
extends a six-foot globe of almost uncornbatable nausea thick and filming as sprayed oil.

In the front room, parallel, heads opposite the fireplace, and filling all their part of the room except the
path to the door between them, are two beds not of iron but of wood. One of these beds is of simply designed
and not very heavy wood; the other is of
dark, heavy and ornate victorian wood, high and florid at the head a-
gainst the
dark plank wall, and scarred and chopped with many years of use, and these are spread with nearly
black gashed quilts, considerably further gone than are ordinarily found on dump heaps, and at the heads are
pillows, some bare and some in slips, in either case the ticking or slip-cloths
torn and reduced to a fester-
ed gray and the urine yellow that is the stain of hair.

The Ricketts' fireplace

The fireplace opposite these beds is broad and high, and handsome in its Greek panelings.

The Ricketts are much more actively fond of pretty things than the other families are, and have lived here
longer than they have, and in obedience of these equations
the fireplace wall is crusted deep with attractive
pieces of paper into the intricate splendor of a wedding cake or the fan of a white peacock: calendars of
snowbound and staghunting scenes pressed into bas-relief out of white pulp and glittering with a sand of red
and blue and green and gold tinsel, and delicately tinted; other calendars and farm magazine covers or adver-
tisements of dog-love; the bless6d fireside coziness of the poor; indian virgins watching their breasts in
pools or paddling up moonlit aisles of' foliage; fullblown blondes in luminous frocks leaning back in swings,
or taking coca-cola through straws, or beneath evening palmleaves, accepting cigarettes from young men in
white monkey-coats, happy young housewives at resplendent stoves in sunloved kitchens
, husbands in tuxedos
showing guests an oil furnace, old ladies leaning back in rocking chairs, their hands relaxed in their need-
lework, their faces bemused in lamplight, happy or mischievous or dog-attended or praying little boys and
great rosy blue-eyed babies sucking their thumbs to the bone in clouds of pink or blue, closeups of
young women bravely and purely facing the gravest problems of life in the shelter of lysol, portraits of cakes,
roasts of beef, steaming turkeys, and decorated hams,
little cards by duplicate and a series depicting inci-
dents in the life of Jesus with appropriate verses beneath,
rich landscapes with rapid tractors in the fore-
ground, kittens snarled in yarn, or wearing glasses, or squinting above pink or blue bows, white bulldogs in
tophats wearing monocles, girls in riding-habits making love to the long heads of horses, color photographs
of summer salads, goateed and ruddy colonels smiling over cups of coffee or receiving Four Roses whiskey
from vicariously delighted negroes,
slenderly drawn little girls, boys, adolescent girls, adolescent boys, and
young matrons in new play frocks, rompers, two-part playsuits, school frocks, school suits, first-party dresses,
first long suits, sports sweaters, house frocks, afternoon frocks, and beach slacks, dickensians at Christmas
dinner, eighteenth-century gentlemen in a tavern, medievalists at Christmas dinner, country doctors watching
beside sick children, three-quarter views of locomotives at full speed, young couples admiring newly acquired
brown and brocade davenports: all such as these overlaid in complexes and textured with the names and num-
berings of days months years and phases of the moon and with words and phrases and names such as ---'s
Shoes; -Furniture, Hay, Grain and Feed, Yellow Stores, Gen'l Merchandise, Kelvinator, Compliments of, Wist
ye not that I am about my Father's Business, Mazola, Railroad Age, Maxwell House, They Satisfy, Mexico Mex-
ico, The Pause that Refreshes, Birmingham, The Progressive Farmer, After Six, Congoleum, Farm and Fireside,
Love's Gift Divine, You Can't Afford JVOT, Soft, Lovely Hands, You Owe It to Her, You Owe It to Him, You Owe
It to Them, Country Gentleman, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me but for your children, and your child-
ren's children, Energize, Save, At Last, Don't Be a Stick-in-the-Mud, et cetera.'

The connecting room is entirely furnished and filled by an iron three-quarter bed and, on the facing wall,
by clothes very thickly hung from nail-heads. The two eldest daughters sleep here; four of the younger
children sleep in the simpler of the two other beds. Mr. and Mrs. Ricketts and Clair Bell sleep in the
large bed. The children sleep either in short shirts or entirely naked.

The kitchen contains the table I have spoken of, surrounded by chairs and a bench; another chair stands
out in the middle of the room; near the corner opposite the table is
a large, very old, nearly unmanage-
able, and almost inconceivably foul stove, stacked with unwashed pans
; and next this a broken table whose
unpainted wood surface is coal black and on which the biscuit dough is made.
These are the entire contents
of the kitchen.


These notes, which might well be the proper device for any amount of expansion, redefinition and linkage,
must be just as brief as I can make them. It will probably be necessary to make unsupported statements, and
to raise problems rather than to try to answer them. Of the unsupported statements, please know that I have
considered their backgrounds as scrupulously as I am able; and of the problems, that I want to 'answer'
or at least to consider them as fully as possible in the course of time.


It is my belief that such houses as these approximate, or at times by chance achieve, an extraordinary
'beauty.' In part because this is ordinarily neglected or even misrepresented in favor of their shortcom-
ings as shelters; and in part because their esthetic success seems to me even more important than their
functional failure; and finally out of the uncontrollable effort to be faithful to my personal predilect-
ions, I have neglected function in favor of esthetics. I will try after a little to rectify this (not by
denial); but at present, a few more remarks on the 'beauty' itself, and on the moral problems involved in
evaluating it.

The houses are built in the
'stinginess,' carelessness, and traditions of an unpersonal agency; they are
of the order of 'company' houses. They are furnished, decorated and used in the
starved needs, traditions
and naiveties of profoundly simple individuals
. Thus there are conveyed here two kinds of classicism, es-
sentially different yet related and beautifully euphonious. These classicisms are created of economic need,
of local availability, and of local-primitive tradition: and in their purity they are the exclusive property and
privilege of the people at the bottom of that world.
To those who own and create it this 'beauty' is, how-
ever, irrelevant and undiscernible. It is best discernible to those who by economic advantages of training
have only a shameful and thief's right to it: and it might be said that they have any 'rights' whatever only
in proportion as they recognize the ugliness and disgrace implicit in their privilege of perception.
The usual
solution, non-perception, or apologetic perception, or contempt for those who perceive and value it, seems
to me at least unwise. In fact it seems to me necessary to insist that
the beauty of a house, inextricably
shaped as it is in an economic and human abomination, is at least as important a part of the fact as the
abomination itself: but that one is qualified to insist on this only in proportion as one faces the brunt of
his own 'sin' in so doing and the brunt of the meanings, against human beings, of the abomination itself.

But consider this merely as a question raised: for I am in pain and uncertainty as to the answers, and can
write no more of it here.'

Another question comes up, of course: are things 'beautiful' which are not intended as such, but which are
created in convergences of chance, need, innocence or ignorance, and for entirely irrelevant purposes?
I can only answer flatly here: first, that intended beauty is far more a matter of chance and need than the
power of intention, and that 'chance' beauty of 'irrelevances' is deeply formed by instincts and needs pop-
ularly held to be the property of 'art' alone: second, that matters of 'chance' and 'nonintention' can be
and are 'beautiful' and are a whole universe to themselves. Or:
the Beethoven piano concerto #4 IS impor-
tantly, among other things, a 'blind' work of 'nature,' of the world and of the human race; and the part-
ition wall of the Gudgers' front bedroom IS importantly, among other things, a great tragic poem.

Relations and averages

Briefly again, I want to relate these houses to 'the tenant average' (or averages), so far as I know it, and
to other relevant southern houses.

By location or setting in the land, the Gudgers' house is far false to the average: the land is much too un-
even, the house is too remote, the cultivated land of one farm is closely walled in by thick woods. By all
this appearance it better suggests a frontier house in 1800 in newly cleared country, or a 'mountaineer's'
home, than a tenant's.

The Woods' and Ricketts' setting is better. A lonely two miles of low hill road, among a dozen used and three
or four abandoned houses, it meets very well one important 'average': that of the inhabitants of the little
back roads in
the rarely traveled, deeply populated and huge country which lies between the inconceivably
narrow horizons of the highways
. Yet I must emphatically mention that by still another and perhaps more
common 'average,' tenants live in nearly flat and much less timbered country, enough houses in sight of one
another to give a sense of a world: so that there is, in a two-mile horizon, or the fledging of a lonely road,
the 'feeling' of seeing a large yet little part of an enormously populated yet as enormously attenuated one-
trade and monotone city: i.e. a city of nine million, stretched thin against a cottonfield which in turn is drawn
over earth three hundred miles one way and sixteen hundred the other.

Again, in certain respects of outward frame and appearance, none of these houses meets an average.

The 'averages' might briefly be described thus:

The one-room shack is of vertical planks, a door at center front and center rear, square shuttered glassless
windows, a chimney of clay and sticks; the house is, save for the roof, an almost perfect cube.

The two-room is more often than not a three-room, the third being a leanto. This house is most often made
of vertical planks, yet quite often of horizontals, clapboards, or even weatherboards or matched edges.
often a small glass window in the kitchen leanto; the others are square and shuttered. The two doors are at
center front and rear, and there is usually a small roofed front porch. The rooms, all end-to-end so that the
facade is two rooms wide.

All tenant houses have pretty strongly in common these characteristics: wood unpainted and weathered or once
white-washed and weathered;
raised off the ground so that earth and daylight are clear under the whole of them;
one of two or three of the simplest conceivable designs; hard bare dirt yard; either no shade or that of a bush;
no trees near, the low house is much the tallest thing in sight; no flowers or very few; other very similar or
even identical houses visible, several at once, yet in each a look of deep remoteness and solitude; the out-
buildings small and low beyond proportion to a 'farm';
the house very clearly an enlarged crate or box, scarce-
ly modified to human use; in the whole establishment the look of the utmost possible extreme of flimsiness
and nudity.

Such a house can be mistaken for nothing else in its country except, occasionally, the home of the weakest and
poorest sort of small-owner. In turn, what you think of as his 'type' of house can easily turn out to be inhab-
ited by a tenant.

By first appearance Ricketts' place is that of a sloppy but by no means hopeless small-farmer. Seen more clearly,
it could still as easily as not be the home of an owner at the bottom of the owning class.

Neither the Woods' nor the Gudgers' house would at all likely belong to a small-owner, no matter how small.

On the other hand, and though they fulfill any number of the 'average' tenant characteristics, they differ ser-
iously in this respect: that they lack the rigid and mass-produced look which comes of the near-identities of
the most usual forms. The Gudgers' double-house type, with the open hallway, which incidentally is one of
the finest designs I know of, is rare, and must be derived of the double-houses of square logs which were the
homes of the more substantial frontier and mountain farmers. The Woods' house by outward shape, shallow, with
broad facade and leanto, is nearest the standard or class in tenant type; but having begun as a one-room shack
it has two front doors, neither of them at center in the purest boxlike fashion: and I could wish, too, that
its walls were of verticals and that it was less closely neighbored by trees.

As against other houses in the vicinity: almost no one in the rural and small-town south lives 'well' or 'hand-
somely'; the houses aren't even 'kept up' as they are, for instance, in Ohio or New England; and by general it
would be said that
everyone lives in homes equivalent to the homes of those a full category worse off in the
economic-social scale than in the north
: with the rare splendor and size of the pre-war plantation mansions van-
ished, and with the tenant-style home emerged beneath the scale of northern analogy; and, by lack of upkeep or
a tradition or fear enforcing upkeep, with each category looking a full grade 'poorer' again than it was by ori-
ginal design.

Further comments on relations and averages

The tenant house as a shell is, then, a thing to itself, created by the tenant system, but having much in common
with southern company houses in general. But beyond that, to talk as if tenantry as such were responsible, as
is often done or seldom guarded against, is dishonest or ridiculous or ignorant, or in any case deceptive and
dangerous. It is dangerous because by wrong assignment of causes it persuades that the 'cure' is possible
through means which in fact would have little effect save to delude the saviors into the comfortable idea that
nothing more needed doing, or even looking-to. It is deceptive because, in point of fact,
by furnishing, by dec-
oration, by crudeness of physical function as shelter, by nearly all that is held to be 'disgraceful' or 'disad-
vantageous' in the tenant homes, these homes have any amount more than less in common with the homes of the
whole poorest class of the owning cotton farmers
, and with the whole tribe and twinned race of the poorest hu-
man beings in the rural and small town and in considerable degree in the urban south; the economic source is
nothing so limited as the tenant system but is the whole world-system of which tenantry is one modification;
and there are in the people themselves, and in the land and climate,
other sources quite as powerful but less
easy to define, far less to go about curing: and they are, to suggest them too bluntly, psychological, semantic,
traditional, perhaps glandular.
I may as well add here that this spread beyond responsibility of the tenant
system is true also of every other aspect of disadvantage in their physical and mental living. Pardon so much
repetition of what must be obvious to anyone of any semblance of intelligence, but I understand that this part-
icular subject of tenantry is becoming more and more stylish as a focus of 'reform,' and
in view of the people
who will suffer and be betrayed at the hands of such 'reformers,' there could never be enough effort to pry
their eyes open even a little wider.


None of the tenants and few landlords have any clear idea of the age of any of the houses, nor can this easily
be guessed of the houses themselves, for they have been built in exactly the same patterns and of the same mater-
ials for generations: Jesse James' birthplace, for instance (1847), is indistinguishable from tens of thousands
of houses all over the south today, Gudger's house is very new (1928), and, excepting the hardness of its wood,
is already, in the sense of scale that country imposes, timelessly ancient. The oldest part of Woods' house is I
would judge forty to sixty years old; Ricketts,' about fifty. But former slave quarters are still used here and
there, and from the beginning the tenant types have held a primitive common denominator which has had no reason
to change.

General habitability

It is very easy, by mention of, for instance, a fireplace, to make a home or room seem more or less well-ap-
pointed than it actually is: also, in my enthusiasm for certain aspects, I have neglected others. I want here
briefly to review the houses in terms of their function as shelter.

Even when a wall or roof passes the 'daylight' test, i.e., if, in a darkened room, no light leaks through seams,
it is a very poor protection indeed against the weather, particularly the wind wet and coldness of winter: for
it is only one thin thickness of wood, surrounding a space which cannot be properly heated. Moreover, a tenant
house is open to the weather from all six sides, for the floor is raised, and there are seldom protection boards
between floor and earth; and ceilings are not at all common. Holes and broken windows are stopped as well as may
be with rags, papers, ropes, raw cotton, and cardboard, but none of this is more than a fraction effective.
the Ricketts have double walls and, in their bedroom, a big enough fireplace to heat the room. The others are
large enough only to heat their immediate vicinity; their chimneys are badly made and do not draw well; the fires
cannot be kept going at night; the bedding is ragged and inadequate; the uncarpeted floors are very cold.' The
warmest and best-protected room at the Gudgers' is the kitchen. It is too warm in summer. The worst room at the
Woods' is the kitchen. It is too cold in winter. The Ricketts' kitchen is too large for comfort in winter. The
only screen on all three farms is one at Gudger's. Aside from this, windows and doors are shut tight at night, in
winter against cold, in summer by custom, and against 'the night air,' and against fever mosquitoes. As I have
pointed out, two of Gudger's four rooms are so badly made as to be uninhabitable.
There is no possibility of pri-
vacy at any time for any purpose. The water facilities are such as to hold laundering and personal cleanliness at
or beneath its traditional minimum; to virtual nullity during the cold months of the year, and, in the case of the
Ricketts and Woods, the water is very probably unhealthful. The beds, the bedding, and the vermin are such a
crime against sex and the need of rest as no sadistic genius could much improve on. The furniture in general
and the eating implements are all at or very near the bottom of their scale: broken, insecure, uncomfortable,
ill-smelling, all that a man without money must constantly accept, when he can get it, and be glad of, or make
do. Since I have talked of 'esthetics' the least I can do is to add a note on it in their terms: they live in a steady
shame and insult of discomforts, insecurities, and inferiorities, piecing these together into whatever semblance
of comfortable living they can, and the whole of it is a stark nakedness of makeshifts and the lack of means: yet
they are also, of course, profoundly anesthetized. The only direct opinion I got on the houses as such was from
Mrs. Gudger, and it was, with the tears coming to her eyes, 'Oh, I do hate this house so bad! Seems like they ain't
nothing in the whole world I can do to make it pretty.' As for the anesthesia: it seems to me a little more unfortu-
nate, if possible, to be unconscious of an ill than to be conscious of it; though the deepest and most honest and
incontrovertible rationalization of the middle-class southerner is that they are 'used' to it.

'Sanitation' and Lighting

I cannot unqualifiedly excite myself in favor of Rural Electrification, for I am too fond of lamplight. Nor in
favor of flush toilets, for I despise and deplore the middle-class American worship of sterility and worship-
fear of its own excrement. Yet I will grant or for that matter insist it as important that kerosene light is to
electric services what foot and mule travel is to travel by auto and airplane, or what plowed clay is to pavement,
and that these daily facts and gulfs have incalculably powerful and in many respects disadvantageous influences
upon the mind and body. Because it is part of a similar gulf and lag, the lack of a flush toilet is also of great
importance. But here I need not be quite so qualified. These families lack not only 'plumbing' but the 'privies'
which are by jest supposed to be the property of any American farmer, and the mail-order catalogues which, a-
gain with a loud tee-hee, are supposed to be this farmer's toilet paper. They retire to the bushes; and they clean
themselves as well as they can with newspaper if they have any around the house, otherwise with corncobs, twigs,
or leaves. To say they are forced in this respect to live 'like animals' is a little silly, for animals have the
advantage of them on many counts. I will say, then, that whether or not The Bathroom Beautiful is to be preached
to all nations, it is not to their advantage in a 'civilized' world to have to use themselves as the simplest sav-
ages do.


Near Woods' barn on the way to the road there is a small wired enclosure of sloping grass, and during this quiet
time of the summer three mules, two of them Ricketts', spend most of their time pasturing there.
They are bony,
very tough, and badly scarred, and have in their eyes and slanted heads the Mongolian look which is common among
cruelly used animals. All three show the galled frames of their harness, and large deep red and green sores are
eaten against their more prominent bones: one is afflicted all over his back with some festered eruptive disease
peculiarly attractive to the largest of the flies, whose stinging is almost as painful as that of hornets, and ev-
ery three minutes or so, during hour after hour, after trying first to eat, and to walk under low branches, then,
after standing twitching all his hide, slashing with his tail, throwing his head around, and stamping and kicking,
still trying to chew the sulphur-colored mash, and finally tightening up, trembling all over, with all his strength
he bangs himself against the ground in a shock which you think you feel fifty and which you hear two hundred
yards away, and hoofs striking loose and wriggling, belly up, grinds his back so hard that the grass in that space
is ripped bare.

There is also a cow named Mooly, who, according to Mrs. Woods, would as soon kill the young ones as not, and who
one day last winter knocked Mrs. Woods down and stomped on her, cutting her shins badly, the scars still show, and
bruising her from head to foot. She is a young cow and has had one calf, and has been crazy in this way ever since
she lost him.

There is also a starved, red young hog, and I remember well how one morning he stood by the front steps fumbling,
with his jaws, at the tail of a black kitten, who crouched while this happened, and looked back over his shoulder
in apprehension, but who was himself too dazzled with hunger to move or to do more, at length, than spread his red
mouth in a scratchy, nearly soundless mew; or even very well to understand that he was being tried out for eating.
After a little, though, the hog lost interest and went on, and the kitten sat where he had crouched and licked his
thin rat's tail smooth of the jaw slime.

In fact each of the families owns and is drawn-round with animals, for work, for food, or by more vague functions:
a mule as one kind of center and leverage, a cow as another, a hog as still another, a dog in different meanings of
his own,
the tolerated tramp's and robber's life of the cat, the three generations of chickens, the peripheral or
parasitic or almost unmagnetized spheres of rats, vermin, insects, and serpents, all in turn sprung round with tend-
ed and with random vegetation
, and finally, those which lounge in the fields, and the many birds, and those who are
hunted; and in any proper account it would be necessary to give such a full record of all these in themselves and
in their mutual and human meanings and relationships as is impossible here: for, taking even a single center, the
human animals alone, they live in an immediate and most elaborate texture of other forms of existence, of the whole
need and fear and spread of nature on their part of the surface of the earth; and this fact is of a significance no
less powerful and shaping through the mere impossibility of measuring it. Yet here I can make only the briefest sort
of tally.

Gudger: the heavy, deranged yellow rooster of whom I have spoken. A clutter of obese, louse-tormented hens whose
bodies end dirtily, like sheaves of barley left in rain. Several neat broilers, and a few quilly, half-grown chicks
whose heads are still like lizards'. A pair of guineas whose small painted heads and metal bodies thread these sur-
roundings like the exotic glint of naturalistic dreams.
A sober, dark-brown, middle-sized dog named Rowdy, who,
though he is most strictly suggestible in his resemblance to Andre Gide, is nevertheless as intensely of his na-
tion, region, and class as Gudger himself. A puppy named Sipco. Two highlegged, rusty, flat-sided young hogs for
whom Gudger paid his landlord nine dollars when they were shoats. A cow, tethered from spot to spot in the green
stretches, and her calf. A half-grown reptilian cat named Nigger,~ so black he is iridescent in the sun. A name-
less adolescent tiger cat who just took up with them. And a rented mule, who was not on hand during our time

Gudger got the cow in exchange for a grafanola. She has never been much good for milk. The hogs will be fattened
and killed in the fall, for next winter. The hens furnish eggs in season and one of them is eaten every now and
then. Once in a while they find guinea eggs but guineas are wild and crafty in hiding their nests. In the fall,
Gudger usually affords a box of shells for the possibility of fresh meat and goes out to kill it: rabbits, squir-
rels, or possum. Rowdy is a fair rabbit dog when he puts his mind to it, but good for nothing else; he is kept be-
cause dogs are a habit. Sipco is Louise's pet. She picked him up from some people down across the highway. The
cats are good for nothing at all; it isn't often they even kill a rat.

Woods' animals, excepting the chickens, I have mentioned. He has no dog, and this alone would set him apart in
that country as an unconventional man. The Ricketts, besides their mules, have a good cow and a bull calf, three
dogs, very few chickens in ratio to the size of their family, a cat, and a kitten.
The dogs are all mongrel rural
hounds with the sycophantic eyes and hula hips
of their kind in that country, more hopeful and more pleasantly
treated than Rowdy, though hungrier. Indeed, they are almost
alarmingly rickety: yet they are fatted to blandness
as compared to the black kitten, not much bigger than a beetle, whose motions along the vast floors are those of
an impaired clockwork toy, and whose hide is drawn open red along the entire skeleton
. The names of two of the
dogs are Sport and Queenie. The cat, whose name is Hazel, which perfectly identifies her, is big enough to get
what food she needs. Two of the roosters are named Tom and George. Two of the hens are named Ivy and Annie
This naming of poultry is not common and indicates, if you like, the relative 'primitivism' of the Ricketts;
though it also indicates less sociological and more attractive things about them; though these in turn are more
difficult to define, or even to understand, and would be merely tiresome to those whose intelligence is set entir-
ely on Improving the Sharecropper, and who feel there's no time to waste on petty detail. These same rapid marchers
in the human vanguard will be equally uninterested in the fact that Mrs. Woods' mother calls babies coons and
baby chickens sings, or worse still will nod patronizing 'howsweet' approval or somehow manage to capitalize it
politically or against landowners as the unvanquishable poetry of the oppressed, but I will put it on record all
the same, and will venture to say that it is more valuable than they think it is, or, for that matter, than they

Children are strictly trained not to use cows too roughly: not, for instance, to kick their udders: it is liable to
damage the milk supply.
A mule is another matter. Even in harnessing him his head is knocked around some, and
in all his motions relevant to his users he is used with the gratuitous sort of toughness an American policeman
uses against anyone (except the right people) who happens to fall into his power: and this in part for the same
'reasons': get hard before the victim does; or before, in the case of the mule, he gets stubborn or tricky. And
in fact mules are in general balky and tricky; I think they are probably in part extremely intelligent and in part
insane, and are far less pliable to the reaction of the white, which is to beat, than to that of the negro, which,
though with its full share of cruelty, is to converse. In any case if a mule gets tricky, or still worse if he
balks, he is in for a physical contest and for hell with any average white farmer; and this farmer is liable to
be an expert within the whole range of bullying, battering, and torturing this particular animal, and to have pe-
culiarly urgent egoistic and sexual need to exert full violence and domination over something living, preferably
something at least as large and strong as himself.
It should be added, in further suggestion, that the mule stands
readier victim than any other animal because he is used in the main and most hopeless work, because he is an
immediate symbol of this work, and because
by transference he is the farmer himself, and in the long tandem har-
ness wherein members and forces of a whole world beat and use and drive and force each other, if they are to live
at all, is the one creature in front of this farmer
. But any proper set of suggestions, far less statements about
this, and about the causes and kinds of sadism in the South, would require more space, time, and understanding
than I have at present. Here I can only say that in the people of this country you care most for, pretty nearly
without exception you must reckon in traits, needs, diseases, and above all mere natural habits, differing from our
own, of
a casualness, apathy, self-interest, unconscious, offhand, and deliberated cruelty, in relation toward ex-
tra-human life and toward negroes, terrible enough to freeze your blood or to break your heart or to propel you
toward murder; and that you must reckon them as 'innocent' even of the worst of this
; and must realize that it is
at least unlikely that enough of the causes can ever be altered, or pressures withdrawn, to make much difference.

I could tell you details, most of them casual enough, in extension of what I am speaking of, and I could a good
deal further explain and guess at the causes, but I think I had better defer all of that until I have more room
and understand it better, and here will add only a few short notes.

Animals are fed and cared for in proportion to their usefulness: the cow and mule and hogs first, then the dogs,
et cetera. Cats are casually but thoroughly disliked and are given nothing; they are never fed, far less caressed;
yet their presence and certain forms of theft are tolerated. Or again: dogs are never kindly touched by adults,
unless they are puppies; the children play with them in the usual mixed affection and torture; the Gudgers feed
Rowdy rather irregularly from their plates, seldom with a floor plate of his own; the Ricketts put down a plate
for their dogs; the cats grab what they can at the end of a meal or from the dogs' plate. Children are very casual-
ly reproved, after the screaming has become noisy enough, for mistreatment of kittens; dogs, if they blunder into
the way or are slow in obeying an order, are kicked hard enough to crack their ribs, and, in that manner which
has inspired man to call them, in competition only with his mother, his best friend, offer their immediate apologies;
the sickness or suffering in sickness or death of any animal which has no function as food or power goes
almost unnoticed, though not at all unkindly so.

The snakes are blacksnakes, garter snakes, milk snakes, hoop snakes, bull snakes, grass snakes, water moccasins,
copperheads, and rattlers.
Milk snakes hang around barns and suck the cows' tits; hoop snakes take their tails in
their mouths and run off like hoops; bull snakes swell up and roar like a bull when they are cornered; grass snakes
are green, small, and pretty; rattlers are used as amulets by whites as well as negroes; copperheads are the worst
snakes of all.
None of these are common in the sense of daily appearance, but they are by no means rare, and during
the hot months of the year everyone is reasonably watchful where he walks--But it is unhappy to write of animals
when there is no time to write of them properly; so likewise with the plants: and so, in only a few more words,
the suggestion of what is textured within any one of these silent and simple-appearing horizons and of
what in and around even one of these blank wood houses is sewn into these human lives: on the leather land, and
sleeping of swamps, and sliding of streamed water, in light and deep shade,
are poured up hickories, red oaks, cot-
tonwoods, pines, junipers, cedars, chestnuts, locusts, black walnuts, swamp willow, crabapple, wild plum, holly,
laurel, chinaberry, May apple, arbutus, honeysuckle, trumpet vine, goldenrod, all kinds of wild daisies, many
ferns, corn, cotton, sorghum cane, watermelon vines, muskmelons, peanuts, yams, sweet potatoes, irish potatoes,
three kinds of bean, field peas, okra, tomatoes, turnips, fennel, ragweed, jimpson weed: and these are
through with the traffic and simmering of bees and of wasps and hornets and snakedoctors
, and with the needs and
the leisures of rabbits, red squirrels, gray squirrels, opossums, raccoons, wild razorbacks, wildcats, perhaps
rare foxes, and
spiders spread ghosts of suns between branches and start along water, and tadpoles and frogs are
in the water and frogs on the earth and trees, and arrowy minnows, and mud turtles, and land tortoises with their
curious odor, and
the trees are glanded with the nests of birds and the air is streamed and sparkled with their
singing, and ribboned and streamered with their flight
, the sparrows, ricebirds, thrushes, catbirds, mockingbirds,
jays, red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, and
groaning and flauting doves, the robins and the sharp wrens, the diamond
hummingbirds and their wincing song, sustained in their vibrating spheres
, and by night the screechowl and the
whippoorwill, the crickets and the roaring frogs, the luna dozing in the daylit swamp, the monarchs and the fields
flown low with yellow paper twinkling in the sun, and at the house,
the hens who dab and thud at the mealy dung
which the puppy or, weightily, the littlest child has disposed on the porch floor, and who, finished, clean their beaks
against the oak, their eyes blue with autoerotism,
the clatter of the swift and afric guineas, the wasps lance in the
eaves and the dark, hot roof, the corn and the trees move as if a great page were being turned, the cat stalks a
horned toad who will be too swift,
the flies do what they can between now and dinner time, the bedbugs sleep,
and so do the rats who tonight will skitter and thump and gnaw and fight the cats, and the dog dozes in shade, and
the white puppy, his bowels bursting with petrified food, waddles along the shaded back yard close against the house,
his nose to the bare clay, and out toward the spring the cow stands in the shade, working her jaws, and suspending
upon creation the wide amber holy lamp of her consciousness, and at a gap in his pen next winter's meat hopefully
dilates his slimy disk
: and dinner, and they are all drawn into the one and hottest room, the parents; the children;
and beneath the table the dog and the puppy and the sliding cats, and above it,
a grizzling literal darkness of flies,
and spread on all quarters, the simmering dream held in this horizon yet overflowing it, and of the natural world, and
eighty miles back east and north,
the hard flat incurable sore of Birmingham.

Meanwhile the floor, the roof, the opposed walls, the furniture, in their hot gloom: all watch upon one hollow
center. The intricate tissue is motionless. The swan, the hidden needle, hold their course. On the red-gold wall
sleeps a long, faded, ellipsoid smear of light. The vase is dark. Upon the leisures of the earth the whole home
is lifted before the approach of darkness as a boat and as a sacrament.

(On the Porch: 2

We LAY on the front porch. The boards were unplaned thick oak, of uneven length, pinned down by twenty-penny nails.
A light roof stuck out its tongue above us dark and squarely, sustained at its outward edge by the slippery trunks
of four young trees from which the bark had been peeled.
There were four steps down, oak two-by-twelves; the fourth,
when stepped on, touched the ground. These steps were at the middle of the porch. They led, across the porch,
into a roofed doorless hallway, about six feet wide, which ran straight through the house and clove it in half. There
was a floor to this hallway, of wide unplaned boards. Laid across beams too wide apart, they sagged beneath a heavy
foot. For ten feet toward the rear end they were only an inch from the ground. At the end they lay flush on

We lay on the front porch to the left of the hall as you enter. One of us lay on the rear seat of a chevrolet sedan,
the other on a piece of thin cotton-filled quilting taken from the seat of a divan made of withes. We exchanged these
night by night. The problem with the auto seat was its height on one side and lowness on the other, its shortness,
and its texture. By letting the center of your weight fall far enough on the high side it was possible to effect a
compromise by which you had the benefit of a fair amount of the width of the seat and yet were not rolled off it.
Lying with the head on the seat, the lower end gave out abruptly a few inches above the knee: so you slept best on
the back, or, curled, on the side. Sleeping on the belly, you made sustaining springs of your feet, and this was
slightly and invariably reminiscent of sexual intercourse. A handkerchief or towel under the cheek was helpful
while it lasted but generally managed to slip loose while you slept so that,
waking, your cheek was red and burnt
with the friction of warmed plush
. Before long, of course, it occurred to us to level up the seat by stacking books
under the low side. That was better; but even so, the springs were strong and large on one side and small and weak
on the other. Our bodies learned to adjust themselves to holding a tension of balance while they were unconscious.

Beyond a not unreasonable phobia that it contained bedbugs, or lice, or both, there was no difficulty about the
pallet. It was thin; the hard boards and their ridges printed themselves on the flesh distinctly through it. It was
short, but, being so thin, offered no inconvenience to the length of legbone. Its texture was soft and leaky. Here
again you spread a handkerchief or shirt or towel for your head; and again it was liable to get away from you.
ing, feeling on your face the almost slimy softness of loose cotton lint and of fragile, much washed, torn cotton
cloth, and immediately remembering your fear of the vermin it might be harboring, your first reactions were of light
disgust and fear, for your face, which was swollen and damp with sleep and skimmed with lint, felt fouled, secretly
and dirtily bitten and drawn of blood, insulted.
This always wore off within a few moments, but always on first wak-
ing you had it full strength.

We kept exchanging not because one was preferable to the other but because there was no way of making up our minds
that either was preferable. I perhaps very slightly preferred the pallet, in part because I like the finality and
immediacy of floors and too because the children were sleeping on pallets. The auto seat, like virtually every-
thing else about us, was not so near the norm of what we were living in as we might have wished. But the feeling
and sound of the yielding springs, the always slightly comic postures of your discommoded legs, and the texture of
plush, like a night on a daycoach, under the lips and cheeks, made it attractive under the body, and brought with
it, into a time of celibacy, a pleasing, nostalgic drift of memory and imagination. Even risking the Sportsmanlike
way in which this could be misread, and which I despise, neither of them was at all a bad bed.

The dead oak and pine, the ground, the dew, the air, the whole realm of what our bodies lay in and our minds in si-
lence wandered, walked in, swam in, watched upon, was delicately fragrant as a paradise, and, like all that is best,
was loose, light, casual, totally actual. There was, by our minds, our memories, our thoughts and feelings, some
combination, some generalizing, some art, and science; but none of the close-kneed priggishness of science, and
none of the formalism and straining and lily-gilding of art. All the length of the body and all its parts and func-
tions were participating, and were being realized and rewarded, inseparable from the mind, identical with it:
all, everything, that the mind touched, was actuality, and all, everything, that the mind touched turned immedia-
tely, yet without in the least losing the quality of its total individuality, into joy and truth, or rather, revealed,
of its self, truth, which in its very nature was joy, which must be the end of art, of investigation,
and of all anyhow human existence.

This situation is possible at any junction of time, space and consciousness: and just as (at least so far as we
can know and can be concerned) it is our consciousness alone, in the end, that we have to thank for joy, so too it
is our consciousness alone that is defective when we fall short of it. It is curious, and unfortunate, that we find
this luck so rarely; that it is so almost purely a matter of chance: yet that, as matters are, becomes inextrica-
bly a part of the whole texture of the pleasure:
at such a time we have knowledge that we are witnessing, taking
part in, being, a phenomenon analogous to that shrewd complex of the equations of infinite chance which became,
on this early earth, out of lifelessness, life.
No doubt we overvalue the difference between life and lifeless-
ness, but there is a certain difference, just as, in the situation we are speaking of, a difference is remarkable:
the difference between a conjunction of time, place and unconscious consciousness and a conjunction of time,
place and conscious consciousness is, so far as we are concerned, the difference between joy and truth and the
lack of joy and truth.
Unless wonder is nothing in itself, but only a moon which glows only in the mercy of a
sense of wonder, and unless the sense of wonder is peculiar to consciousness and is moreover an emotion
which, as it matures, consciousness will learn the juvenility of, and discard, or only gratefully refresh itself under
the power of as under the power of sleep and the healing vitality of dreams
, and all this seems a little more
likely than not, the materials which people any intersection of time and place are at all times marvelous, regard-
less of consciousness: and in either or any case
we may do well to question whether there is anything more marve-
lous or more valuable in the state of being we distinguish as 'life' than in the state of being of a stone, the
brainless energy of a star, the diffuse existence of space. Certainly life is valuable; indispensable to all our
personal calculations, the very spine of them:
but we should realize that life and consciousness are only the spe-
cial crutches of the living and the conscious, and that in setting as we do so high a value by them
we are in a
certain degree making a virtue of necessity; are being provincial; are pleading a local cause: like that small
Nevada town whose pride, because it is its chiefly discernible exclusive distinction, is a mineral spring whose
water, assisted by salt and pepper, tastes remarkably like chicken soup.

This lucky situation of joy, this at least illusion of personal wholeness or integrity, can overcome one sudden-
ly by any one of any number of unpredictable chances: the fracture of sunlight on the faqade and traffic of a
street; the sleaving up of chimneysmoke; the rich lifting of the voice of a train along the darkness; the memory
of a phrase of an inspired trumpet; the odor of scorched cloth, of a car's exhaust, of a girl, of pork, of bees-
wax on hot iron, of young leaves, of peanuts; the look of a toy fire engine, or of a hundred agates sacked in red
cheese-cloth; the oily sliding sound as a pumpgun is broken; the look of a child's underwaist with its bone but-
tons loose on little cotton straps; the stiffening of snow in a wool glove; the odor of kitchen soap, of baby
soap, of scorched bellybands: the flexion of a hand; the twist of a knee; the modulations in a thigh as someone
gets out of a chair: the bending of a speeding car round a graded curve: the swollen, blemished feeling of the
mouth and the tenacity and thickness of odor of an unfamiliar powder, walking sleepless in high industrial day-
break and need- ing coffee, the taste of cheap gin mixed with cheap ginger ale without much ice:
the taste of
turnip greens; of a rotted seed drawn from between the teeth; of rye whiskey in the green celluloid glass of
a hotel bathroom: the breath that comes out of a motion-picture theater: the memory of the piccolo notes which
ride and transfix Beethoven's pastoral storm: the odor of a freshly printed newspaper; the stench of ferns trap-
ped in the hot sunlight of a bay window; the taste of a mountain summer night: the swaying and shuffling beneath
the body of a benighted train; the mulled and branny earth beneath the feet in fall;
a memory of plainsong or of
the first half hour after receiving a childhood absolution; the sudden re-realization of a light-year in literal,
physical terms, or of the shimmering dance and diffuseness of a mass of granite: aside from such sudden attacks
from unforeseen directions, gifts which as a rule are as precarious and transient as the returns and illusions of
love for a girl one no longer loves,
there are few ways it can give itself to you. Wandering alone; in sickness;
on trains or busses; in the course of a bad hangover; in any rare situation which breaks down or lowers our habit-
ual impatience, superficial vitality, overeagerness to clinch conclusions, and laziness. We were at this time,
and in all the time surrounding it, in such a situation; nor could we for an instant have escaped it, even if we
had wished to.
At times, exhausted by it, we did wish to and did try, but even when our minds were most exhausted
and most deafened such breath as we got, and subsisted on, no matter what its change of constituence and odor (and
it now somewhat falsely seems to me that this change occurred with every breath drawn) was the breath of the same
continuous excitement; an excitement whose nature seems to me not only finally but essentially beyond the power of
an art to convey.

We lay on our backs about two feet apart in silence, our eyes open, listening. The land that was under us lay down
all around us and
its continuance was enormous as if we were chips or matches floated, holding their own by their
very minuteness, at a great distance out upon the surface of a tenderly laboring sea.
The sky was even larger.

Officially, so far as human beings were concerned; and literally; much of this great surface and Lpace of land had
fallen subject to the instruments and ritual actions of human need. Much of it was cultivated for immediate subsist-
ence or for somebody's profit. It was scattered with houses, most of them more like than unlike the house on whose
front porch we lay; thinly scattered with houses; much more thinly with towns; very remotely with cities.

Human beings, with the assistance of mules, worked this land so that they might live. The sphere of power of a sing-
le human family and a mule is small; and within the limits of each of these small spheres the essential human frail-
ty, the ultimately mortal wound which is living and the indignant strength not to perish, had erected against its
hostile surroundings this scab, this shelter for a family and its animals: so that the fields, the houses, the towns,
the cities, expressed themselves upon the grieved membrane of the earth in the symmetry of a disease: the literal
symmetry of the literal disease of which they were literally so essential a part.

The prime generic inescapable stage of this disease is being. A special complication is life. A malignant variant of
this complication is consciousness. The most complex and malignant form of it known to us is human consciousness.
Even in its simplest form this sore raises its scab: all substance is this scab: the scab and the sore are one. Tak-
ing shape and complexity precisely in proportion to the shape and complexity of the disease; identical with it, in
fact; this identical wound and scab fills out not merely all substance and all process and contrivance of substance
but the most intangible reaches of thought, deduction and imagination; the exactitude of its expression may be seen
in the skull that scabs a brain, in the deity the race has erected to shield it from the horror of the heavens,
the pressed tin wall of a small restaurant where some of the Greek disease persists through the persistence of a Ren-
aissance disease: in every thing within and probably in anything outside human conception; and in every combination
and mutation of these things: and in a certain important sense let it be remembered that in these terms, in terms,
that is to say, of the manifestations of being, taken as such, which are always strict and perfect, nothing can be
held untrue.
A falsehood is entirely true to those derangements which produced it and which made it impossible that
it should emerge in truth; and an examination of it may reveal more of the 'true' 'truth' than any more direct at-
tempt upon the 'true' 'truth' itself.

A few words also on symmetry:

On perfectly regular land, of perfectly regular quality, under perfectly regular weather or rhythms of weather, this
symmetry would have the simple absoluteness which in fact it approaches in parts of the middle west of this country,
just as by other roads, under other pressures,
it approaches simple absoluteness under the imposed rigors of a city,
a company town, a series of machines, utter poverty, a flower, a strongly organized religion, a sonata, or a beehive.

But it is a symmetry sensitive to shape and quality of land, to irregularities and chances of weather, to the chance
strength or weakness and productivity of the individual man or mule, to the chance or lack or efficacy or rela-
tive obsolescence of machinery, to meteorological, geological, historic, physical, biologic, mental chance: to other
matters which I lack the imagination here to consider. Yet of these irregularities of complex equations, which are
probably never repeated, inevitabilities infallibly take their shape. Symmetry as we use it here, then, needs a lit-
tle further examination. Because it is
a symmetry sensitive to so many syncopations of chance (all of which have
proceeded inevitably out of chances which were inevitable), it is in fact asymmetrical, like Oriental art. But also,
because it is so pliant, so exquisitely obedient before the infinite irregularities of chance, it reachieves the sym-
metry it had by that docility lost on a 'higher' plane: on a plane in any case that is more complex, more comprehen-
sive, born of a subtler, more numerous, less obvious orchestration of causes.
This asymmetry now seems to us to ex-
tend itself into a worrying even of the rigid dances of atoms and of galaxies, so that we can no longer with any cer-
titude picture ourselves as an egregiously complicated flurry and convolved cloud of chance sustained between two

This hearing and seeing of a complex music in every effect and in causes of every effect and in the effects of which
this effect will be part cause, and the more than reasonable suspicion that there is at all times further music inv-
olved there, beyond the simple equipment of our senses and their powers of reflection and deduction to apprehend,
'gets' us perhaps nowhere. One reason it gets us nowhere is that in a very small degree, yet an absolute one so far
as each of us is capable, we are already there: and we take another step still closer when we realize that the symme-
try and the disease are identical. In this small but absolute degree then, we are already there. That is one strong
argument in favor of art which proves and asserts nothing but which exists, as has been dangerously guessed at, for
its own sake. (It could also be said of 'problem' art that severe and otherwise insolvable human and spiritual prob-
lems are solved in every performance of, or for that matter in the silent existence of, say, Beethoven's quartet
Opus 131.)
It is a still stronger part of an argument, which, I grant, cannot apply on all 'levels' in all contexts,
against art of any sort from the most 'pure' to the most diluted or the most involved in matters supposedly irrele-
vant to art. How many, not only of the salient and obvious but more particularly of the casual passages in our ex-
perience, carry a value, joy, strength, validity, beauty, wholeness, radiance, of which we must admit not only that
they equal in their worthiness as a part of human experience, and of existence, the greatest works of art but, quite
as seriously, that
the best art quite as powerfully as the worst manages, in the very process of digesting them into
art, to distort, falsify and even to obliterate them.

Without any qualification and if necessary with belligerence I respect and believe in even the most supposedly 'fan-
tastic' works of the imagination. I am indeed ready to say, because with fair consistency I believe, that works of
the imagination (chiefly because I in a certain degree they create something which has never existed before, they
add to and somewhat clarify the sum total of the state of being, whereas the rest of the mind's activity is merely
deductive, descriptive, acquisitive or contemplative), advance and assist the human race, and make an opening in the
darkness around it, as nothing else can
. But art and the imagination are capable of being harmful, and it is proba-
bly neither healthy for them nor, which is more to the point, anywhere near true even to the plainest facts, to rate
them so singly high. It seems to me there is quite as considerable value (to say nothing ofjoy) in the attempt to
see or to convey even some single thing as nearly as possible as that thing is. I grant the clarifying power in this
effort of the memory and the imagination: but they are quite as capable of muddying as of clearing the water
and fre-
quently indeed, so frequently that we may suspect a law in ambush, they do both at the same time, clouding in one way
the thing they are clearing in another.

George Gudger is a human being, a man, not like any other human being so much as he is like himself. I could invent in-
cidents, appearances, additions to his character, background, surroundings, future, which might well point up and indi-
cate and clinch things relevant to him which in fact I am sure are true, and important, and which George Gudger un-
changed and undecorated would not indicate and perhaps could not even suggest. The result, if I was lucky, could be a
work of art.
But somehow a much more important, and dignified, and true fact about him than I could conceivably invent,
though I were an illimitably better artist than I am, is that fact that he is exactly, down to the last inch and in-
stant, who, what, where, when and why he is. He is in those terms living, right now, in flesh and blood and breathing,
in an actual part of a world
in which also, quite as irrelevant to imagination, you and I are living. Granted that be-
side that fact it is a small thing, and granted also that it is essentially and finally a hopeless one, to try merely
to reproduce and communicate his living as nearly exactly as possible, nevertheless I can think of no worthier and many
worse subjects of attempt.

The same seems to me true of every item in the experience of which I am speaking, and I could say it with equal sincer-
ity of conviction of all human experience. Moreover, and especially if you bear in mind such structures as those of
disease and symmetry I sketched out a little, I cannot see how such a piece of work could be small in intensity,
'truth,' complex richness and stature of form and nature, as compared with a work of art. Calling for the moment ever-
ything except art Nature, I would insist that everything in Nature, every most casual thing, has an inevitability and
perfection which art as such can only approach, and shares in fact, not as art, but as the part of Nature that it is;
so that, for instance, a contour map is at least as considerably an image of absolute 'beauty' as the counterpoints of
Bach which it happens to resemble.
I would further insist that it would do human beings, including artists, no harm to
recognize this fact, and to bear it in mind in their seining of experience, and to come as closely as they may be able,
to recording and reproducing it for its own, not for art's sake.

One reason I so deeply care for the camera is just this. So far as it goes (which is, in its own realm, as absolute any-
how as the traveling distance of words or sound), and
handled cleanly and literally in its own terms, as an ice-cold,
some ways limited, some ways more capable, eye, it is, like the phonograph record and like scientific instruments and
unlike any other leverage of art, incapable of recording anything but absolute, dry truth.

Who, what, where, when and why (or how) is the primal clichC and complacency of journalism: but I do not wish to ap-
pear to speak favorably of journalism. I have never yet seen a piece of journalism which conveyed more than the slight-
est fraction of what any even moderately reflective and sensitive person would mean and intend by those inachievable
words, and that fraction itself I have never seen clean of one or another degree of patent, to say nothing of essential,
Journalism is true in the sense that everything is true to the state of being and to what conditioned and
produced it I (which is also, but less so perhaps, a limitation of art and science) : but that is about as far as its
value goes. This is not to accuse or despise journalism for anything beyond its own complacent delusion, and its enor-
mous power to poison the public with the same delusion, that it is telling the truth even of what it tells of. Journal-
ism can within its own limits be 'good' or 'bad,' 'true' or 'false,' but it is not in the nature of journalism even to
approach any less relative degree of truth. Again, journalism is not to be blamed for this; no more than a cow is to be
blamed for not being a horse. The difference is, and the reason one can respect or anyhow approve of the cow, that few
cows can have the delusion or even the desire to be horses, and that none of them could get away with it even with a
small part of the public.
The very blood and semen of journalism, on the contrary, is a broad and successful form of
Remove that form of lying and you no longer have journalism.

Nor am I speaking of 'naturalism,' 'realism': though just here may be the sharpest and most slippery watershed within
this first discussion.

Trying, let us say, to represent, to reproduce, a certain city street, under the conviction that nothing is as impor-
tant, as sublime, as truly poetic about that street in its flotation upon time and space as the street itself. Your me-
dium, unfortunately, is not a still or moving camera, but is words. You abjure all metaphor, symbol, selection
and above
all, of course, all temptation to invent, as obstructive, false, artistic. As nearly as possible in words (which, even by
grace of genius, would not be very near) you try to give the street in its own terms:
that is to say, either in the
terms in which you (or an imagined character) see it, or in a reduction and depersonalization into terms which will
as nearly as possible be the 'private,' singular terms of that asphalt, those neon letters, those and all other items
combined, into
that alternation, that simultaneity, of flat blank tremendously constructed chords and of immensely
elaborate counterpoint which is the street itself. You hold then strictly to materials, forms, colors, bulks, textures,
space relations, shapes of light and shade
, peculiarities, specializations, of architecture and of lettering, noises of
motors and brakes and shoes, odors of exhausts: all this gathers time and weightiness which the street does not of it-
self have: it sags with this length and weight: and what have you in the end but a somewhat overblown passage from a
naturalistic novel: which in important ways is at the opposite pole from your intentions, from what you have seen, from
the fact itself.

The language of 'reality' (in the sense of 'reality' we are trying to speak of here) may be the most beautiful and
powerful but certainly it must in any case be about
the heaviest of all languages. That it should have and impart the
deftness, keenness, immediacy, speed and subtlety of the 'reality' it tries to reproduce, would require incredible
strength and trained skill on the part of the handler, and would perhaps also require an audience, or the illusion of
an audience, equally well trained in catching what is thrown: an audience to whom the complex joke can simply be told,
without the necessity for a preceding explanation fifteen times the length of the joke which founders every value the
joke of itself has.
I know of no one with this particular training or interest who is using words, though one man, at
least, is doing even more difficult and more valuable things.

For the camera, much of this is solved from the start: is solved so simply, for that matter, that this ease becomes the
greatest danger against the good use of the camera.

Words could, I believe, be made to do or to tell anything within human conceit. That is more than can be said of the in-
struments of any other art. But
it must be added of words that they are the most inevitably inaccurate of all mediums of
record and communication, and that they come at many of the things which they alone can do by such a Rube Goldberg
articulation of frauds, compromises, artful dodges and tenth removes as would fatten any other art into apoplexy if the art
were not first shamed out of existence: and which, in two centrally important and inescapable ways: falsification (through
inaccuracy of meaning as well as inaccuracy of emotion); and inability to communicate simultaneity with any immediacy;
greatly impairs the value and the integrity of their achievement
. It may, however, be added: words like all else are lim-
ited by certain laws. To call their achievement crippled in relation to what they have tried to convey may be all very well:
but to call them crippled in their completely healthful obedience to their own nature is again a mistake: the same mistake
as the accusation of a cow for her unhorsiness. And if you here say:
'But the cow words are trying to be a horse,' the
answer is: 'That attempt is one of the strongest laws of language,
just as it is no law at all so far as cows are concern-
ed.' In obeying this law words are not, then, at all necessarily accusable, any more than in disobeying it. The cleansing
and rectification of language, the breakdown of the identification of word and object, is very important, and very possibly
more important things will come of it than have ever come of
the lingual desire of the cow for the horse: but it is never-
theless another matter whenever words start functioning in the command of the ancient cow-horse law. Human beings
may be more and more aware of being awake, but they are still incapable of not dreaming; and a fish forswears water for
air at his own peril.

I doubt that the straight 'naturalist' very well understands what music and poetry are about. That would be all right if he
understood his materials so intensely that music and poetry seemed less than his intention; but I doubt he does that, too.
That is why his work even at best is never much more than documentary. Not that documentation has not great dignity
and value; it has; and as good 'poetry' can be extracted from it as from living itself: but the documentation is not of itself
either poetry or music and it is not, of itself, of any value equivalent to theirs. So that, if you share the naturalist's re-
gard for the 'real,' but have this regard for it on a plane which in your mind brings it level in value at least to music
and poetry, which in turn you value as highly as anything on earth, it is important that your representation of 'reality'
does not sag into, or become one with, naturalism;
and in so far as it does, you have sinned, that is, you have fallen
short even of the relative truth you have perceived and intended. And if, anti-artistically, you desire not only to present
but to talk about what you present and how you try to present it, then one of your first anxieties, in advance of failure
foreseen, is to make clear that a sin is a sin.

I feel sure in advance that any efforts, in what follows, along the lines I have been speaking of, will be failures.

'Description' is a word to suspect.

Words cannot embody; they can only describe. But a certain kind of artist, whom we will distinguish from others as a poet
rather than a prose writer, despises this fact about words or his medium, and continually brings words as near as he can to
an illusion of embodiment. In doing so he accepts a falsehood but makes, of a sort in any case, better art. It seems very
possibly true that art's superiority over science and over all other forms of human activity, and its inferiority to them,
reside in the identical fact that art accepts the most dangerous and impossible of bargains and makes the best of it, be-
coming, as a result, both nearer the truth and farther from it than those things which, like science and scientific art,
merely describe, and those things which, like human beings and their creations and the entire state of nature, merely are,
the truth.

Most young writers and artists roll around in description like honeymooners on a bed. It comes easier to them than anything
else. In the course of years they grow or discipline themselves out of it. At best they are undoubtedly right in doing so. But
again I suspect that the lust for describing, and that lust in action, is not necessarily a vice. Plain objects and atmospheres
have a sufficient intrinsic beauty and stature
that it might be well if the describer became more rather than less shameless:
if objects and atmospheres for the secret sake of which it is customary to write a story or poem, and which are chronically
relegated to a menial level of decoration or at best illumination, were handled and presented on their own merits without ei-
ther distortion or apology. Since when has a landscape painter apologized for painting landscapes; I and since when, again,
should a cow put on a false beard and play horse or, on the other hand, blush and dither over the excellent fact of being a
good plain cow, a creature no horse can ever be?

George Gudger is a man, et cetera. But obviously, in the effort to tell of him (by example) as truthfully as I can, I am
limited. I know him only so far as I know him, and only in those terms in which I know him; and all of that depends as
fully on who I am as on who he is.

I am confident of being able to get at a certain form of the truth about him, onb if I am as faithful as possible to Gudger
as I know him, to Gudger as, in his actual flesh and life (but there again always in my mind's and memory's eye) he is. But
of course it will be only a relative truth.

Name me one truth within human range that is not relative and I will feel a shade more apologetic of that.

For that reason and for others, I would do just as badly to simplify or eliminate myself from this picture as to simplify or
invent character, places or atmospheres. A chain of truths did actually weave itself and run through: it is their texture
that I want to represent, not betray, nor pretty up into art. The one deeply exciting thing to me about Gudger is that he
is actual, he is living, at this instant. He is not some artist's or journalist's or propagandist's invention: he is a human
and to what degree I am able it is my business to reproduce him as the human being he is; not just to amalga-
mate him into some invented, literary imitation of a human being.

The momentary suspension of disbelief is perhaps (and perhaps not) all very well for literature and art: but it leaves
literature and art, and it leaves an attempt such as this, in a bad hole. It means that anything set forth within an art
form, 'true' as it may be in art terms, is hermetically sealed away from identification with everyday 'reality.'
No mat-
ter how strong and vivid it may be, its strength and vividness are not of that order which, in the open air of our actual,
personal living, we draw in every time we breathe. Even at its very best it is make believe, requiring the killing insult
of 'suspension of disbelief,' because it is art. This is in some degree true even of the most 'real' writlng I know. It is
simply impossible for anyone, no matter how high he may place it, to do art the simple but total honor of accepting and
believing it in the terms in which he accepts and honors breathing, lovemaking, the look of a newspaper, the street he
walks through.
If you think of that a little while, and have any respect for art and for what it is or should be capable of
if it is to be held worthy of its own existence, that is a crucially serious matter.

And yet is there any good reason why socalled art cannot, without any complicated wrench of the mind, be accepted as
living, as telling of the living 'truth,' so long as art meets you halfway, and tries to tell of nothing else?

When, in talk with a friend, you tell him, or hear from him, details of childhood, those details are perhaps even more real
to you than in your solitary memory; and they are real and exciting to both of you in a way no form of art can be, or any-
how is.
He is accepting what you say as truth, not fiction. You in turn, and the truth you are telling, are conditioned in
some degree by his personality--you are in part, and he knows you are in part, selecting or inventing toward his color--
but your whole effort, at which you both may be willing and interested to spend a great deal of time, is to reduce these
half-inventions more and more towards the truth. The centrally exciting and important fact, from which ramify the thousand
others which otherwise would have no clear and valid existence, is: that was the way it was. What could be more moving, sign-
ificant or true: every force and hidden chance in the universe has so combined that a certain thing was the way it was.

And why is it that, written, these facts lose so much of their force and reality. Partly the writer's doing: as part-artist
he feels the strength of need to select and invents2 Also, he is not aware that the truth is more important than any pretty
lie he may tell. And partly the reader's doing: he is so used to the idea that art is a fiction that he can't shake himself
of it. And partly
the whole weight of art tradition, the deifying of the imagination. All right, go ahead and deify it: I will
grant that it is responsible for every great work in any art. What of it!
Must it therefore interfere with still another
way of seeing and telling of still another form of the truth which is in its own way at least as sound?
Is there such a clea-
vage between the 'scientific' and the 'artistic'? Isn't every human being both a scientist and an artist; and in writing of
human experience, isn't there a good deal to be said for recognizing that fact and for using both methods?

I will be trying here to write of nothing whatever which did not in physical actuality or in the mind happen or appear; and
my most serious effort will be, not to use these 'materials' for art, far less for journalism, but to give them as they were
and as in my memory and regard they are
If there is anything of value and interest in this work it will have to hang en-
tirely on that fact. Though I may frequently try to make use of art devices and may, at other times, being at least in part
an 'artist,' be incapable of avoiding their use, I am in this piece of work illimitably more interested in life than in

Needless perhaps to say, then, I shall digress, and shall take my time over what may seem to be nonessentials, exactly as
seems best.

Make no mistake in this, though: I am under no illusion that I am wringing this piece of experience dry. Nor do I even want
to wring it dry. There are reasons of time, judgement and plain desire or, if you like, whim.

Time: It took a great artist seven years to record nineteen hours and to wring them anywhere near dry. Figure it out for your-
self; this lasted several weeks, not nineteen hours.
I take what I am trying here seriously but there are other pieces of work
I want still more to do.

Judgement: Though I do on the one hand seriously believe that the universe can be seen in a grain of sand and that that is as
good a lens as any other and a much more practicable one than the universe, I am again not trying any such job here. On too
many other counts I simply do not think the experience was important enough to justify any such effort; and I will consistently
hope to keep the effort and method in strict proportion to my own limited judgement of the importance of the ex- perience as
a whole and in its parts.

The plain desire or whim must then be self-evident: all I want to do is tell this as exactly and clearly as I can and get the
damned thing done with. I would again be false to the truth if I were false to that.

Very roughly I know that to get my own sort of truth out of the experience I must handle it from four planes:

That of recall; of reception, contemplation, in medias res: for which I have set up this silence under darkness on this front
porch as a sort of fore-stage to which from time to time the action may have occasion to return.3

'As it happened': the straight narrative at the prow as from the first to last day it cut unknown water.

By recall and memory from the present: which is a part of the experience: and this includes imagination, which in the other
planes I swear myself against.

As I try to write it: problems of recording; which, too, are an organic part of the experience as a whole.

These are, obviously, in strong conflict. So is any piece of human experience. So, then, inevitably, is any even partially accu-
rate attempt to give any experience as a whole.

It seems likely at this stage that the truest way to treat a piece of the past is as such: as if it were no longer the present.

In other words, the 'truest' thing about the experience is now neither that it was from hour to hour thus and so; nor is it my
fairly accurate 'memory' of how it was from hour to hour in chronological progression; but is rather as it turns up in recall,
in no such order, casting its lights and associations forward and backward upon the then past and the then future, across that
expanse of experience.

If this is so the book as a whole will have a form and set of tones rather less like those of narrative than like those of music.'

That suits me, and I hope it turns out to be so.

From the amount I am talking about 'this experience' you may have got the idea I think it was of some egregious im- portance. In
that case you will be cheated in proportion to your misapprehension. This 'experience' was just a series of various, fairly com-
plicated, and to me interesting, things which I perceived or which happened to me last summer, that's all. Greater and less
things have happened, even to me. And I keep talking so much about it simply because I am respectful of experience in general
and of any experience whatever, and because it turns out that going through, remembering, and try- ing to tell of anything is of
itself (not because the Experience was either hot or cold, but of itself, and as a part of the experi- ence) interesting and im-
portant to me: and because, as I have said before, I am interested in the actual and in telling of it, and so would wish to make
clear that nothing here is invented. The whole job may well seem messy to you. But a part of my point is that experience offers
itself in richness and variety and in many more terms than one and that it may therefore be wise to record it no less variously.
Much of the time I shall want to tell of particulars very simply, in their own terms: but from any set of particulars it is pos-
sible and perhaps useful to generalize.
In any case I am the sort of person who generalizes: and if for your own convenience and
mine I left that out, I would be faking and artifacting right from the start.

I think there is at the middle of this sense of the importance and dignity of actuality and the attempt to reproduce and analyze
the actual, and at the middle of this antagonism toward art, something of real importance which is by no means my discovery, far
less my private discovery, but which is a sense of 'reality' and of 'values' held by more and more people, and the beginnings of
somewhat new forms of, call it art if you must, of which the still and moving cameras are the strongest instruments and symbols.
It would be an art and a way of seeing existence based, let us say, on an intersection of astronomical physics, geology, biology,
and (including psychology) anthropology, known and spoken of not in scientific but in human terms. Nothing that springs from
this intersection can conceivably be insignificant: everything is most significant in proportion as it approaches in our percep-
tion, simultaneously, its own singular terms and its ramified kinship and probable hidden identification with everything else.

Along the lines of this possible 'art' and attitude toward existence, nothing that follows can pretend to be anything more advanced
than a series of careful but tentative, rudely experimental, and fragmentary renderings of some of the salient aspects of a real
experience seen and remembered in its own terms.

But if that is of any interest to you whatever, it is important that you should so far as possible forget that this is a book. That
you should know, in other words, that it has no part in that realm where disbelief is habitually suspended. It is much simpler than
that. It is simply an effort to use words in such a way that they will tell as much as I want to and can make them tell of a thing
which happened and which, of course, you have no other way of knowing. It is in some degree worth your knowing what you can
of not because you have any interest in me but simply as the small part it is of human experience in general.

It is one way of telling the truth: the only possible way of telling the kind of truth I am here most interested to tell.

Much of this land that lay out around us had been taken over by human beings, who were under and who will perhaps always remain
under the infantile delusion that they own it.

But now, in the short yet extreme winter of that shadow of itself through which a continuous half of the earth twists its surface,
this fragile and shallow colonization was reduced to its least, the few chilled embers which cities, thanks to their intense concen-
tration of life, manage steadily fainting to sustain clear into the relief of daybreak, and, on the face of the open earth, only the
infinitesimal and starlike infrequent glints of sickness here, death and love there. All normal human life was drained away; all crea-
tures of the day time, under the passage and influence of that shadow, were shriveled as unanimously into sleep as when, in the
leaning of the northern tracts of the globe away from the sun, all vegetable nature faints like the fading of a blush, the bees are
stunned, and on the cold air in glittering swarms the tribal birds drain southward.
This whole area of the planet itself, quite as
literally as a weary human head, was loosened on its neck, was nodded and yielded over to the profound influences and memories,
unknown to its sun-blind daytime, of its early childhood, before man became a part of its experience.
The blind land itself and the
blind water, the sky and the dove-light bombardment of its stars, the air, the shadow, the swarming, sleeping civilizations of the
vegetable earth, certain frail insects, certain reptiles, birds, and fur-bearing personalities whose sleep is by day and whose busi-
ness is dark, these were in complete self-possession. They did not even so much as tolerate the great hypnotized existence, the
suspended animation, of human life; they simply ignored it, quite as an ocean is casual of the less than toylike traffic upon it.

I know of course: they ignored it no less in the daylight. I know of course: that whatever triumph I smelled, felt, heard in their
presence, and whatever fear, was a merely human, merely personal matter.
We bask in our lavish little sun as children in the protect-
ive sphere of their parents
: and perhaps can never outgrow, or can never dare afford to outgrow, our delusions of his strength and
wisdom and of our intelligence, competence and safety; and
we carry over from him, like a green glow in the eyeballs, these daytime
, so inescapably that we can not only never detach ourselves from the earth, even in the perception of our minds, but cannot
even face the fact of nature without either stone blindness or sentimentality: and we cannot bear, for any length of time, to carry
in our minds in any literalness the fact of our small size and our youth.
If this were merely the domestic and personal matter of a
father or mother fixation, we would take it very seriously and those of us who could afford it would spend the next two years talking
about ourselves in a shaded room.I It is much more serious than that:
it affects the deepest feelings and actions of a whole race at
the very roots; and
beyond a couple of psalms and a few almost accidental artistic trills and semiquavers, what thought have we ta-
ken for it: for that basis of our existence which is even simpler and even more literal than the need to eat and sleep.

We have known, or have been told that we know, for some centuries now that the sun does not 'set' or 'rise': the earth twists its sur-
face into and out of the light of the sun.

How many poets have become so aware of this fact that it is natural to them to use it.

In its twisting the earth also cradles back and forth, somewhat like a bobbin, and leans through a very slightly eccentric course, and
it is this retirement out of and a return into a certain proximity to the sun which causes the change of seasons. As Canada is retired
out of summer, the Argentine is restored into summer, as simultaneously, as literally, as the edge of night is balanced by the edge of
day, midnight by noon. Just how much poetry, or art, or plain human consciousness, has taken this into account. You have only to look
at all the autumn art about death and at all the spring art about life to get an idea: we are so blindfold by local fact that we cannot
even imagine this simultaneity. It is comfortable, and to quite some extent natural, and no doubt to some extent wise, to be local:
and yet in for instance politics we flatter ourselves we are outgrowing it.

No doubt we are sensible in giving names to places: Canada; the Argentine. But we would also be sensible to remember that

No doubt we have the 'right' to own and use the earth as seems to us best if we can: but we might be thought to qualify a little better
for the job if it ever occurred to us in the least to qualify or question that right.

Even what seem to us our present soundest and most final ideas of justice are noticeably cavalier and provincial and self- centered.

What would we have to think of hogs who, having managed to secure justice among themselves, still and continuously and without the un-
dertone of a thought to the contrary exploited every other creature and material of the planet, and who wore in their eyes, perfectly
undisturbed by any second consideration, the high and holy light of science or religion.

Sure, these things are simple: so simple, God forbid, that they sound merely whimsical. They are, though, literal facts. Our careless-
ness of them is literal fact. Any child should be able to grasp them. To grasp such facts, to try to understand them and their applica-
tion, would seem as primal and as relevant to and influential upon the rest of what we are and do as breath- ing. Our own inability to
grasp them or our negligence, which amounts to the same thing, does not qualify us very highly to handle more difficult facts which are
of central importance at very least (to remain provincial) to the good of the human race.

I am a Communist by sympathy and conviction.' But it does not appear (just for one thing) that Communists have recognized or in any case
made anything serious of the sure fact that the persistence of what once was insufficiently described as Pride, a mortal sin, can quite
as coldly and inevitably damage and wreck the human race as the most total power of 'Greed' ever could: acd that socially anyhow, the most
dangerous form of pride is neither arrogance nor humility, but its mild, common denominator form, complacency.

I am under no delusion that communism can be achieved overnight, if ever; and one's flexibility or patience toward what seem obvious occa-
sions of mishandling should be I as considerable as one's strictness and fearlessness in facing what seem to be the facts of those fail-
ures. The fact remains that artists, for instance, should be capable of figuring the situation out to the degree that they would refuse
the social eminence and the high pay they are given in Soviet Russia. The setting up of an aristocracy of superior workers is no good sign,
either. Certainly, beyond denial, we, human beings, at our best are scarcely entered into the post-diaper stage of our development, and it
is common sense to treat us as what we are, and would be as harmful and criminal as it would be foolish to treat ourselves as what we
aren't. But it would be bright if the treatment caused us consistently to reach out and grow: you don't clamber out of infantilism by re-
treating, or staying, or being ordered to retreat, into what any average fool can see is the bedwetting stage.

Certainly we don't know now, and never will, all of even the human truth. But we may as well admit we know a few things, and take full ad-
vantage of them. It is probably never really wise, or even necessary, or anything better than harmful, to educate a human being toward a
good end by telling him lies.

A couple of hundred yards away I was aware, not by sound but by thinking of it, of the creek bending in the bushes.

We knew this creek a mile away, where it crossed under the highway, and a few yards of it down here near the house. Aside from that we
knew nothing of it;
it lay only very lightly across our experience and we knew its beginning and course and ending only in a generalized way,
a beginning in the sprouting of cold springs, a wandering of the land in sensitive forms, an ending, or a change, at that unknown place
where at length
it continuously smiled into some stronger stream. These things we knew in imagination and yet could be sure of, but much
differently and more clearly, as if it stood in the warm light of a searchlight beam, we knew of our own part of the creek:
the quiet noi-
ses and the noiselessnesses with which the burden of its smooth and brown heavy water lay along the flat stones, the sudden deeps, the sub-
merged stumps and the sand and the clay of its patiently fretted trough. The surface of a continent, condensed here and there by chance into
the serious infant frowning of mountain systems, is drawn away by the action of water into an enormous and unnaturally slender vine. This
vine takes growth not by the radiant outward energy which compels a branched tree to burst still further into branches but always by a sink-
ing away of its energy toward the center,
as leaves are drawn into the wake of an auto, or as if a tree should, through the energetic con-
traction of its sap in autumn, still further pierce the air. As by benefit of that sped-up use of the moving camera through which it is pos-
sible to see the act of growth continuous from seed through the falling of the flower, so we may see in five minutes' time the branchings
and searchings and innumerable growth of a river system, like a vine feeling out and finding its footholds on a wall, or like those sub-
tlest of all chances which out of the very composture of an acorn ordain upon the growing action of branches in unresisting air certain
shapes and not others:
this eternal, lithe, fingering, chiseling, searching out the tender groin of the land that the water in a river sys-
tem is carrying on in ten million parts of a face of earth at once, so that in the least creasing of the land sucked into scars between two
stalks of corn you are seeing an organic part of the great body of the Mississippi River. There is no need to personify a river: it is much
too literally alive in its own way, and like air and earth themselves is a creature much more powerful, much more basic, than any living
thing the earth has borne. It is one of those few, huge, casual and aloof creatures by the mercy of whose existence our own existence
was made possible; and at very least as much as it is good to hear the whining of dynamos, the artifacted hearts of our civilization, it is well
to hear, to become aware of, the operations of water among whose spider lacings by chance we live: and above all it is well to know of it as
nearly as possible in its own terms, wherein the crop it brings up, the destruction it is capable of, the dams and the helmeted brains of
generators thrown across it and taking a half-hitch on its personal energy, are small, irrelevant, not even noticed incidents in its more
serious career, which is by a continual sagging in all parts of its immense branched vine and by a continual searching out of weakness, the
ironing flat and reduction to dead sea level of the wrinkled fabric of the earth. How beautifully then it has drawn our country into pleated
valleys, in what language it has written upon the genius forehead of the earth the name and destiny of water, how handsome are the mean-
derings of its dotage through yellow flats across which is seen in the hard sunlight the broken and glass glistering of a city, are matters
less truly important than the wrinkling open of a gully in a cornfield, the cellophane crackle of cold mountain branches, the twinkling spi-
ral of sand that stands out of the heart of a spring, the sleeping and high-breasted sliding along of a milewide river, the great, final,
digressive rectal discharge which beneath New Orleans yellows the Mexican Gulf
: and the knowledge that such actions, going on intimately
in every yard of thousands of miles of land beneath the hoverings and discharges of the sky, are all of one thing, one more than beast.

It was good to be doing the work we had come to do and to be seeing the things we cared most to see, and to be among the people we cared
most to know, and to know these things not as a book looked into, a desk sat down to, a good show caught, but as a fact as large as the air;
something absolute and true we were a part of and drew with every breath, and added to with every glance of the eye.
It was good even, to be doing the limited job we had been assigned. We lay thinking of the unprecedented and unrecorded beauty, and sorrow and honor in the existence
of, a child who lay sleeping in the room not far from us, and of the family up the road, and of the other family that lived near them, and rememb-
ering hours that were still hardly different from the knowledge of the present, and all the things seen and known and wondered over in those


Out in front of the house the ground was tough, and knotty with thin weeds, in a bulge. Rains had taken its slopings- away violently to pieces.
After the series of tricks had been learned, the road as far in as the house was a little more than barely passable in good weather, and gave
one the pleasure of any newfound skill. Beyond the house it was a hundred yards of falling ditch full of hunched and convulsed muscles of clay
whose levels varied suddenly three and five feet. This ditch fell along the side of the cornfield and flattened abruptly into sand as it lay
into the woods. They stood up all along the creek and on the low hill on the far side and swung out deep in front of the house at the far side
of another corn patch. From these woods a good way out along the hill there now came a sound that was new to us.


SUNDAY, George Gudger :

Freshly laundered cotton gauze underwear.

Mercerized blue green socks, held up over his fist-like calves by scraps of pink and green gingham rag.

Long bulb-toed black shoes: still shining with the glaze of their first newness, streaked with clay.

Trousers of a hard and cheap cotton-wool, dark blue with narrow gray stripes; a twenty-five-cent belt stays in them

A freshly laundered and brilliantly starched white shirt with narrow black stripes.

A brown, green, and gold tie in broad stripes, of stiff and hard imitation watered silk.

A very cheap felt hat of a color between that of a pearl and that of the faintest gold, with a black band.

The hat is still only timidly dented into shape. Its lining is still brilliant and pearly, with only a faint shadow
of oil. The sweatband, and the bright insole of the shoes, will seem untouched for a long time still, and the scar-
red soles of the shoes are still yellow.

The crease is still sharp in the trousers.

If he were an older man, and faithful in the rural tradition of dressing well rather than in that of the young men
in towns, he would wear, not a belt, but suspenders, striped, or perhaps decorated with rosebuds.

These are the only socks he owns.

He does not wear or own a coat and would not want one. What he would like to wear is a pull-over sweater.

He has two suits of the underwear. He will sleep in this suit tonight and during the rest of the week. The other
suit will go into the wash and he will put it on next sunday.

His neck seems violently red against the tight white collar. He is freshly shaven, and his face looks shy and naked.

He wears the hat straight awhile, then draws it down a little, but conservatively, over one eye, then pushes it far
back on his head so that it is a halo, then sets it on straight again. He is delicate with his hands in touching it.

He walks a little carefully: the shoes hurt his feet.

Saturday, Mrs. Gudger:

Face, hands, feet and legs are washed.

The hair is done up more tightly even than usual.

Black or white cotton stockings.

Black lowheeled slippers with strapped insteps and single buttons.

A freshly laundered cotton print dress held together high at the throat with a ten-cent brooch.

A short necklace of black glass beads.

A hat.

She has two pairs of stockings. She sometimes goes bare- legged to Cookstown, on saturdays, but always wears stock-
ings on sundays.

The dress is one of two she would not be ashamed to wear away from home: they are not yet worn-down or ineradicably
spotted. In other respects it is like all her other dresses: made at home, of carefully selected printed cotton cloth,
along narrow variants of her own designing, which differs from some we saw and is probably a modified inheritance from
her mother: short sleeves, a rather narrow skirt several inches longer than is ordinary. No kind of flaring collar,
but in some of them, an effort to trim with tape. They are all cut deep at the breast for nursing, as all her dresses
must have been for ten years now. The lines are all long, straight, and simple.

The hat is small and shallow, crowned with a waved brim. She must have taken care in its choice. It is a distant imi-
tation of 'gay' or 'frivolous' 'trifles.' It is made of frail glazed magenta straw in a wide mesh through which her
black hair shows. It has lost its shape a little in rain. She wears it exactly level, on the exact top of her small
and beautifully graven head.

No southern country woman in good standing uses rouge or lipstick, and her face is colorless. There are traces of
powder at the wings of her nose and in the seamed skin just in front of her left ear.

She is keenly conscious of being carefully dressed, and carries herself stiffly. Her eyes are at once searching,
shy, excited, and hopelessly sad.

Saturday is the day of leaving the farm and going to Cooks- town, and from the earliest morning on I can see that she
is thinking of it. It is after she has done the housework in a little hurry and got the children ready that she bathes
and prepares herself, and
as she comes from the bedroom, with her hat on, ready to go, her eyes, in ambush even to
herself, look for what I am thinking in such a way that I want to tell her how beautiful she is; and I would not be lying.

She will carry herself in this stiff, gravely watchful, and hopeful way all during the day in town, taking care to
straighten her hat, and retiring as deeply as possible behind the wagons to nurse her baby. On the way home in the slow,
rattling wagon, she will be tired and drooped, her hat crooked, her eyes silent, and once she will take the smallest
child intensely against her, very suddenly.

Sunday: it is not very different from saturday, for she has no really 'sunday' dress, no other dress shoes, no other
hat, and no other jewelry.
If she is feeling happy, though, she will set into her hair the pink celluloid comb I have
spoken of, with the glass diamonds.

George, on saturday, dresses not in his dress clothes but in the newest and cleanest of his work clothes; if there is
time, if he is not working until noon, away from home, he shaves that morning and washes his feet. When there is no
work to do, in winter and midsummer, he shaves twice a week.

Ricketts, on sunday:

No socks.

Old, black sunday shoes, washed off with water, and
slashed with a razor at the broadest part of the feet.

Very old dark trousers with the compound creases of two ironings in them; nearly new white suspenders with narrow blue
stripes down the sides and brown dots down the centers, the strap at the right
attached to the trousers by a rusty nail.

A nearly new blue work shirt, worn perhaps twice before since laundering; the sleeves rolled down, the cuffs buttoned,
the collar buttoned; no tie.

An open vest, too wide and short for him, of heavy, worn-out, gray-and-black wool; his watch and chain joining it across
the waist.

A very old and carefully kept dark felt hat with a narrow band and a delicate bow.

A pair of horn-rimmed spectacles.

The spectacles are worn only on sunday and are perhaps mainly symbolic of the day and of his dignity as a reader in
yet, too, they have strong small lenses. He bought them at a five-and-ten-cent store in Cherokee City.

Woods, on sunday:

Of the head covering I have no certain memory, yet two images. A hat of coarse-grained, strongly yellow straw, shaped by
machine as felt hats are by the owner's hands, with a striped band. And: a nearly new, sober plaid, flat cap, of the sort
which juts wide above the ears, and
of a kind of crackling cheapness which one rain destroys.

Shoes: the oxfords which at one time were his dress shoes, and in which his wife has worked during the week.

Trousers such as seventeen-year-old boys of small towns select for best who can spend no money and want what flash
they can get
: a coarse-meshed and scratchy cotton-wool, stiffened with glue, of a bright and youthful yellow-gray cross-
ed in wide squares by horizontals of blue-green and verticals of green-blue, and
thinly pebbled with small nodules of red,
orange, and purple wool
. They are a little large for him. The original crease is entirely gone at the knee and is very sharp
from knee to cuff. The suspenders are printed with spaced knots of small blue flowers; are worn out, and have been

A white shirt, starched; thin brown stripes. The sleeves have been cut off just above the elbows and coarsely hemmed.
There are rust marks all over it, and the image of a flatiron is scorched just beneath the heart. An orginally white
pique detachable collar, blue-gray from laundering, the fray scissored clean.
A white cotton tie with two narrow black
lines along each edge; about an inch wide throughout; both 'ends' out; the end next the body much longer than the out-
side end, and showing three or four inches of knitting-wear.

One day's beard; the mustache trimmed neat and short; the temples and the slender, corded, behind-head, trimmed nearly
naked and showing the criss-crossed, quilting work of the scissors, and
the meekness of the pallid scalp; scraped toast.

The children, washed and combed, barefooted, with clean feet and legs; clean clothes on:
I will tell more of them later;
so, too, of Mrs. Woods, and Mrs. Ricketts, and of the Ricketts girls: at present, more of the daily clothing.

On monday Gudger puts on cleanly washed workclothes; the other two men, whose laundering is done less often, change their
clothing in a more casual cycle, two to several weeks long:
I want now to try to describe these work clothes: shoes, over-
alls, shirts, head coverings: variants, general remarks: and to speak here perhaps, not of these three men only, but a
little more generally as well.

On all the clothing here to be spoken of there are, within the narrow range of availabilities, so many variants that one
cannot properly name anything as 'typical,' but roughly align several 'types.' I could say, for instance:

Of shoes: ordinary work shoes, to be described later, may be called 'typical'; but only if you remember that old sunday
shoes, tennis sneakers, high tennis shoes, sandals, moccasins, bare feet, and even boots, are not at all rarely used: it
should be known, too, that there are many kinds of further, personal treatment of shoes. Mainly, this:
Many men, by no
means all, like to cut holes through the uppers for foot-spread and for ventilation: and in this they differ a good deal
between utility and art. You seldom see purely utilitarian slashes: even the bluntest of these are liable to be patterned
a little more than mere use requires: on the other hand, some shoes have been worked on with a wonderful amount of pati-
ence and studiousness toward a kind of beauty, taking the memory of an ordinary sandal for a model, and greatly elabora-
ting and improving it. I have seen shoes so beautifully worked in this way that their durability was greatly reduced. Gen-
erally speaking, those who do this really careful work are negroes;
but again, by no means all of the negroes are 'artists'
in this way.

Of overalls, you could say that they are the standard working garment in the country south, and that blue is the standard
color. But you should add that old sunday pants in varying degrees of decay are also perhaps half as much used: that
striped and khaki overalls sometimes appear and mechanics' coveralls, and dungarees, and khaki work pants:

And again, speaking now of shirts, that though the blue workshirt is standard, there are also gray and brown workshirts;
and besides these, old sunday shirts (white or striped), and now and then a homemade shirt, and undershirts, polo shirts,
and jerseys:

And again of these categories of body covering, that, though all the variants appear among whites, they are a good deal
more frequent among negroes; and again, too, that among the negroes the original predilections for colors, textures, sym-
bolisms, and contrasts, and the subsequent modifications and embellishments, are much more free and notable.

And of hats, you could say that the standard is the ordinary farmers' straw sold at crossroads stores: but here you would
be wrong for several reasons. Perhaps half the tenants wear these straws, but even in that category there are many differ-
ences in choice of kind at the same price, ranging from hats as conservative in size and shape as the city felts they imi-
tate, through the whole register of what is supposed to be 'typical' to the american farmer, to hats which are only slight
modifications of the ten-gallon and of the sombrero. And besides these straws: again there are all kinds of variants: old
sunday hats being one whole class; another, caps emulous of small-town and city and factory men: baseball caps, the little
caps which are the gifts of flour and paint companies, factory caps; imitation pith helmets imitative of foremen imitative
of landowners imitative of the colonists in pith-helmet melodramas; occasionally, too, a homemade hat or cap: and here a-
gain, both in choice and in modification, the negroes are much the richer.

There will be no time, though, to go into these variants beyond their mention, nor any time at all to talk of negro work
and sunday clothing, which in every respect seems to me, as few other things in this country do,
an expression of a genius
distributed among almost the whole of a race, so powerful and of such purity that even in its imitations of and plagiar-
isms on the white race, it is all but incapable of sterility.'

But now having suggested varieties, I want to lay out and tell of 'types,' speaking of the white race.

In general, then: the shoes are either work shoes of one age or another or worn-out sunday oxfords. The body garments are
blue overalls and blue work shirts; again, with a wide range of age. The head coverings are straw hats or old sunday hats,
or occasionally some more urban form of cap. These things have been bought ready-made, so consistently that any homemade
substitute calls for a note to itself. Now a few further notes, on overalls and work shirts.

So far as I know, overalls are a garment native to this country. Subject to the substitutions I have spoken of, they are,
nevertheless, the standard or classical garment at very least (to stay within our frame) of the southern rural American
working man: they are his uniform, the badge and proclamation of his peasantry. There seems to be such a deep classicism
in 'peasant' clothing in all places and in differing times that, for instance, a Russian and a southern woman of this coun-
try, of a deep enough class, would be undistinguishable by their clothing: moreover, it moves backward and forward in time:
so that Mrs. Ricketts, for instance, is probably undistinguishable from a woman of her class five hundred years ago. But
overalls are a relatively new and local garment.

Perhaps little can be said of them, after all: yet something. The basis: what they are: can best be seen when they are still
new; before they have lost (or gained) shape and color and texture; and before the white seams of their structure have lost
their brilliance.


They are pronounced overhauls.

Try--I cannot write of it here--to imagine and to know, as against other garments, the difference of their feeling against
your body; drawn-on, and bibbed on the whole belly and chest, naked from the kidneys up behind, save for broad crossed straps,
and slung by these straps from the shoulders; the slanted pockets on each thigh, the deep square pockets on each buttock; the
complex and slanted structures, on the chest, of the pockets shaped for pencils, rulers, and watches; the coldness of sweat
when they are young, and their stiffness;
their sweetness to the skin and pleasure of sweating when they are old; the thin
metal buttons of the fly; the lifting aside of the straps and the deep slipping downward in defecation
; the belt some men use
with them to steady their middles;
the swift, simple, and inevitably supine gestures of dressing and of undressing, which, as
is less true of any other garment, are those of harnessing and of unharnessing the shoulders of a tired and hard-used animal.

They are round as stovepipes in the legs (though some wives, told to, crease them).

In the strapping across the kidneys they again resemble work harness, and in their crossed straps and tin buttons.

And in the functional pocketing of their bib, a harness modified to the convenience of a used animal of such high intelli-
gence that he has use for tools.

And in their whole stature: full covering of the cloven strength of the legs and thighs and of the loins; then nakedness and
harnessing behind, naked along the flanks; and in front,
the short, squarely tapered, powerful towers of the belly and chest to
above the nipples.

And on this facade, the cloven halls for the legs, the strong-seamed, structured opening for the genitals,
the broad horizon-
tal at the waist, the slant thigh pockets, the buttons at the point of each hip and on the breast, the geometric structures of
the usages of the simpler trades--the complexed seams of utilitarian pockets which are so brightly picked out against darkness
when the seam-threadings, double and triple stitched, are still white,
so that a new suit of overalls has among its beauties
those of a blueprint: and they are a map of a working man.

The shirts too; squarely cut, and strongly seamed; with big square pockets and with metal buttons: the cloth stiff, the sweat
cold when it is new, the collar large in newness and standing out in angles under the ears; so that in these new workclothes a
man has the shy and silly formal charm of a mail-order-catalogue engraving.

The changes that age, use, weather, work upon these.

They have begun with the massive yet delicate beauty of most things which are turned out most cheaply in great tribes by ma-
chines: and on this basis of structure they are changed into images and marvels of nature.

The structures sag, and take on the look, some of use; some, the pencil pockets, the pretty atrophies of what is never used;
the edges of the thigh pockets become stretched and lie open, fluted, like the gills of a fish.
The bright seams lose their
whiteness and are lines and ridges. The whole fabric is shrunken to size, which was bought large. The whole shape, texture,
color, finally substance, all are changed.
The shape, particularly along the urgent frontage of the thighs, so that the whole
structure of the knee and musculature of the thigh is sculptured there; each man's garment wearing the shape and beauty of
his induplicable body. The texture and the color change in union, by sweat, sun, laundering, between the steady pressures of
its use and age: both, at length, into realms of fine softness and marvel of draping and velvet plays of light which chamois
and silk can only suggest, not touch; and into a region and scale of blues, subtle, delicious, and deft beyond what I have
ever seen elsewhere approached except in rare skies, the smoky light some days are filmed with, and some of the blues of
Cezanne: one could watch and touch even one such garment, study it, with the eyes, the fingers, and the subtlest lips, almost
illimitably long, and never fully learn it; and I saw no two which did not hold some world of exquisiteness of its own. Final-
ly, too; particularly athwart the crest and swing of the shoulders, of the shirts: this fabric breaks like snow, and is stitch-
ed and patched: these break, and again are stitched and patched and ruptured, and stitches and patches are manifolded upon
the stitches and patches, and more on these, so that at length, at the shoulders, the shirt contains virtually nothing of the
original fabric and a man, George Gudger, I remember so well, and many hundreds of others like him, wears in his work on the
power of his shoulders a fabric as intricate and fragile, and as deeply in honor of the reigning sun, as the feather mantle of
a Toltec prince.

Gudger has three; it is perhaps four changes of overalls and workshirts. They are, set by set, in stages of age, and of beau-
ty, distinctly apart from one another; and of the three I remember, each should at best be considered separately and at full
length. I have room here to say only that they represent medium-early, middle, and medium-late stages, and to suggest a lit-
tle more about these. The youngest are still dark; their seams are still visible; the cloth has not yet lost all of its hard-
ness, nor the buttons their brightness. They have taken the shape of the leg, yet they are still the doing as much of machin-
ery as of nature.
The middle-aged are fully soft and elegantly textured, and are lost out of all machinery into a full prime
of nature. The mold of the body is fully taken, the seams are those of a living plant or animal,
the cloth's grain is almost
invisible, the buttons are rubbed and mild, the blue is at the full silent, greatly restrained strength of its range; the
patches in the overalls are few and strategic, the right knee, the two bones of the rump, the elbows,
the shoulders are
quietly fledged: the garments are still wholly competent and at their fullness of comfort. The old: the cloth sleeps against
all salients of the body in complete peace,
and in its loose hangings, from the knee downward, is fallen and wandered in the
first full loss of form into foldings I believe no sculptor has ever touched.
The blue is so vastly fainted and withdrawn it
is discernible scarcely more as blue than as that most pacific silver which the bone wood of the houses and the visage of ge-
nius seem to shed, and is a color and cloth seeming ancient, veteran, composed, and patient to the source of being, as too
the sleepings and the drifts of form. The shoulders are that full net of sewn snowflakes of which I spoke. The buttons are
blind as cataracts, and slip their soft holes.
The whole of the seat and of the knees and elbows are broken and patched,
the patches subdued in age almost with the original cloth, drawn far forward toward the feathering of the shoulders. There
is a more youthful stage than the youngest of these; Ricketts, in his photograph here, wears such overalls; there are many
median modulations; and there is a stage later than the latest here, as I saw in the legs of Woods' overalls, which had so
entirely lost one kind of tendency to form that they had gained another, and were
wrinkled minutely and innumerably as may
best be paralleled by old thin oilskin crumpled, and by the skin of some aged faces.


They are one of the most ordinary types of working shoe: the blucher design, and soft in the prow, lacking the seam across
the root of the big toe: covering the ankles: looped straps at the heels: blunt, broad, and rounded at the toe: broad-heel-
ed: made up of most simple roundnesses and squarings and flats, of dark brown raw thick leathers nailed, and sewn coarsely
to one another in courses and patterns of doubled and tripled seams, and such throughout that like many other small objects
they have great massiveness and repose and are, as the houses and overalls are, and the feet and legs of the women, who
go barefooted so much, fine pieces of architecture.

They are softened, in the uppers, with use, and
the soles are rubbed thin enough, I estimate, that the ticklish grain of
the ground can be felt through at the center of the forward sole
. The heels are deeply biased. Clay is worked into the sub-
stance of the uppers and a loose dust of clay lies over them. They have visibly though to the eye subtly taken the mold of
the foot, and structures of the foot are printed through them in dark sweat at the ankles, and at the roots of the toes.
They are worn without socks, and by experience of similar shoes I know that
each man's shoe, in long enough course of
wear, takes as his clothing does the form of his own flesh and bones, and would feel as uneasy to any other as if A, glanc-
ing into the mirror, were met by B's eyes,
and to their owner, a natural part though enforcement of the foot, which may be
used or shed at will. There is great pleasure in a sockless and sweated foot in the fitted leathers of a shoe.

The shoes are worn for work. At home, resting, men always go barefooted. This is no symptom of discomfort, though: it is,
insofar as it is conscious, merely an exchange of mutually enhancing pleasures, and is at least as natural as the habituat-
ed use and laying by of hats or of 'reading-glasses.'

So far as I could see, shoes are never mended. They are worn out like animals to a certain ancient stage and chance of money
at which a man buys a new pair; then, just as old sunday shoes do, they become the inheritance of a wife.

Ricketts' shoes are boldly slashed open to accommodate as they scarcely can the years of pain in his feet. The worst of this
pain is in stirrup corns, a solid stripe of stony and excruciating pearls across the ball of each foot; for two years, years ago,
he rode mules all of each day. Recognizing my own tendency half-consciously to alter my walk or even to limp under cer-
tain conditions of mental insecurity, and believing Ricketts to be one of the most piteously insecure men I have ever known,
I suspect, too, that nervous modifications in his walking have had much to do with destroying his feet.


It happens that not one of the three men uses any form of the farmer's-straw which is popularly thought of as the routine
hat; and this may well be, in part (and in many other men),
in reaction against a rural-identifying label too glibly applied to
them. It is certain of Gudger, anyhow, that his head-covering, like his sunday belt and the pull-over sweater he wants, are

city symbols against a rural tradition: indeed, it is industrial, or is the symbol almost of a skilled trade: a handsome twenty-
five-cent machinist's cap made of ticking in bold stripes of blue-white and dark blue, drawing all possible elements of his
square-chopped, goodlooking, and ineradicably rural face into city and machine suggestions.

Woods wears an exceedingly old felt hat, in which some holes are worn ragged and others cut in diamond shapes for ventila-
tion and in respect for one of the sporty traditions among certain, usually younger, working men--negroes in particular--
who reduce hats of a good color to a kind of improved and dashingly worn skullcap, or cut them into the shapes of crowns,

There is greatly among negroes, and considerably, too. among working-class whites, an apparent reverence for the natural
and symbolic dignities of the head
(which is generally lost in the softer classes of white): so that, perhaps even more
han the rest of the body, it is dressed according to symbolic and imitative enforcements. All symbolisms in clothing are
complex and corrupt in this country; they are so specially so in the matter of hats, and the variety of personal choice
is so wide, it can easily seem pure casual chance and carelessness, which I am sure it is not. In any case
an absolute min-
imum social and egoistic requirement of a man's hat in this class and country is that it be ready-made and store bought.
And so the fact that Ricketts is willing to work and to appear in public in a home made hat is significant of his abandon-
ent 'beneath' the requirements of these symbologies, both toward himself and toward his world.
A hat could be bought
for fifteen cents. But he, and his family, all wear identical hats, which they casually exchange among themselves. They
are made of cornshucks. 'These are plaited into a long ribbon; the ribbon is then sewn against its own edges from center
outward in concentric spirals. Margaret or Paralee can make one in a day. They are the shape of very shallow cones, about
eight inches in diameter, light enough in the crown that they do not stay easily on the head.
They are not only unmistak-
ably. home made, and betraying of the most deeply rural class; they suggest also the orient or what is named the 'sav-
age.' The shucks are of a metal-silk brilliance
I have never seen in other straw, and in this, its painstaking but una-
chieved symmetries, and the cone and outward spiral, each hat is an extraordinary and beautiful object:
but this is ir-
relevant to its social meanings, as are nearly all products of honesty, intelligence, and full innocence.

Gudger, then: conventional, middle-aged unslashed work shoes; three suits of overalls and work shirts, all blue, in more
uniformity to begin with and in more distinction apart through what is done with them, than any tailor would or could
create; a machinist's cap; a modification of the Leyendecker face,
brick red, clean shaven; a medium-height, powerful,
football player's body modified into the burlings of oak and into slow square qualities blending those of the lion and
the ox:

Ricketts: overalls too, I think not more than two suits, one youthful, and one very old; in shirts, a confusion of blues
with torn white shirts of sundays ten years foucdcrcd; slashed, crippled shoes, standing on the outward rims of his heels;
long matted hair on the low forehead, flashing, foxy, crazy eyes, a great frowning scoop of dark mustache; a dirty plati-
num halo; in all his clothing dirtier; a somehow willowy and part feminine yet powerful body, seeming a little soft at
the hips as if he might be girlish white there:

an old man with a lightly made, still vital and sexually engaging body, the beautiful and light-boned, pleasingly car-
ried, skeptic's unconquered head of those men whose ancestors are birds, not mammals
: clothed in fine sagging of blue
and flangings of white
or, as I will now further indicate:

At home and at leisure, barefooted and naked to the waist, the feet narrow and almost fastidious, showing their bones, the
elbows sharp like pulleys, the bones sharp at the peaks of the shoulders, and the ribs; strong clearly made and nearly hair-
less breasts of the form that seems common in men of India; the muscles of the upper arm weakening; the forearms shaped
in ovals; a bandana hung on his sore shoulder; the body freckled and white and firm, then abruptly, at the neck, seamed as a
the weathered face, and the sweated, candy hair, delicate as a baby's, laid on his forehead, and the eyes, glittering
with narcotics and intelligence like splintered glass, to which the fringed lashes, which his daughter Emma inherits, give a
sleepy look of charming innocence:

At work, he puts on his shoes and shirt and hat.

An overall strap would continually torment this sore which has developed in his shoulder, and may indeed -for in this gar-
ment this shoulder is the area of greatest stress and friction in the body--have helped to create it there: and for this
reason Woods has cut off the bib of his overalls and holds them up at the waist with a piece of tied harness-leather. They
are very old, and hang in a delicateness of wrinklings I have spoken of, and appear to be the only work clothes he owns.

The shoes are of the Gudger type: but of a lighter leather, perhaps two years older, worn through in the soles, and tied up
with snaggled and knotted twine, tight on the ankles, for they are big for him.

The hat I have spoken of.

The shirt is home made out of a fertilizer sack. The cloth, by use and washing, is of a heavy and delicious look: as if
pure cream were pressed into a fabric an eighth of an inch thick, and were cut and sewn into a garment. The faded let-
ter ing and branding is still visible, upside down, in red and blue and black. It is made in earnest imitation of store shirts
but in part by heaviness of cloth and still more by lack of skill is enlarged in details such as the collar, and simplified,
and improved, and is sewn with tough hand stitches, and is in fact a much more handsome shirt than might ever be
bought: but socially and economically, it is of like but less significance with Ricketts' cornshuck hat.

The men's clothes are all ready-made. Any deviation from this is notable.

The women's and girls' clothes and those of the children are made at home, excepting boys' overalls and school clothes,
shoes, and head coverings; and with these exceptions all deviations are notable too for one reason and another.

There are standard cloths, cheap cotton prints mainly, and thin white cottons, woven and on sale specifically to make
clothing of.

Because there is so exceedingly little money, some wives make use of still other materials in dressing themselves, their
children, and less commonly their men, at least for the week- days, when they are sunken far back in their own country,
to be seen by none who differ from themselves.
Mrs. Woods has one sort of solution, and Mrs. Ricketts another. It is hard
to say what is 'normal' here and what is not. By a general common denominator of memory throughout the summer, I would
say it was most nearly 'normal' for there to be about an even mixture, in the week-day clothes, of non-clothing with cloth-
ing materials: so that Mrs. Woods, dressing herself and her family in so little that was ever intended for human beings to
wear, is 'below normal,' and Mrs. Ricketts 'below' and far aside from it. On the other hand, by the almost complete absence
of such adapted materials in her family's outfitting, I am sure that Mrs. Gudger feels intense social and perhaps 'spirit-
ual' distinctions between the kinds of cloth in their meanings: and that with as little money as Mrs. Woods and hardly
more than Mrs. Ricketts has, her success in keeping to one side of this line is the result of an effort and strain as in-
tense as her feeling. In this she differs from and is 'above' the 'normal,' as she is too in the designing of the clothes,
and in various symbolic reaches into the materials of a 'higher' class.

Three women's dresses

Mrs. Gudger: I have spoken already of her dresses. I think she has at most five, of which two are ever worn further away
from home than the Woods'. Three are one-piece dresses; two are in two pieces. By cut they are almost identical; by pat-
tern of print they differ, but are similar in having been
carefully chosen, all small and sober, quiet patterns, to be in good
taste and to relieve one another's monotony.
I think it may be well to repeat their general appearance, since it is of her
individual designing, and is so thoroughly a
part of the logic of her body, bearing, face and temper. They have about them
some shadow of nineteenth century influence, tall skirt, short waist, and a little, too, of imitation of Butterick patterns
for housewives' housework-dresses; this chiefly in the efforts at bright or 'cheery,' post-honeymoon-atmosphere trimming:
narrow red or blue tape sewn at the cuffs or throat. But by other reasons again they have her own character and function:
the lines are tall and narrow, as she is, and little relieved, and seem to run straight from the shoulders to the hem low
on the shins, and there is no collar, but a long and low V at the throat, shut narrowly together, so that the whole dress
like her body has the long vertical of a Chartres statue.

Mrs. Woods: Two work dresses. They are both made of fertilizer I sacks, one in one piece, the other in two. Except that the
one-piece dress hangs unbelted, they are much alike: no sleeves; wide hemmed holes cut for the arms; no collar; a wide tri-
angle cut for nursing, and hemmed, in coarse stitching like the armholes; a broad skirt reaching about two inches below the
knee, and falling in thick folds:
the grain of the cloth defined here and there in dark grease, the whole garment clayed
and sweated;
the faded yet bold trademarks showing through in unexpected parts of the material: a garment very little dif-
ferent in some respects from those of the women of the ancient Greeks, and probably very closely matched in Thessaly or
on Euboea.

Mrs. Ricketts: I am not sure that she has more than one work dress: in any case there was no change of it during the time
that I knew her, and it seemed even at the first to have been worn for a long time. Excepting for the clothes of babies, it
is the most primitive sewn and designed garment I have ever seen. It is made of a coarse tan cotton I will speak of later.
It is shaped like a straight-sided bell, with a little hole at the top for the head to stick through, the cloth slit from
the neck to below the breasts and held together if I remember rightly with a small snarl of shoelace; the bare arms stick-
ing through the holes at the sides, the skirt ending a little below the knee, the whole dress standing out a little from the
body on all sides like a child's youngest cartoons, not belted, and too stiffened perhaps with dirt to fall into any folds
other than the broadest and plainest, the skirt so broad away from her at the bottom that, with her little feet and legs
standing down from inside it, for all their beauty they seem comic sticks, and she, a grievous resemblance to newspaper
drawings of timid men in barrels labeled John Q. Public.

Mrs. Ricketts wears one of the corn-shuck hats when she is working. I have never seen her with shoes on.

Mrs. Woods wears a big broken straw when she is working and, occasionally, her husband's oldest shoes.

Mrs. Gudger may have no work shoes; more likely, she uses something cast off by her husband. She worked barefooted
most of the time, sometimes in her slippers. She was enough embarrassed to be barefooted that she may well have wished
to conceal or avoid the indignity before us of using very old and broken shoes which were twice too big for her. She
was shy also of our seeing her in a sunbonnet. I doubt that many headgears have ever been as good or as handsome.

Louise: the dress she wore most was sewn into one piece of two materials, an upper half of faded yellow-checked ging-
ham, and a skirt made of a half-transparent flour sack, and beneath this, the bulk of a pinned, I presume flour sack,
clout; and a gingham bow at the small of the back, and trimming at the neck.
She has two other dresses, which are
worn to Cookstown or for sundays, and are, I imagine, being saved for school. They too are made painstakingly to be
pretty, and as much as possible like pattern and ready-made dresses. During the week she is always barefooted and
wears a wide straw hat in the sun. Her mother dresses her carefully in the idiom of a little girl a year or two lit-
tler than she is. On sundays she wears slippers and socks,
and a narrow blue ribbon in her hair, and a many times
laundered white cloth hat.

Junior: ready-made overalls, one pair old, one not far from new, the newer cuffs turned up; a straw hat; bare feet,
which are one crust of dew-poisoned sores
; a ready-made blue shirt; a homemade gray shirt; a small straw hat. On
sunday, cleaned feet, clean overalls, a white shirt, a dark frayed necktie, a small, frayed, clean, gray cap.

Burt: two changes of clothes. One is overalls and one of two shirts, the other is a suit. The overalls are homemade
out of pale tan cotton. One of the shirts is pale blue, the other is white; they are made apparently, of pillowslip cotton.
The collars are flared open: 'sport' collars, and the sleeves end nearer the shoulder than the elbow. The suit, which is
old and, though carefully kept, much faded, is either a ready-made extravagance' or a hard-worked imitation of one.
is sewn together, pants and an upper piece, the pants pale blue, the upper piece white, with a small rabbit-like collar.
There are six large white non-functional buttons sewn against the blue at the waistline.

Valley Few: In making inventory of the contents of a table drawer I described a number of Valley Few's dresses. I
would now wish to remind you in particular of one decorated with homemade rabbits, and that most of the others
are either plain white or in small utility checks. He also had one of a dark solid blue with red trim at the collar.
Relative to the clothing of the rest of the family, there are a great many babies' dresses, I believe for two good
reasons. One is that they are kept on for the use of one child after another. The other is that there is so little
money to spend. Because there is so little; none at all really for clothes except by luck in the fall; clothes have
to be an afterthought, and because of that, in turn, they can be a steady undertone of desire: so that from month
to month, with now a dime and now even a quarter to spare, the first thing to come to Mrs. Gudger's mind would
be what is to her the most immediate need secondary to food: decent clothes and enough of them. And because
there is so little to be had for that money, she is best likely to satisfy herself in the purchase of the materials
for one complete garment. If this is so, it is of the pattern of her particular care for clothes; it turns up in
neither of the other families.

Valley Few's dresses are like Ellen Woods' and those of most babies here. There is ordinarily no genital genteelism.
The dress hangs just to the crotch; it is fastened by one button at the nape of the neck and is open down the back.
Often there is some attempt to make it pretty with a collar or pockets or both, or a belt; about as often, it is
completely plain.
Crawling along the floor, trailing the whole cape to one side, a baby has the comic and foolish
look of a dog who has been dressed up by children.

Pearl has a dress made of flour sacks, another made of a fertilizer sack, and a third made of brown-and-blue checked
gingham. This is properly her sunday dress, but she is fond of clothes, and is allowed to wear it a fair amount on
week-days, along with her brown glass beads, her ring and hcr white slippers. There wiil be no time in this volume
to tell much of personalities, but I think I will say a little briefly, here. Pearl is much more conscious of clothes
than are Louise, Flora Merry Lee, and Katy, who are all near her age, and her mother's casualness is also significant.
Mrs. Woods and her mother are of the sexually loose 'stock' of which most casual country and smalltown whoredom
and the child, already showing the signs, is effortlessly let drift her own way. I would not suggest that any
'attitude' towards this, on your part or mine, is sound enough to be worth striking; I am merely remarking a detail of
the childhood of Pearl's mother and grandmother, who I may add
appeared to be by far the best satisfied and satis-
fying women, of their class or of any other
, whom I happened to see during this time in the south.

At home her younger half-brother Thomas goes naked some of the time. More often he wears a wornout undershirt which
about covers his ribs, or a dress made by cutting off one end of a broadstriped pillowsack and cutting in the other
end holes for his head and arms.

Mrs. Gudger has exceedingly little money and an intense determination to hold her family's clothing within a cer-
tain level of respectability; Mrs. Woods has exceedingly little money and is relaxed into a level of improvisations,
perhaps more fully, with less mixture of calicos, than is average; Mrs. Ricketts, with exceedingly little money as
compared even with them, has donf still otherwise.

Several years ago, judging by appearance, she bought a quantity of a cloth which, though not intended or ordinarily
used for clothes, seemed feasible to her: a great many yards of coarse and unbleached cotton, the cheapest available
material of which sheets and pillowcases are made at home: in a color somewhere between ivory, pale gray and white:
and of this sheeting nearly all the clothes are made, varied only once or twice in its own designing, and by a few
worn-out homemade sunday clothes, and by a few equally worn-out store clothes. It seems worth noticing that the old
sunday clothes are much more than ordinarily talented, careful, hopeful and ambitious, and that with one or two ex-
the sheeting clothes are almost as if vindictively plain. All this sheeting is deeply grained in the colors
and maculations of clay, dark grease and sweat
and is stiff with this dirt, and is a good deal patched, in more sheet-
ing, in floursack cloth, and in blue shirttail.

Clair Bell wears a short dress, halfway down the thighs, made of a plain straight sack of this sheeting, frayed holes
for the arms and head, and alternate with it, a dress of the same material more tenderly made, with a flared skirt, a
belt, and an effort at tucking at the throat, abandoned midway. On sundays, or when she is being taken to town, or
sometimes when there is 'company,' she is taken aside and a closefitting pair of pink rayon drawers are drawn onto her.
These are among the only three garments which give any evidence of recent purchase: everything else seems at least
three or four years old.

Katy and Flora Merry Lee are of the same size and use each other's clothes. They have between them perhaps three
dresses made of the sheeting, with short sleeves and widened skirts, and shirts or blouses made of thin washed flour
sacking, and each has a pair of sheeting overalls. They wear what I presume are floursack drawers, pinned as a diaper
is. They sometimes wear the shirts with the overalls; at other times, excepting the overalls, they go naked. They
have no 'sunday' clothes; for sunday they wear the least unclean of these dresses, and a few cheap pins, neclclaces
and lockets. During the week as well as on sunday they sometimes tie dirty blue ribbons into their hair, and some-
times shoestrings.

Richard and Garvrin have between them a pair of very old ready-made overalls, and three or four shirts made some of
sheeting and some of floursacks. Each has a pair of sheeting overalls, and a pair of corduroy pants from which the nap
is almost entirely rubbed and washed.
They fairly often wear the shirts; more often, they go naked except for the over-
alls or corduroys. On sundays the corduroys are brushed off and the week's damages are mended, and they wear these with
frayed nearly clean white shirts which are saved from week to week, and with frazzled ties.

Paralee, for daily work, usually wears what was once her sunday dress. It is a transparent blue cotton covered with
white and faded gold circles, with a carefully made collar, torn, narrow lace at the sleeves, and at the breast a des-
troyed ruffle
of curtain lace and dirty blue ribbons. The dress is torn at the shoulders and along the sides of the

Margaret at her daily work wears sometimes a long wide dark skirt and floursack or sheeting blouse, sometimes a sheet-
ing dress. This latter was, I am quite sure, designed as a 'best' dress. It is carefully made throughout to hand and to fit
well, and at the left breast and shoulder and across the back of the shoulders, hanging half down the back, is a broad
sort of combined collar-and-cape of faded blue cotton.

Paralee sometimes wears black glass beads on weekdays as well as on sundays. Margaret seldom does.

Their clothing too is I presume interchangeable, though there was no overlapping during the time I knew them.

Margaret has two sunday dresses. One was made at home. It is of thin and very cheap white cotton, unskilfully gather-
ed at the breast to a nakedly plain, round, very carefully hemmed throat. It is belted, but does not fit her or hang
successfully, and the coarse and somewhat dirty undergarment shows through. Her other dress must I am sure have been
bought ready-made and at terrible expense in their scale of money. It is an imitation of the elaborate sort of dress
a 'well-preserved,' dark-haired, elegantly well-to-do, middle aged woman might at some uncertain time during the past
twenty years have worn formally:
black transparent crepe, sewn over thickly with a coruscation of small jet beads.
But the elaborations are worn down into an almost indistinguishable chaos; the black undergarment is torn in several
places; many of the beads are lost, or hang loose on their threads; and the cloth is sweated open irreparably and a-
larmingly at the armpits, so that when the arms are raised, there is in this somberness the sudden bright dreadful-
ness of twin yawning cats.

Paralee is much more fortunate. She has a new dress, and it is fully and exactly of the kind which middle class girls
of her age wear in town on saturday afternoons. And yet it isn't exactly of that kind.
In the wish for brilliance and
emphasis and propriety, everything is overstepped. The orange and blue and white stripes are far more anxiously bold
than any worn by town girls, save now and then a negress, and the fit is almost too sharp and sporting, and the strength,
deftness and flexibility of her body betray her, and the dress, and her deeply tanned, rural, strongly freckled face, her
too-carefully done hair, the use with this garment of all the jewelery she has, and above all the excitement, the blend
of confidence and terror, and the desperately searching hope which blaze in her eyes, all these betray her still more

hopelessly, so that she would inspire the fear inspired by all who are over-eager or who would 'climb,' and seems al-
most as if she had stolen the dress.

These are the clothes which these girls must wear to attract men and to qualify as marriageable. Many girls marry at
sixteen, not a few at fifteen or even fourteen; nearly all are married by seventeen;
by the time they are eighteen,
if they are unmarried, they are drifted towards the spinster class, a trouble to their parents, an embarrassment to
court and be seen with, a dry agony to themselves:
Paralee is nineteen; and Margaret is twenty. Margaret has alrea-
dy the mannerisms and much of the
psychic balance of a middle-aged woman of the middle class in the north.

Mrs. Ricketts, sunday:

A long and full skirt of dead black cotton held at the hip by a safetypin. A blouse of the same material, plain at
the throat, sleeves to the elbows. No trimming nor any kind of surplus cloth.
Spots and streaks, reasserting them-
selves through the drying moisture with which she has tried to erase them
. The hem fallen in a part of the skirt. No
ornaments of any kind. No hat, or a straw hat (ready-made). It is thus also that she dressed to ride to Cookstown
when cotton was taken to gin.

Mrs. Woods, in Cookstown:

She stands a little apart from everyone in the dark drugstore waiting until the doctor shall be ready to attend to
her abscessed tooth, while the men at the soda fountain are turned and watch her. She wears no hat, nor stockings,
nor shoes. Her dress is made at home of thin pillowslip cotton, plain at the throat, cut deep for nursing, without
sleeves, reaching a little below her knees, belted in with
a belt of narrow glazed cracked scarlet leather, all
edges of the material frayed, a deep tear along the back, another through which her right knee shows, the design of
the whole very much that of the plainest sort of nightgown,
the whole fabric a welter of sweat and dirt. She rests
her weight on one foot and studies the other while they look at her. She is noticeably though not yet heavily preg-
She wears a 'slip' beneath this dress but the materials of both are so thin that her dark sweated nipples are
stuck to them and show through, and it is at her nipples, mainly, that the men keep looking
. It is thus also that
she is dressed on sundays.

Mrs. Woods' mother:

A wide short striped skirt, the stripes blue and white: thick- ribbed black cotton stockings, wrinkled on her legs:
Keds, the ankles patched, the soles worn through: a man's work shirt, so exceedingly old it is almost white: a red
bandana tied at the throat: a man's large new yellow straw hat.

Past: Mrs. Gudger has, besides the magenta straw she wears at present, two other hats.

an omelet shape of crimson straw slanted through with a thick stripped white quill, the coloring ruined with
. It is at fifteenth remove an imitation of those 'smart' hats which set off 'smart,' incisive, leisured, vicious faces.

Two: this I have formerly described. It is
the great-brimmed, triumphal crown I found ruined yet saved in a table
drawer, which had been so patiently home made. I will remark now that in its breadth and elaborateness it is remini-
scent of the hats which were stylish around 1900, and that it is of such a particular splendor that I am fairly
sure it was her wedding hat, made for her, perhaps as a surprise, by her mother.
She was sixteen then; her skin
would have been white, and clear of wrinkles, her body and its postures and her eyes even more pure than they are
today; and she would have been happy, and confident enough in her beauty, to wear it without fear: and in her long
white home made marriage dress and in that glory of a hat, with her sister Emma, seven years old, marveling up at
her, and her mother standing away and approving her while her image slowly turned upon itself on blank floor and
in a glass, she was such a poem as no human being shall touch.


IN EVERY CHILD who is born, under no matter what circumstances, and of no matter what parents, the potentiality
of the human race is born again: and in him, too, once more, and of each of us, our terrific responsibility towards
human life; towards the utmost idea of goodness, of the horror of error, and of God.

Every breath his senses shall draw, every act and every shadow and thing in all creation, is a mortal poison, or is
a drug, or is a signal or symptom, or is a teacher, or is a liberator, or is liberty itself, depending entirely upon
his understanding: and understanding, and action proceeding from understanding and guided by it, is the one weapon
against the world's bombardment,
the one medicine, the one instrument by which liberty, health, and joy may be
shaped or shaped towards, in the individual, and in the race.

This is no place to dare all questions that must be asked, far less to advance our tentatives in this murderous air,
nor even to qualify so much as a little the little which thus far has been suggested, nor even either to question
or to try to support my qualifications to speak of it at all: we are too near one of the deepest intersections of
pity, terror doubt and guilt; and I feel that I can say only, that
'education,' whose function is at the crisis of
this appalling responsibility, does not seem to me to be all, or even anything, that it might be, but seems indeed
the very property of the world's misunderstanding, the sharpest of its spearheads in every brain: and that since it
could not be otherwise without destroying the world's machine, the world is unikely to permit it to be otherwise.

In fact, and ignorant though I am, nothing, not even law, nor property, nor sexual ethics, nor fear, nor doubtless-
ness, nor even authority itself, all of which it is the business of education to cleanse the brain of, can so nearly
annihilate me with fury and with horror; as the spectacle of innocence, of defenselessness, of all human hope,
brought steadily in each year by the millions into the machineries of the teachings of the world, in which the man
who would conceive of and who would dare attempt even the beginnings of what 'teaching' must be could not exist
two months clear of a penitentiary: presuming even that his own perceptions, and the courage of his perceptions,
were not a poison as deadly at least as those poisons he would presume to drive out: or the very least of whose
achievements, supposing he cared truly not only to hear himself speak but to be understood, would be a broken

For these and other reasons it would seem to me mistaken to decry the Alabama public schools, or even to say
that they are 'worse' or 'less good' than schools elsewhere: or to be particularly wholehearted in the regret that
these tenants are subjected only to a few years of this education: for they would be at a disadvantage if they
had more of it, and at a disadvantage if they had none, and they are at a disadvantage in the little they have;
and it would be hard and perhaps impossible to say in which way their disadvantage would be greatest.

School was not in session while I was there. My research on this subject was thin, indirect, and deductive. By one
way of thinking it will seem for these reasons worthless: by another, which I happen to trust more, it may be suf-

I saw, for instance, no teachers: yet I am quite sure it is safe to assume that they are local at very least to the
state and quite probably to the county;
that most of them are women to whom teaching is either an incident of
their youth or a poor solution for their spinsterhood;
that if they were of much intelligence or courage they could
not have survived their training in the State Normal or would never have undertaken it in the first place;
that they
are saturated in every belief and ignorance which is basic in their country and community;
that any modification of
this must be very mild indeed if they are to survive as teachers; that even if, ill spite of all th.ese screenings,
there are superior persons among them, they are still again limited to texts and to a system of requirements offic-
ially imposed on them; and are caught between the pressures of class, of the state, of the churches, and of the pa-
and are confronted by minds already so deeply formed that to liberate them would involve uncommon and as
yet perhaps undiscovered philosophic and surgical skill.
I have only sketched a few among dozens of the facts and
forces which limit them; and even so I feel at liberty to suggest
that even the best of these, the kindly, or the in-
tuitive, the so-called natural teachers, are exceedingly more likely than not to be impossibly handicapped both from
without and within themselves, and are at best the servants of unconscious murder; and of the others, the gen-
eral run, that if murder of the mind and spirit were statutory crimes, the law, in its customary eagerness to punish
the wrong person, might spend all its ingenuity in the invention of deaths by delayed torture and never sufficiently
expiate the enormities which through them, not by their own fault, have been committed.

Or again on the curriculum: it was unnecessary to make even such search into this as I made to know that there
is no setting before the students of 'economic' or 'social' or 'political' 'facts' and of their situation within these
no attempt made to clarify or even slightly to relieve the situation between the white and negro races,
far less to explain the sources, no attempt to clarify psychological situations in the individual, in his family,
or in his world, no attempt to get beneath and to revise those 'ethical' and 'social' pressures and beliefs in
which even a young child is trapped,
no attempt, beyond the most nominal, to interest a child in using or in dis-
covering his senses and judgment, no attempt to counteract the paralytic quality inherent in 'authority,' no at-
tempt beyond the most nominal and stifling to awaken, to protect, or to 'guide' the sense of investigation, the
sense of joy, the sense of beauty, no attempt to clarify spoken and written words whose power of deceit even
at the simplest is vertiginous,
no attempt, or very little, and ill taught, to teach even the earliest techniques of
improvement in occupation ('scientific farming,' diet and cooking, skilled trades), nor to 'teach' a child in terms
of his environment, no attempt, beyond the most suffocated, to awaken a student either to 'religion' or to 'irrel-
igion,' no attempt to develop in him either 'skepticism' or 'faith,' nor 'wonder,' nor mental 'honesty' nor mental
'courage,' nor any understanding of or delicateness in 'the emotions' and in
any of the uses and pleasures of
the body save the athletic; no attempt either to relieve him of fear and of poison in sex or to release in him
a free beginning of pleasure in it, nor to open within him the illimitable potentials of grief, of danger, and of
goodness in sex and in sexual love, nor to give him the beginnings at very least of a knowledge, and of an atti-
tude, whereby he may hope to guard and increase himself and those whom he touches,
no indication of the damages
which society, money, law, fear and quick belief have set upon these matters and upon all things in human life,
nor of their causes, nor of the alternate ignorances and possibilities of ruin or of joy, no fear of doubtless-
ness, no fear of the illusions of knowledge, no fear of compromise:--and here again I have scarcely begun, and
am confronted immediately with a serious problem: that is: by my naming of the lack of such teaching, I can ap-
pear too easily to recommend it, to imply, perhaps, that if these things were 'taught,' all would be 'solved':
and this I do not believe: but insist rather that in the teaching of these things, infinitely worse damage could
and probably would result than in the teaching of those subjects which in fact do compose the curriculum: and
that those who would most insist upon one or another of them can be among the deadliest enemies of education:
for if the guiding hand is ill qualified, an instrument is murderous in proportion to its sharpness. Nothing I
have mentioned but is at the mercy of misuse;
and one may be sure a thousand to one it will be misused; and
that its misuse will block any more 'proper' use even more solidly than unuse and discrediting could. It could
be said, that we must learn a certitude and correlation in every 'value' before it will be possible to 'teach'
and not to murder; but that is far too optimistic. We would do better to examine, far beyond their present
examination, the extensions within ourselves of doubt, responsibility, and conditioned faith and the pos-
sibilities of their more profitable union, to a degree at least of true and constant terror in even our ten-
tatives, and if (for instance) we should dare to be 'teaching' what Marx began to open, that we should do so
only in the light of the terrible researches of Kafka and in the opposed identities of Blake and Celine.

All I have managed here, and it is more than I intended, is to give a confused statement of an intention which
presumes itself to be good: the mere attempt to examine my own confusion would consume volumes. But let
what I have tried to suggest amount to this alone: that not only within present reach of human intelligence, but
even within reach of mine as it stands today, it would be possible that
young human beings should rise onto
their feet a great deal less dreadfully crippled than they are, a great deal more nearly capable of living well,
a great deal more nearly aware, each of them, of their own dignity in existence
, a great deal better qualified,
each within his limits, to live and to take part toward the creation of a world in which good living will be
possible without guilt toward every neighbor: and that teaching at present, such as it is, is almost entirely
either irrelevant to these possibilities or destructive of them, and is, indeed, all but entirely unsuccessful
even within its own 'scales' of 'value.'

Within the world as it stands, however, the world they must live in, a certain form of education is airailable
to these tenant children; and the extent to which they can avail themselves of it is of considerable importance
in all their future living.

A few first points about it:

They are about as poorly equipped for self-education as human beings can be. Their whole environment is such
that the use of the intelligence, of the intellect, and of the emotions is atrophied, and is all but entirely irrele-
vant to the pressures and needs which involve almost every instant of a tenant's conscious living:
and indeed
if these faculties were not thus reduced or killed at birth they would result in a great deal of pain, not to say
danger. They learn the work they will spend their lives doing, chiefly of their parents, and from their parents
and from the immediate world they take their conduct, their morality, and their mental and emotional and spiritual
key. One could hardly say that any further knowledge or consciousness is at all to their use or advantage, since
there is nothing to read, no reason to write, and no recourse against being cheated even if one is able to do
yet these forms of literacy are in general held to be desirable: a man or woman feels a certain sort of ex-
tra helplessness who lacks them:
a truly serious or ambitious parent hopes for even more, for a promising child;
though what 'more' may be is, inevitably, only dimly understood.

School opens in middle or late September and closes the first of May. The country children, with their lunches,
are picked up by busses at around seven-thirty in the morning and are dropped off again towards the early winter
darkness. In spite of the bus the children of these three families have a walk to take. In dry weather it is
shortened a good deal; the bus comes up the branch road as far as the group of negro houses at the bottom of the
second hill and the Ricketts children walk half a mile to meet it and the Gudger children walk three quarters.
In wet weather the bus can't risk leaving the highway and
the Ricketts walk two miles and the Gudgers a mile and
a half in clay which in stretches is knee-deep on a child.

There was talk during the summer of graveling the road, though most of the fathers are over forty-five, beyond
roadage. They can hardly afford the time to do such work for nothing, and they and their negro neighbors are in
no position to pay taxes.
Nothing had come of it within three weeks of the start of school, and there was no
prospect of free time before cold weather.

Southern winters are sickeningly wet, and wet clay is perhaps the hardest of all walking. 'Attendance' suffers
by this cause, and by others. Junior Gudger, for instance, was absent sixty-five and Louise fifty-three days out
of a possible hundred-and-fifty-odd, and these absences were 'unexcused' eleven and nine times respectively,
twenty-three of Junior's and a proportionate number of Louise's absences fell in March and April, which are full
of work at home as well as wetness. Late in her second year in school Louise was needed at home and missed
several consecutive school days, including the final examinations. Her 'marks' had been among the best in her
class and she had not known of the examination date, but no chance was given her to make up the examinations
and she had to take the whole year over. The Ricketts children have much worse attendance records and Pearl
does not attend at all.

School does not begin until the children shall have helped two weeks to a month in the most urgent part of the
picking season, and ends in time for them to be at work on the cotton-chopping.

The bus system which is now a routine of country schools is helpful, but not particularly to those who live at
any distance from tax-maintained roads.

The walking, and the waiting in the cold and wetness, one day after another, to school in the morning, and home
from schools in the shriveling daylight, is arduous and unpleasant.

Schooling, here as elsewhere, is identified with the dullest and most meager months of the year, and, in this
class and country, with the least and worst food and a cold noonday lunch:
and could be set only worse at a dis-
advantage if it absorbed the pleasanter half of the year.

The 'attendance problem' is evidently taken for granted and, judging by the low number of unexcused absences, is
'leniently' dealt with: the fact remains, though, that the children lose between a third to half of each school
year, and must with this handicap keep up their lessons and 'compete' with town children in a contest in which
competition is stressed and success in it valued and rewarded.

The schoolhouse itself is in Cookstown; a recently built, windowy, 'healthful' red brick and white-trimmed struc-
ture which perfectly exemplifies the American genius for sterility, unimagination, and general gutlessness in
meeting any opportunity for 'reform' or 'improvement.'
It is the sort of building a town such as Cookstown is
proud of, and a brief explanation of its existence in such country will be worth while. Of late years Alabama
has 'come awake' to 'education,' illiteracy has been reduced; texts have been modernized; a good many old schools
have been replaced by new ones. For this latter purpose the counties have received appropriations in proportion
to the size of their school population.
The school population of this county is five black to one white, and
since not a cent of the money has gone into negro schools, such buildings as this are possible: for white child-
ren. The negro children, meanwhile, continue to sardine themselves, a hundred and a hundred and twenty strong,
into stove-heated one-room pine shacks which might comfortably accommodate a fifth of their number if the walls,
roof, and windows were tight. But then, as one prominent landlord said and as many more would agree: 'I don't
object to nigrah education, not up through foath a fift grade maybe, but not furdern dat: I'm too strong a bel-
ievah in white syewpremcy.'

This bus service and this building the (white) children are schooled in, even including the long and muddy walk,
are of course effete as compared to what their parents had. The schooling itself is a different matter, too:
much more 'modern.' The boys and girls alike are subjected to 'art' and to 'music,' and the girls learn the
first elements of tap dancing.
Textbooks are so cheap almost anyone can afford them: that is, almost anyone who
can afford anything at all; which means that they are a stiff problem in any year to almost any tenant. I want
now to list and suggest the contents of a few textbooks which were at the Gudger house, remembering, first, that
they imply the far reaches of the book-knowledge of any average adult tenant.

     The Open Door Language Series: First Book: Language Stories and Games.
     Trips to Take. Among the contents are poems by Vachel Lindsay, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Robert Louis
     Stevenson, etc. Also a story titled: 'Brother Rabbit's Cool Air Swing,' and subheaded: 'Old Southern Tale.'
     Outdoor Visits: Book Two of Nature and Science Readers. (Book One is Hunting.) Book Two opens: 'Dear
     Boys and Girls: in this book you will read how Nan and Don visited animals and plants that live outdoors.'
     Real Life Readers: New Stories and Old: A Third Reader.
     Illustrated with color photographs.
     The Trabue-Stevens Speller. Just another speller.
     Champion Arithmetic. Five hundred and ten pages: a champion psychological inducement to an interest in
     numbers. The final problem: 'Janet bought I Ibs. of salted peanuts and lb. of salted almonds. Altogether she
     bought ? lbs. of nuts?'

Dear Boys and Girls indeed!

Such a listing is rich as a poem; twisted'full of contents, symptoms, and betrayals, and these, as in a poem,
are only reduced and diluted by any attempt to explain them or even by hinting.
Personally I see enough there
to furnish me with bile for a month
: yet I know that any effort to make clear in detail what is there, and why
it seems to me so fatal, must fail.

Even so, see only a little and only for a moment.

These are books written by 'adults.' They must win the ap- proval and acceptance of still other 'adults,' mem-
bers of school 'boards'; and they will be 'taught' with by still other 'adults' who have been more or less
'trained' as teachers. The intention is, or should be, to engage, excite, preserve, or develop the 'in- depen-
dence' of, and furnish with 'guidance,' 'illumination,' 'method,' and 'information,' the curiosities of child-

Now merely re-examine a few words, phrases and facts:

The Open Door: open to whom. That metaphor is supposed to engage the interest of children.

Series: First Book. Series. Of course The Bobsey Twins is a series; so is The Rover Boys. Series perhaps has
some pleasure associations to those who have children's books, which no tenant children have: but even so it
is better than canceled by the fact that this is so obviously not a pleasure book but a schoolbook, not even
well disguised. An undisguised textbook is only a little less pleasing than a sneaking and disguised one,
though. First Book: there entirely for the convenience of adults; it's only grim to a child.

Language: it appears to be a modern substitution for the word 'English.' I don't doubt the latter word has been
murdered, the question is, whether the new one has any life whatever to a taught child or, for that matter, to a

Stories and Games: both, modified by a school word, and in a school context. Most children prefer pleasure to
boredom, lacking our intelligence to reverse this preference: but you must use your imagination or memory to
recognize how any game can be poisoned by being 'conducted': and few adults have either.

Trips to Take. Trips indeed, for children who will never again travel as much as in their daily bus trips to
and from school. Children like figures of speech or are, if you like, natural symbolists and poets: being so,
they see through frauds such as this so much the more readily
. No poem is a 'trip,' whatever else it may be,
and suffers by being lied about.

The verse. I can readily imagine that 'educators' are well pleased with themselves in that they have got rid
of the Bivouac of the Dead and are using much more nearly contemporary verse. I am quite as sure, knowing their
kind of 'knowledge' of poetry, that the pleasure is all theirs.

These children, both of town and country, are saturated southerners, speaking dialects not very different from
those of negroes. Brother Rabbit! Old Southern Tale!

Outdoor Visits. Nature and Science. Book One: Hunting. Dear Boys and Girls. In this book you will read (oh, I
will, will I?). Nan and Don. Visit. Animals and Plants that Live Outdoors. Outdoors.
You will pay formal calls
on Plants. They live outdoors
. 'Nature.' 'Science.' Hunting. Dear Boys and Girls. Outdoor Visits.

Real Life. 'Real' 'Life' 'Readers.' Illustrated by color photographs.

Or back into the old generation, a plainer title: The Trabue-Stevens Speller. Or the Champion Arithmetic,
weight eighteen pounds, an attempt at ingratiation in the word champion, so broad of any mark I am surprised
it is not spelled Champeen.

Or you may recall the page of geography text I have quoted elsewhere: which, I must grant, tells so much about
education that this chapter is probably unnecessary.

I give up. Relative to my memory of my own grade-schooling, I recognize all kinds of 'progressive' modifica-
tions: Real Life, color photographs, Trips to Take (rather than Journey, to Make), games, post-kindergarten,
'Language,' Nan and Don, 'Nature and Science,' Untermeyer-vintage poetry, 'dear boys and girls'; and
I am sure
of only one thing: that it is prepared by adults for their own self-flattery and satisfaction, and is to chil-
dren merely the old set retouched, of afflictions, bafflements, and half-legible insults more or less apatheti-
cally submitted to.

Louise Gudger is fond of school, especially of geography and arithmetic, and gets unusually good 'marks': which
means in part that she has an intelligence quick and acquisitive above the average, in part that she has learned
to parrot well and to respect 'knowledge' as it is presented to her. She has finished the third grade. In the
fourth grade she will learn all about the history of her country. Her father and much more particularly. her mo-
ther is excited over her brightness and hopeful of it: they intend to make every conceivable effort by which she
may continue not only through the grades but clear through high school. She wants to become a teacher, and quite
possibly she will; or a trained nurse; and again quite possibly she will.

Junior Gudger is in the second grade because by Alabama law a pupil is automatically passed after three years
in a grade. He is still almost entirely unable to read and write, and is physically fairly skilful. It may be that
he is incapable of 'learning':
in any case 'teaching' him would be a 'special problem.' It would be impossible
in a public, competitive class of mixed kinds and degrees of 'intelligence'; and I doubt that most public-
school teachers are trained in it anyhow.

Burt and Valley Few are too young for school. I foresee great difficulty for Burt, who now at four is in so des-
perate a psychological situation that he is capable of speaking any language beyond gibberish (in which he has
great rhythmic and syllabic talent) only after he has been given the security of long and friendly attention, of
a sort which markedly excludes his brothers.

Pearl Woods, who is eight, may have started to school this fall (1936); more likely not, though, for it was to
depend on whether the road was graveled so she would not have the long walk to the bus alone or within con-
tamination of the Ricketts children. She is extremely sensitive, observant, critical and crafty, using her mind
and her senses much more subtly than is ever indicated or 'taught' in school:
whether her peculiar intelligence
will find engagement or ruin in the squarehead cogs of public schooling is another matter.

Thomas is three years too young for school. As a comedian and narcist dancer he has natural genius; aside
from this I doubt his abilities. Natural artists, such as he is, and natural craftsmen, like Junior, should not nec-
essarily have to struggle with reading and writing; they have other ways of learning, and of enlarging them-
selves, which however are not available to them.

Clair Bell is three years young for school and it seems probable that she will not live for much if any of it,
so estimates are rather irrelevant. I will say, though, that I was so absorbed in her physical and spiritual
beauty that I was not on the lookout for signs of 'intelligence' or the lack of it, and that education, so far
as I know it, would either do her no good or would hurt her.

Flora Merry Lee and Katy are in the second grade. Katy, though she is so shy that she has to write out her read-
ing lessons, is brighter than average; Flora Merry Lee, her mother says, is brighter than Katy; she reads and
writes smoothly and 'specially delights in music.' Garvrin and Richard are in the fourth grade. Garvrin doesn't
take to schooling very easily though he tries hard; Richard is bright but can't get interested;
his mind wanders.
In another year or two they will be big enough for full farm work and will be needed for it, and that will be
the end of school.

Margaret quit school when she was in the fifth grade because her eyes hurt her so badly every time she studied
books. She has forgotten a good deal how to read. Paralee quit soon after Margaret did because she was lonesome.
She still reads fairly easily, and quite possibly will not forget how.

The Ricketts are spoken of disapprovingly, even so far away as the county courthouse, as 'problem' children.
Their attendance record is extremely bad; their conduct is not at all good; they are always fighting and sassing
back. Besides their long walk in bad weather, here is some more explanation.
They are much too innocent to under-
stand the profits of docility. They have to wear clothes and shoes which make them the obvious butts of most of
the children. They come of a family which is marked and poor even among the poor whites, and are looked down on
even by most levels of the tenant class. They are uncommonly sensitive, open, trusting, easily hurt, and amazed
by meanness and by cruelty, and their ostracism is of a sort to inspire savage loyalty among them. They are in-
deed 'problems'; and the 'problem' will not be simplified as these 'over'- sexed and anarchic children shift
into adolescence. The two girls in particular seem inevitably marked out for incredibly cruel misunderstanding and

Mrs. Ricketts can neither read nor write. She went to school one day in her life and her mother got sick and she
never went back. Another time she told me that the children laughed at her dress and the teacher whipped her for
hitting back at them, but Margaret reminded her that that was the dress she had made for Flora Merry Lee and that
it was Flora Merry Lee and Katy who had been whipped, and she agreed that that was the way it was.

Fred Ricketts learned quickly. He claims to have learned how to read music in one night (he does, in any case,
read it), and he reads language a little less hesitantly than the others do and is rather smug about it -'I was
readn whahl back na Pgressive Fahmuh -' He got as far as the fifth grade and all ways was bright.
When his tea-
cher said the earth turned on a axle, he asked her was the axle set in posts, then. She said yes, she reck-
oned so. He said well, wasn't hell supposed to be under the earth, and if it was wouldn't they be all the time
trying to chop the axle post out from under the earth?
But here the earth still was, so what was all this talk
about axles. 'Teacher never did bring up nothn bout no axles after that. No sir, she never did bring up nothin
about no durn axles after that. No sir-ree, she shore never did brang up nufn baout no dad blame axles attah

Woods quit school at twelve when he ran away and went to work in the mines. He can read, write, and figure; so
can his wife.
Woods understands the structures and tintings of rationalization in money, sex, language, religion,
law, and general social conduct in a sour way which is not on the average curriculum.

George Gudger can spell and read and write his own name; beyond that he is helpless. He got as far as the second
grade. By that time there was work for him and he was slow minded anyway. He feels it is a terrible handicap not
to be educated and still wants to learn to read and write and to figure, and his wife has tried to learn him, and
still wants to. He still wants to, too, but he thinks it is unlikely that he will ever manage to get the figures and
letters to stick in his head.

Mrs. Gudger can read, write, spell, and handle simple arithmetic, and grasps and is excited by such matters as
the plainer facts of astronomy and geology. In fact, whereas many among the three families have crippled but very
full and real intelligences, she and to a perhaps less extent her father have also intellects. But these intel-
lects died before they were born; they hang behind their eyes like fetuses in alcohol.

It may be that more are born 'incapable of learning,' in this class, or in any case 'incapable of learning,' or
of 'using their intelligences,' beyond 'rudimentary' stages, than in economically luckier classes. If this is
so, and I doubt the proportion is more than a little if at all greater, several ideas come to mind: Incapable of
learning what? And capable of learning what else, which is not available either to them or, perhaps, in the whole
field and idea of education? Or are they incapable through incompetent teaching, or through blind standards, or
none, on the part of educators, for measuring what 'intelligence' is? Or incapable by what pressures of past cau-
ses in past generations? Or should the incapability be so lightly (or sorrowfully) dismissed as it is by teach-
ers and by the middle class in general?

But suppose a portion are born thus 'incapable': the others, nevertheless,
the great majority, are born with 'in-
telligences' potentially as open and 'healthful,' and as varied in pattern and in charge, as any on earth. And by
their living, and by their education, they are made into hopeless and helpless cripples, capable exactly and no
more of doing what will keep them alive:
by no means so well equipped as domestic and free animals: and that is
what their children are being made into, more and more incurably, in every year, and in every day.

'Literacy' is to some people a pleasing word: when 'illiteracy' percentages drop, many are pleased who formerly
were shocked, and think no more of it. Disregarding the proved fact that few doctors of philosophy are literate,
that is, that few of them have the remotest idea how to read, how to say what they mean, or what they mean in the
first place, the word literacy means very little even as it is ordinarily used.
An adult tenant writes and spells
and reads painfully and hesitantly as a child does and is incapable of any save the manifest meanings of any but
the simplest few hundred words,
and is all but totally incapable of absorbing, far less correlating, far less cri-
tically examining, any 'ideas' whether true or false; or even physical facts beyond the simplest and most visible.
That they are, by virtue of these limitations, among the only 'honest' and 'beautiful' users of language, is true,
perhaps, but it is not enough.
They are at an immeasurable disadvantage in a world which is run, and in which they
are hurt, and in which they might be cured, by 'knowledge' and by 'ideas': and to 'consciousness' or 'knowledge'
in its usages in personal conduct and in human relationships, and to those unlimited worlds of the senses, the
remembrance, the mind and the heart which, beyond that of their own existence, are the only human hope, dignity,
solace, increasement, and joy, they are all but totally blinded. The ability to try to understand existence, the
ability to try to recognize the wonder and responsibility of one's own existence, the ability to know even fract-
ionally the almost annihilating beauty, ambiguity, darkness, and horror which swarm every instant of every con-
sciousness, the ability to try to accept, or the ability to try to defend one's self, or the ability to dare to try to
assist others;
all such as these, of which most human beings are cheated of their potentials, are, in most
of those who even begin to discern or wish for them, the gifts or thefts of economic privilege, and are avail-
able to members of these leanest classes only by the rare and irrelevant miracle of born and surviving 'talent.'

Or to say it in another way: I believe that every human being is potentially capable, within his 'limits,' of fully
'realizing' his potentialities; that this, his being cheated and choked of it, is infinitely the ghastliest, commonest,
and most inclusive of all the crimes of which the human world can accuse itself; and that the discovery and use
of 'consciousness,' which has always been and is our deadliest enemy and deceiver, is also the source and
guide of all hope and cure, and the only one.

I am not at all trying to lay out a thesis, far less to substantiate or to solve. I do not consider myself qual-
I know only that murder is being done, against nearly every individual in the planet, and that there are
dimensions and correlations of cure which not only are not being used but appear to be scarcely considered or
suspected. I know there is cure, even now available, if only it were available, in science and in the fear and joy
of God.
This is only a brief personal statement of these convictions: and my self-disgust is less in my igno-
rance, and far less in my 'failure' to 'defend' or 'support' the statement, than in my inability to state it even
so far as I see it, and in my inability to blow out the brains with it of you who take what it is talking of
lightly, or not seriously enough.

A few notes

Most of you would never be convinced that much can be implied out of little: that everything to do with tenant ed-
ucation, for instance, is fully and fairly indicated in the mere list of textbooks. I have not learned how to make
this clear, so I have only myself to thank. On the other hand there are plenty of people who never get anything into
their heads until they are brained by twenty years' documentation: these are the same people who so scrupulously
obey, insist on, and interpret 'the facts,' and 'the rules.'

I have said a good deal more here on what ought to be than on what is: but God forbid I should appear to say, 'I
know what ought to be, and this is it.' But it did and does seem better to shout a few obvious facts (they can nev-
er be 'obvious' enough) than to meech. The meechers will say, Yes, but do you realize all (or any) of the obstacles,
presuming you are (in general) a little more right than merely raving? The answer is, I am sure I don't realize them
all, but I realize more of them, probably, than you do. Our difference is that you accept and respect them. 'Educa-
tion' as it stands is tied in with every bondage I can conceive of, and is the chief cause of these bondages, includ-
ing acceptance and respect, which are the worst bondages of all.
'Education,' if it is anything short of crime, is a
recognition of these bondages and a discovery of more and a deadly enemy of all of them;
it is the whole realm of hu-
man consciousness, action, and possibility; it has above all to try to recognize and continuously to suspect and
to extend its understanding of its own nature. It is all science and all conduct; it is also all religion. By which
I mean, it is all 'good' or 'wise' science, conduct, and religion. It is also all individuals; no less various. It cannot
be less and be better than outrageous. Its chief task is fearfully to try to learn what is 'good' and 'why' (and when),
and how to communicate, and its own dimensions, and its responsibility.

Oh, I am very well aware how adolescent this is and how easily laughable. I will nevertheless insist that any per-
sons milder, more obedient to or compromising I with 'the obstacles as they are,' more 'realistic,' contented with
the effort for less, are dreamy and insufficiently skeptical. Those are the worst of the enemies, and always have

I don't know whether negroes or whites teach in the negro schools; I presume negroes. If they are negroes, I would
presume for general reasons that many of them, or most, are far superior to the white teachers. By and large only
the least capable of whites become teachers, particularly in primary schools, and more particularly in small towns
and in the country: whereas with so little in the world available to them, it must be that many of the most serious
and intelligent negroes become teachers. But you would have to add: They are given, insofar as they are given
any, a white-traditioned education, and are liable to the solemn, meek piousness of most serious and educated
negroes in the south; to a deep respect for knowledge and education as they have worked for it; to a piteous mah-
people or Uncle Tom attitude towards all life. Even those who are aware of more dangerous attitudes would in the
south have to be careful to the point of impotence. Moreover they would be teaching only very young children, in
the earliest years of school, in overcrowded classrooms.

Note on all grade-school teachers: that at best they are exceedingly ill-paid, and have also anxiety over their
jobs: with all the nervousness of lack of money and of insecurity even in that little: not a good state of mind
for a teacher of the young.
Nor is the state of mind resulting of sexlessness, or of carefully spotless moral
rectitude, whether it be 'innate,' or self-enforced for the sake of the job. Nearly all teachers and clergymen
suffocate their victims through this sterility alone.

It would be hard to make clear enough the deadliness of vacuum and of apathy which is closed over the very na-
ture of teaching, over teachers and pupils alike: or
in what different worlds words and processes leave a teach-
er, and reach a child. Children, taught either years beneath their intelligence or miles wide of relevance to it,
or both: their intelligence becomes hopelessly bewildered, drawn off its centers, bored, or atrophied
. Carry it
forward a few,years and recognize how soft-brained an american as against a european 'college graduate' is. On
the other side: should there be any such thing as textbooks in any young life: and how many 'should' learn to
read at all?

As a whole part of 'psychological education' it needs to be remembered that a neurosis can be valuable; also that
'adjustment' to a sick and insane environment is of itself not 'health' but sickness and insanity.

I could not wish of any one of them that they should have had the 'advantages' I have had: a Harvard education is
by no means an unqualified advantage.

Adults writing to or teaching children: in nearly every word within these textbooks, for instance, there is a
flagrant mistake of some kind. The commonest is this: that they
simplify their own ear, without nearly enough
skepticism as to the accuracy of the simplification, and with virtually no intuition for the child or children;
then write or teach to satisfy that ear; discredit the child who is not satisfied, and value the child who, by
docile or innocent distortions of his intelligence, is.

In school a child is first plunged into the hot oil bath of the world at its cruelest: and children are taught
far less by their teachers than by one another. Children are, or quickly become, exquisitely sensitive to social,
psychologic, and physical meanings and discriminations. The war is bloody and pitiless as that war alone can be
in which every combatant is his own sole army, and is astounded and terrified in proportion to the healthfulness
of his consciousness. What clothes are worn, for one simple thing alone, is of tremendous influence upon the
child who wears them. A child is quickly and frightfully instructed of his situation and meaning in the world;
and that one stays alive only by one form or another of cowardice, or brutality, or deception, or other crime.

It is all, needless to say, as harmful to the 'winners' (the well-to-do, or healthful, or extraverted) as to the

The 'esthetic' is made hateful and is hated beyond all other kinds of 'knowledge.' It is false-beauty to begin
with; it is taught by sick women or sicker men; it becomes identified with the worst kinds of femininity and ef-
feminacy; it is made incomprehensible and suffocating to anyone of much natural honesty and vitality.

The complete acquaintance of a child with 'music' is the nauseating little tunes you may remember from your own
schooltime. His 'art' has equaliy little to do with 'art.' The dancing, as I have said, is taught to girls: it
is the beginning of tap dancing.
The spectacle of a tenant's little daughter stepping out abysmal imitations of
Eleanor Powell has a certain charm, but it is somehow decadent, to put it mildly.
This is not at all to say that
madrigals, finger-painting, or morris-dancing are to be recommended: I wish to indicate only that in either case
the 'teaching' of 'the esthetic' or of 'the arts' in Cookstown leaves, or would leave, virtually everything
still to be desired.

It is hardly to Louise's good fortune that she 'likes' school, school being what it is. Dressed as she is, and
bright as she is, and serious and dutiful and well-thought-of as she is, she already has traces of a special sort
of complacency which probably must, in time, destroy all in her nature that is magical, indefinable, and match-
less: and this though she is one of the stronger persons I have ever known.

Perhaps half the people alive are born with the possibility of moral intuitions far more subtle and excellent
than those laid down by law and custom,
and most of the others might learn a great deal. As it is they are more
than sufficiently destroyed. If beginning at the age of six they were subjected to a daily teaching of law,
the damage would be so much the worse.
There is a fair parallel in 'consciousness,' in 'intelligence': and the
standards of education, which seem even more monstrous than those of law, are thus imposed as law is not, and
are made identical with knowledge.

No equipment to handle an abstract idea or to receive it: nor to receive or handle at all complex facts: nor
to put facts and ideas together and strike any fire or meaning from them.
They are like revolutionists who
must fight fire and iron and poison gas with barrel staves and with bare hands: except that they lack even
the idea of revolution.

It would be the narrative task of many pages even scarcely to suggest how slowed, blinded, and helpless-minded
they are made. Just as with food, they cannot conceive of or be interested in what they have never tasted or
heard of. All except the simplest knowledge of immediate materials and of the senses, is completely irrelevant
to the life they are living.
Perhaps fortunately, the one thing the adults could most surely receive and under-
stand is what a good revolutionist could tell them about their immediate situation and what is to be done about
it: certainly one would be a fool, and an insulting one, who tried much else, or who tried much else before that
was accomplished. The children could learn this and much more.

For various reasons I am not a good revolutionist, and much as I wanted to, could bear in my 'conscience,' or
in my respect for what they were as they stood, to do almost none of this, beyond determining what in general
they might learn if they were rightly given it.
Moreover, though there are revolution- ists whom I totally re-
spect, and before the mere thought of whom I hold myself in contempt, I go blind to think what crimes others
would commit upon them, and instill into them; and by every appearance and probability these latter, who for
all their devotion and courage seem to me among the most dangerous and hideous persons at large, are greatly
in the majority, and it is they who own and will always betray all revolutions.

'Sense of beauty': Is this an 'instinct' or a product of 'training.' In either case there appears to be al-
most no such thing among the members of these three families, and
I have a strong feeling that the 'sense
of beauty,' like nearly everything else, is a class privilege
. I am sure in any case that its 'terms' differ by
class, and that the 'sense' is limited and inarticulate in the white tenant class almost beyond hope of des-
cription. (This quite aside from the fact that in other classes, where it is less limited, it is almost a
hundred per cent corrupted.)
They live on land, and in houses, and under skies and seasons, which all happen
to seem to me beautiful beyond almost anything else I know, and they themselves, and the clothes they wear,
and their motions, and their speech, are beautiful in the same intense and final commonness and purity:
by what chance have I this 'opinion' or 'perception' or, I might say, 'knowledge'? And on the other hand,
why do they appear so completely to lack it? This latter, there seem good reasons for. Habit. No basis of
comparison. No 'sophistication' (there can be a good meaning of the word).
No reason nor glimmer of reason
to regard anything in terms other than those of need and use. Land is what you get food out of: houses are
what you live in, not comfortably: the sky is your incalculable friend or enemy: all nature, all that is
built upon it, all that is worn, all that is done and looked to, is in plain and powerful terms of need, hope,
fear, chance, and function. Moreover, the profoundest and plainest 'beauties,' those of the order of the stars
and of solitude in darkened and empty land, come at least partly of awe, and such in a simple being is, sim-
ply, unformulable fear. It is true that in what little they can obtain of them, they use and respect the
rotted prettinesses of 'luckier' classes;
in such naivety that these are given beauty: but by and large it
seems fairly accurate to say that being so profoundly members in nature, among man-built things and func-
tions which are almost as scarcely complicated 'beyond' nature as such things can be, and exist on a 'hu-
man' plane, they are little if at all more aware of 'beauty,' nor of themselves as 'beautiful,' than any
other member in nature, any animal, anyhow. It is very possible, I would believe probable, that
many ani-
mals are sensitive to beauty in terms of exhilaration or fear or courting or lust;
many are, for that matter,
accomplished and obvious narcists: in this sense I would also guess that the animals are better equipped
than the human beings. I would say too that there is a purity in this existence in and as 'beauty,' which
can so scarcely be conscious of itself and its world as such, which is inevitably lost in consciousness,
and that this is a serious loss.

But so are resourcefulness against deceit and against strangling: and so are pleasure, and joy, and love:
and a human being who is deprived of these and of this consciousness is deprived almost of existence itself.


To COME devotedly into the depths of a subject, your respect for it increasing in every step and your whole
heart weakening apart with shame upon yourself in your dealing with it: To know at length better and better
and at length into the bottom of your soul your unworthiness of it: Let me hope in any case that it is
something to have begun to learn. Let this all stand however it may: since I cannot make it the image it
should be, let it stand as the image it is: I am speaking of my verbal part of this book as a whole. By
what kind of foreword I can make clear some essential coherence in it, which I know is there, balanced of
its chaos, I do not yet know. But the time is come when it is necessary for me to say at least this much:
and now, having said it, to go on, and to try to make an entrance into this chapter, which should be an
image of the very essence of their lives: that is, of the work they do.

It is for the clothing, and for the food, and for the shelter, by these to sustain their lives, that they work.
Into this work and need, their minds, their spirits, and their strength are so steadily and intensely drawn
that during such time as they are not at work, life exists for them scarcely more clearly or in more
variance and seizure and appetite than it does for the more simply organized among the animals, and for the
plants. This arduous physical work, to which a consciousness beyond that of the simplest child would be only
a useless and painful encumbrance, is undertaken without choice or the thought of chance of choice,
forward from father to son and from mother to daughter; and its essential and few returns you have seen: the
houses they live in; the clothes they wear: and have still to see, and for the present to imagine, what it brings
them to eat; what it has done to their bodies, and to their consciousness; and what it makes of their leisure,
the pleasures which are made available to them. I say here only:
work as a means to other ends might have
some favor in it, even which was of itself dull and heartless work, in which one's strength was used for an-
other man's benefit: but the ends of this work are absorbed all but entirely into the work itself, and in what
little remains, nearly all is obliterated; nearly nothing is obtainable; nearly all is cruelly stained, in the tensions
of physical need, and in the desperate tensions of the need of work which is not available.

I have said this now three times. If I were capable, as I wish I were, I could say it once in such a way
that it would be there in its complete awefulness. Yet knowing, too, how it is repeated upon each of them,
in every day of their lives, so powerfully, so entirely, that it is simply the natural air they breathe,
I wonder whether it could ever be said enough times.

The plainness and iterativeness of work must be one of the things which make it so extraordinarily diffi-
cult to write of. The plain details of a task once represented, a stern enough effort in itself, how is it
possibly to be made clear enough that this same set of leverages has been undertaken by this woman in near-
ly every day of the eleven or the twenty-five years since her marriage, and will be persisted in in nearly
every day to come in all the rest of her life; and that it is only one among the many processes of wearying
effort which make the shape of each one of her living days; how is it to be calculated, the number of times
she has done these things, the number of times she is still to do them; how conceivably in words is it to
be given as it is in actuality, the accumulated weight of these actions upon her; and what this cumulation
has made of her body; and what it has made of her mind and of her heart and of her being. And how is this
to be made so real to you who read of it, that it will stand and stay in you as the deepest and most iron
anguish and guilt of your existence that you are what you are, and that she is what she is, and that you can-
not for one moment exchange places with her, nor by any such hope make expiation for what she has suf-
fered at your hands, and for what you have gained at hers: but only by consuming all that is in you into
the never relaxed determination that this shall be made different and shall be made right, and that of what
is 'right' some, enough to die for, is clear already, and the vast darkness of the rest has still, and far more
passionately and more skeptically than ever before, to be questioned into, defended, and learned toward.
There is no way of taking the heart and the intelligence by the hair and of wresting it to its feet, and of
making it look this terrific thing in the eyes: which are such gentle eyes: you may meet them, with all the
summoning of heart you have, in the photograph in this volume of the young woman with black hair: and
they are to be multiplied, not losing the knowledge that each is a single, unrepeatable, holy individual, by
the two billion human creatures who are alive upon the planet today; of whom a few hundred thousands
are drawn into complications of specialized anguish, but of whom the huge swarm and majority are made
and acted upon as she is: and of all these individuals, contemplate, try to encompass, the one annihilating

But I must make a new beginning:

(Selection from Part I:

The family exists for work. It exists to keep itself aIive. It is a cooperative economic unit. The father
does one set of tasks; the mother another; the children still a third, with the sons and daughters serving
apprenticeship to their father and mother respectively. A family is called a force, without irony; and chil-
dren come into the world chiefly that they may help with the work and that through their help the family may
increase itself. Their early years are leisurely; a child's life work begins as play. Among his first imita-
tive gestures are gestures of work; and the whole imitative course of his maturing and biologic envy is a
stepladder of the learning of physical tasks and skills.

This work solidifies, and becomes steadily more and more, in greater and greater quantity and variety, an
integral part of his life.

Besides imitation, he works if he is a man under three compulsions, in three stages. First for his parents.
Next for himself, single and wandering in the independence of his early manhood: 'for himself,' in the
sense that he wants to stay alive, or better, and has no one dependent on him. Third, for himself and his
wife and his family, under an employer. A woman works just for her parents; next, without a transition phase,
for her husband and family.

Work for your parents is one thing: work 'for yourself' is another. They are both hard enough, yet light,
relative to what is to come.
On the day you are married, at about sixteen if you are a girl, at about twenty
if you are a man, a key is turned, with a sound not easily audible, and you are locked between the stale
earth and the sky; the key turns in the lock behind you, and your full life's work begins, and there is no-
thing conceivable for which it can afford to stop short of your death, which is a long way off.
It is perhaps
at its best during the first two years or so, when you are young and perhaps are still enjoying one another
or have not yet lost all hope, and when there are not yet so many children as to weigh on you. It is perhaps
at its worst during the next ten to twelve years, when there are more and more children, but none of them
old enough, yet, to be much help. One could hardly describe it as slackening off after that, for in proportion
with the size of the family, it has been necessary to take on more land and more work, and, too, a son or
daughter gets just old enough to be any full good to you, and marries or strikes out for himself: yet it is true,
anyhow, that from then on there are a number of strong and fairly responsible people in the household besides
the man and his wife. In really old age, with one of the two dead, and the children all married, and
the widow-
ed one making his home among them in the slow rotations of a floated twig, waiting to die, it does ease off
some, depending more then on the individual: one may choose to try to work hard and seem still capable, out
of duty and the wish to help, or out of 'egoism,' or out of the dread of dropping out of life; or one may relax,
and live unnoticed, never spoken to, dead already;
or again, life may have acted on you in such a way that
you have no choice in it: or still again, with a wife dead, and children gone, and a long hard lifetime behind
you, you may choose to marry again and begin the whole cycle over, lifting onto your back the great weight
a young man carries, as Woods has done.

That is the general pattern, its motions within itself lithe-unfolded, slow, gradual, grand, tremendously
and quietly weighted, as a heroic dance: and the bodies in this dance, and the spirits, undergoing their
slow, miraculous, and dreadful changes: such a thing indeed should be constructed ofjust these persons:
the great, somber, blooddroned, beansprout helmed fetus unfurling within Woods' wife;
the infants of
three families, staggering happily, their hats held full of freshly picked cotton;
the Ricketts children
like delirious fawns and panthers; and secret Pearl with her wicked skin;
Louise, lifting herself to rest
her back, the heavy sack trailing, her eyes on you; Junior, jealous and lazy, malingering, his fingers
sore; the Ricketts daughters, the younger stepping beautifully as a young mare, the elder at the stove
with her mouth twisted;
Annie Mae at twenty-seven, in her angular sweeping, every motion a wonder to
watch; George, in his sunday clothes with his cuffs short on his blocked wrists, looking at you, his head
slightly to one side, his earnest eyes a little squinted as if he were looking into a light;
Mrs. Ricketts,
in that time of morning when from the corn she reels into the green roaring glooms of her home, falls into
a chair with gaspings which are almost groaning sobs, and dries in her lifted skirt her delicate and reek-
ing head;
Miss-Molly, chopping wood as if in each blow of the axe she held captured in focus the vengeance
oi all time; Woods, slowed in his picking, forced to stop and rest much too often, whose death is hastened
against a doctor's warnings in that he is picking at all: I see
these among others on the clay in the grave
mutations of a dance
whose business is the genius of a moving camera, and which it is not my hope ever to
record: yet here, perhaps, if not of
these archaic circulations of the rude clay altar, yet of their shapes
of work, I can make a few crude sketches:

A man: George Gudger, Thomas Woods, Fred Ricketts: his work is with the land, in the seasons of the year,
in the sustainment and ordering of his family, the training of his sons:

A woman: Annie Mae Gudger, Ivy Woods, Sadie Ricketts: her work is in the keeping of the home, the prepara-
tion of food against each day and against the dead season, the bearing and care of her children, the train-
ing of her daughters:

Children: all these children: their work is as it is told to them and taught to them until such time as
they shall strengthen and escape, and, escaped of one imprisonment, are submitted i.nto another.

There are times of year when all these three are overlapped and collaborated, all in the field in the de-
mand, chiefly, of cotton; but more largely,
the woman is the servant of the day, and of immediate life,
and the man is the servant of the year, and of the basis and boundaries of life
, and is their ruler; and
the children are the servants of their parents: and the center of all their existence, the central work,
that by which they have their land, their shelter, their living, that which they must work for no reward
more than this, because they do not own themselves, and without hope or interest, that which they cannot
eat and get no money of but which is at the center of their duty and greatest expense of strength and
spirit, the cultivation and harvesting of cotton: and
all this effort takes place between a sterile earth and
an uncontrollable sky in whose propitiation is centered their chief reverence and fear, and the deepest
earnestness of their prayers, who read in these machinations of their heaven all signs of a fate which
the hardest work cannot much help, and, not otherwise than as the most ancient peoples of the earth,
make their plantations in the unpitying pieties of the moon.

Work 2: Cotton

Cotton is only one among several crops and among many labors: and all these other crops and labors mean
life itself. Cotton means nothing of the sort. It demands more work of a tenant family and yields less re-
ward than all the rest. It is the reason the tenant has the means to do the rest, and to have the rest,
and to live, as a tenant, at all. Aside from a few negligibilities of minor sale and barter and of out-
of-season work, it is his one possible source of money, and through this fact, though his living depends
far less on money than on the manipulations of immediate nature, it has a certain royalty. It is also that
by which he has all else besides money.
But it is also his chief contracted obligation, for which he must
neglect all else as need be; and is the central leverage and symbol of his privation and of his wasted life.
It is the one crop and labor which is in no possible way useful as it stands to the tenant's living; it
is among all these the one which must and can be turned into money; it is among all these the one in which
the landowner is most interested; and it is among all these the one of which the tenant can hope for
least, and can be surest that he is being cheated, and is always to be cheated.
All other tasks are incide-
ntal to it; it is constantly on everyone's mind; yet' of all of them it is the work in which the tenant has
least hope and least interest, and to which he must devote the most energy. Any less involved and self-con-
tradictory attempt to understand what cotton and cotton work 'means' to a tenant would, it seems to me, be
false to it.
It has the doubleness that all jobs have by which one stays alive and in which one's life is
made a cheated ruin, and the same sprained and twilight effect on those who must work at it:
but because it
is only one among the many jobs by which a tenant family must stay alive, and deflects all these others,
and receives still other light from their more personal need, reward, and value, its meanings are much more
complex than those of most jobs:
it is a strong stale magnet among many others more weak and more yielding
of life and hope. In the mind of one in whom all these magnetisms are daily and habituated from his birth,
these meanings are one somber mull: yet all their several forces are pulling at once, and by them the brain
is quietly drawn and quartered. It seems to me it is only through such a complex of meanings that a tenant
can feel, toward that crop, toward each plant in it, toward all that work, what he and all grown women too
appear to feel, a particular automatism, a quiet, apathetic, and inarticulate yet deeply vindictive hatred,

and at the same time utter hopelessness, and the deepest of their anxieties and of their hopes: as if the
plant stood enormous in the unsteady sky fastened above them in all they do like the eyes of an overseer.
To do all of the hardest work of your life in service of these drawings-apart of ambiguities; and to have
all other tasks and all one's consciousness stained and drawn apart in it:
I can conceive of little else
which could be so inevitably destructive of the appetite for living, of the spirit, of the being, or by
whatever name the centers of individuals are to be called: and this very literally: for just as there are
deep chemical or electric changes in all the body under anger, or love, or fear, so there must certainly
be at the center of these meanings and their directed emotions; perhaps most essentially, an incalculably
somber and heavy weight and dark knotted iron of subnausea at the peak of the diaphragm, darkening and
weakening the whole body and being, the literal feeling by which the words a broken heart are no longer
poetic, but are merely the most accurate possible description.

Yet these things as themselves are withdrawn almost beyond visibility, and the true focus and right tell-
ing of it would be in the exact textures of each immediate task.

Of cotton farming I know almost nothing with my own eyes; the rest I have of Bud Woods. I asked enough
of other people to realize that every tenant differs a little in his methods, so nothing of this can be set
down as 'standard' or 'correct'; but the dissonances are of small detail rather than of the frame and
series in the year. I respect dialects too deeply, when they are used by those who have a right to them,
not to be hesitant in using them, but I have decided to use some of Woods' language here. I have decided,
too, to try to use my imagination a little, as carefully as I can. I must warn you that the result is sure
to be somewhat inaccurate: but it is accurate anyliow to my ignorance, which I would not wish
to disguise.

From the end of the season and on through the winter the cotton and the corn stand stripped and destroyed,
the cotton black and brown,
the corn gray and brown and rotted gold, much more shattered, the banks of wood-
land bare, drenched and black, the clay dirt sombered wet or hard with a shine of iron, peaceful and exhaus-
ted; the look of trees in a once full-blown country where such a burning of war has gone there is no food
left even for birds and insects, all now brought utterly quiet, and the bare homes dark with dampness, under
the soft and mourning midwinter suns of autumnal days, when all glows gold yet lifeless, and under constric-
tions of those bitter freezings when the clay is shafted and sprilled with ice
, and the aching thinly drifted
snows which give the lacd its shapc, and, above all, the long, cold, silent, inexhaustible, and dark winter

In the late fall or middle February this tenant, which of the three or of the millions I do not care--a man,
dressed against the wet coldness, may be seen small and dark in his prostrated fields, taking down these
sometimes brittle, sometimes rotted forests of last year's crops with a club or with a cutter, putting death
to bed, cleaning the land:
and late in February, in fulfillment of an obligation to his landlord, he borrows
a second mule and, with a two-horse plow, runs up the levees, that is, the terraces, which shall preserve
his land;
this in a softening mild brightness and odoriferousness of presaging spring, and a rustling shear-
ing apart of the heavy land, his mules moving in slow scarce-wakened method
as of work before dawn, knowing
the real year's work to be not started yet, only made ready for. It is when this is done, at about the first
of March, that the actual work begins, with what is planted where, and with what grade and amount of fertili-
zer, determined by the landlord, who will also, if he wishes, criticize, advise, and govern at all stages of
planting and cultivation. But the physical work, and for that matter the knowledge by which he works, is the
tenant's, and this is his tenth or his fortieth year's beginning of it, and it is of the tenant I want to tell.

How you break the land in the first place depends on whether you have one or two mules or can double up
with another tenant for two mules. It is much better to broadcast if you can. With two mules you can count
on doing it all in that most thorough way. But if you have only one mule you break what you have time for,
more shallowly, and, for the rest, you bed, that is, start the land.

To broadcast, to break the land broadcast: take a twister, which is about the same as a turning plow, and,
heading the mule in concentrics the shape of the field, lay open as broad and deep a ribbon of the stiff dirt
as the strength of the mule and of your own guida.nce can manage: eight wide by six deep with a single-horse
plow, and twice that with a double, is doing well:
the operation has the staggering and reeling yet steady
quality of a small sailboat clambering a storm.

Where you have broadcast the land, you then lay out the furrows three and a half feet apart with a shovel
plow; and put down fertilizer; and by four furrows with a turning plow, twist the dirt back over the fertili-
zed furrow. But if, lacking mule power, you have still land which is not broken, and it is near time to plant,
you bed the rest. There are two beddings. The first is hard bedding: breaking the hard pan between the rows.

Hard bedding: set the plow parallel to the line of (last year's) stalks and along their right, follow each row
to its end and up the far side. The dirt lays open always to the right. Then set the plow close in against the
stalks and go around again. The stubble is cleaned out this second time round and between each two rows is a
bed of soft dirt: that is to say, the hard pan is all broken. That is the first bedding.

Then drop guano along the line where the stalks were, by machine or by horn. Few tenants use the machine; most
of them either buy a horn, or make it, as Woods does. It is a long tin cone, small and low, with a wood handle,
and a hole in the low end. It is held in the left hand,
pointed low to the furrow, and is fed in fistfuls, in a
steady rhythm, from the fertilizer sack, the incipient frock
, slung heavy along the right side.

After you have strowed the gyewanner you turn the dirt back over with two plowings just as before: and that is
the second bedding. Pitch the bed shallow, or you won't be able to work it right.

If you have done all this right you haven't got a blemish in all your land that is not broke: and you are ready
to plant.

But just roughly, only as a matter of suggestion, compute the work that has been done so far, in ten acres of
land, remembering that this is not counting in ten more acres of corn and a few minor crops:
how many times has
this land been retraced in the rolling-gaited guidance and tensions and whippings and ordering of plowing, and
with the steadily held horn, the steady arc of the right arm and right hand fisting and opening like a heart,

the heavy weight of the sack at the right side?

Broadcasting, the whole unbroken plaque slivered open in rectilinear concenters, eight inches apart and six
deep if with one mule, sixteen apart and twelve deep if with two: remember how much length of line is coiled
in one reel or within one phonograph record: and then each furrow, each three and a half feet, scooped open
with a shovel plow: and in each row the fertilizer laid: and each row folded cleanly back in four transits of
its complete length: or bedding, the first bedding in four transits of each length; and then the fertilizer:
and four more transits of each length: every one of the many rows of the whole of the field gone eight times
over with a plow and a ninth by hand; and only now is it ready for planting.


There are three harrs you might use but the spring-toothed harr is best. The long-toothed section harrow tears
your bed to pieces; the short-toothed is better, but catches on snags and is more likely to pack the bed than
loosen it. The springtooth moves lightly but incisively with a sort of knee-action sensitiveness to the modu-
lations of the ground, and it jumps snags. You harrow just one row at a time and right behind the harrow
comes the planter. The planter is rather like a tennis-court marker: a seed bin set between light wheels, with
a little plow protruded from beneath it like a foot from under a hoopskirt.
The little beak of the plow slits
open the dirt; just at its lifted heel the seed thrills out in a spindling stream; a flat wheel flats the dirt
over: a light-traveling, tender, iron sexual act
entirely worthy of setting beside the die-log and the swept
broad-handed arm.

Depending on the moisture and the soil, it will be five days to two weeks before the cotton will show.

Cultivating begins as soon as it shows an inch.


Barring off: the sweepings: chopping: 1,aying by:

The first job is barring off.

Set a five- to six-inch twister, the smallest one you have, as close in against the stalks as you can get it and
not damage them, as close as the breadth of a finger if you are good at it, and throw the dirt to the middle.
Alongside this plow is a wide tin defender, which doesn't allow a blemish to fall on the young plants.

Then comes the first of the four sweepings. The sweeps are blunt stocks shaped a good deal like stingrays. Over
their dull foreheads and broad shoulders they neither twist nor roll the dirt, but shake it from the middle to
the beds on either side.

For the first sweeping you still use the defender. Use a little stock, but the biggest you dare to; probably
the eighteen-inch.

Next after that comes the chopping, and with this the whole family helps down through the children of eight or
seven, and by helps, I mean that the family works full time at it. Chopping is a simple and hard job, and a hot
one, for by now
the sun, though still damp, is very strong, hot with a kind of itchy intensity that is seldom
known in northern springs.
The work is, simply, thinning the cotton to a stand; hills a foot to sixteen inches
apart, two to four stalks to the hill. It is done with an eight to ten-inch hoeblade.
You cut the cotton flush
off at the ground, bent just a little above it, with a short sharp blow of the blade of which each stroke is
light enough work; but multiplied into the many hundreds in each continuously added hour, it aches first the
forearms, which so harden they seem to become one bone, and in time the whole spine.

The second sweeping is done with the twenty to twenty-two-inch stock you will use from now on; then comes
hoeing, another job for the whole family; then you run the middles; that is,
you put down soda by hand or horn
or machine; soda makes the weed, guano puts on the fruit;
then comes the third sweeping; and then another
hoeing. The first and second sweepings you have gone pretty deep. The stuff is small and you want to give
loose ground to your feed roots. The third sweeping is shallow, for the feed roots have extended themselves
within danger of injury.

The fourth sweeping is so light a scraping that it is scarcely more than a ritual, like a barber's last deli-
cate moments with his muse before he holds the mirror up to the dark side of your skull.
The cotton has to be
treated very carefully. By this last sweeping it is making. Break roots, or lack rain, and it is stopped dead
as a hammer.

This fourth sweeping is the operation more properly known as laying by. From now on until picking time,
there is nothing more a farmer can do.
Everything is up to the sky, the dirt, and the cotton itself; and in six
weeks now, and
while the farmer is fending off such of its enemies as he can touch, and, lacking rations
money to live on, is desperately seeking and conceivably finding work, or with his family is hung as if on a
hook on his front porch in the terrible leisure
, the cotton is making, and his year's fate is being quietly fought
out between agencies over which he has no control. And in this white midsummer, while he is thus waiting
however he can, and defending what little he can,
these are his enemies, and this is what the cotton is
doing with its time:

Each square points up. That is to say: on twig-ends, certain of the fringed leaves point themselves into the
sharp form of an infant prepuce; each square points up: and opens a flat white flower which turns pink next
day, purple the next, and on the next day shrivels and falls,
forced off by the growth, at the base of the
bloom, of the boll. The development from square to boll consumes three weeks in the early summer, ten days
in the later, longer and more intense heat.
The plants are well fringed with pointed squares, and young
cold bolls,
by the time the crop is laid by; and the blooming keeps on all summer. The development of
each boll from the size of a pea to that point where, at the size of a big walnut, it darkens and dries and
its white contents silently explode it,
takes five to eight weeks and is by no means ended when the pick-
ing season has begun.

And meanwhile the enemies: bitterweed, ragweed, Johnson grass; the weevil, the army worm; the slippery
chances of the sky. Bitterweed is easily killed out and won't come up again. Ragweed will, with another
prong every time. That weed can suck your crop to death. Johnson grass, it takes hell and scissors to con-
trol. You can't control it in the drill with your plowing.
If you just cut it off with the hoe, it is high
as your thumb by the next morning. The best you can do is dig up the root with the corner of your hoe, and
that doesn't hold it back any too well.

There is a lot less trouble from the weevils I than there used to be, but not the army worms.
Army worms
are devils. The biggest of them get to be the size of your little finger. They eat leaves and squares and
young bolls. You get only a light crop of them at first. They web up in the leaves and turn into flies, the
flies lay eggs, the eggs turn into army worms by the millions and if they have got this good a start of you
you can hear the sound of them eating in the whole field and it sounds like a brushfire.
They are a bad men-
ace but they are not as hard to control as the weevil.
You mix arsenic poison with a sorry grade of flour
and dust the plants late of an evening (afternoon) or soon of a morning (pre-morning); and the dew makes a
paste of it that won't blow off.

It is only in a very unusual year that you do well with both of the most important crops, the two life main-
ly depends on, because they need rain and sun in such different amounts. Cotton needs a great deal less
rain than corn; it is really a sun flower. If it is going to get a superflux of rain, that will best come
before it is blooming; and if it has got to rain during that part of the summer when a fairsized field is
blooming a bale a day, it had best rain late in the evening when the blooms are shutting or at night, not
in the morning or the mid day: for then
the bloom is blared out flat; rain gets in it easy and hangs on it;
it shuts wet, sours, and sticks to the boll; next morning it turns red and falls. Often the boll comes off
with it. But the boll that stays on is sour and rotted and good for nothing.
Or to put it the other way a-
round, it can take just one rain at the wrong time of day at the wrong time of summer to wreck you out of
a whole bale.

It is therefore not surprising that they are constant readers of the sky; that it holds not an ounce of
'beauty' to them (though I know of no more magnificent skies than those of Alabama); that it is the lode-
stone of their deepest pieties; and that they have, also, the deep stormfear which is apparently common to
all primitive peoples. Wind is as terrifying to them as cloud and lightening and thunder:
and I remember
how, sitting with the Woods, in an afternoon when George was away at work, and a storm was building, Mrs.
Gudger and her children came hurrying three quarters of a mile beneath the blackening air to shelter among
company. Gudger says: 'You never can tell what's in a cloud.'

Picking season

Late in August the fields begin to whiten more rarely with late bloom and more frequently with cotton and
then still
thicker with cotton, a sparkling ground.starlight of it, steadily bursting into more and more
millions of points, all the leaves seeming shrunken smaller; quite as at night the whole frontage of the
universe is more and more thoroughly printed in the increasing darkness; and the wide cloudless and tre-
mendous light holds the earth clamped and trained as beneath a vacuum bell and burningglass; in such a
brilliance that half and two thirds of the sky is painful to look into; and in this white maturing oven
the enlarged bolls are streaked a rusty green, then bronze, and are split and splayed open each in a loose
vomit of cotton. These split bolls are now burrs, hard and edged as chiseled wood, pointed nearly as thorns,
spread open in three and four and five gores or cells.
It is slow at first, just a few dozen scattered here
and there and then a few tens of dozens, and then there is a space of two or three days in which a whole
field seems to be crackling open at once, and at this time it seems natural that it must be gone into and
picked, but all the more temperate and experienced tenants wait a few days longer until it will be fully
worth the effort: and
during this bursting of bolls and this waiting, there is a kind of quickening, as if
deep under the ground, of all existence, toward a climax which cannot be delayed much longer, but which is
held in the tensions of this reluctance, tightening, and delay:
and this can be seen equally in long,
sweeping drivings of a car between these spangling fields, and in any one of the small towns or the county
seats, and
in the changed eyes of any one family, a kind of tightening as of an undertow, the whole world
and year lifted nearly upon its crest, and soon beginning the long chute down to winter:
children, and
once in a while a very young or a very old woman or man, whose work is scarcely entered upon or whose last
task and climax this may be, are
deeply taken with an excitement and a restlessness to begin picking, and
in the towns, where it is going to mean money, the towns whose existence is for it and depends on it, and
which in most times of year are sunken in sleep as at the bottom of a sea: these towns are sharpening awake;

even the white hot streets of a large city are subtly changed in this season: but Gudger and his wife and
Ricketts and Woods, and most of the heads of the million and a quarter families who have made this and are
to do the working of taking it for their own harm and another's use, they are only a little more quiet than
usual, as they might be if they were waiting for a train to come in, and keep looking at the fields, and
judging them; and at length one morning (the Ricketts women are already three days advanced in ragged
work), Gudger says, Well:

Well; I reckin tomorrow we'd better start to picking:

And the next morning very early, with their broad hats and great sacks and the hickory baskets, they are
out, silent, their bodies all slanted, on the hill: and in every field in hundreds of miles, black and white, it
is the same: and such as it is, it is a joy which scarcely touches any tenant; and is worn thin
and through in half a morning, and is gone for a year.

It is simple and terrible work. Skill will help you; all the endurance you can draw up against it from
the roots of your existence will be thoroughly used as fuel to it: but neither skill nor endurance can
make it any easier.

Over the right shoulder you have slung a long white sack whose half length trails the ground behind.
You work with both hands as fast and steadily as you can. The trick is to get the cotton between your
fingertips at its very roots in the burr in all three or four or five gores at once so that it is brought out
clean in one pluck. It is easy enough with one burr in perhaps ten, where the cotton is ready to fall;
with the rest, the fibers are more tight and tricky.
So another trick is, to learn these several dif-
ferent shapes of burr and resistance as nearly as possible by instinct, so there will be no second trying
and delay, and none left wasted in the burr; and, too, as quickly to judge what may be too rotted and
dirtied to use, and what is not yet quite ready to take: there are a lot suspended between these small
uncertainties, and there should be no delay, no need to use the mind's judgement, and few mistakes.
Still another trick is, between these strong pulls of efficiency, proper judgement, and maximum speed,
not to hurt your fingers on the burrs any worse than you can help. You would have to try hard, to break
your flesh on any one burr, whether on its sharp points or its edges; and a single raindrop is only scar-
cely instrumental in ironing a mountain flat; but in each plucking of the hand the fingers are searched
deep in along these several sharp, hard edges. In two hours' picking the hands are just well limbered up.
At the end of a week you are favoring your fingers, still in the obligation of speed. The later of the
three to five times over the field, the last long weeks of the season, you might be happy if it were pos-
sible to exchange them for boils. With each of these hundreds of thousands of insertions of the hands,
moreover, the fingers are brought to a small point, in an action upon every joint and tendon in the hand.
I suggest that if you will try, three hundred times in succession, the following exercise: touch all five
fingertips as closely as possible into one point, trying meanwhile to hold loose cotton in the palm of
the hand: you will see that this can very quickly tire, cramp and deteriorate the whole instrument, and
will understand how easily rheumatism can take up its strictures in just this place.

MeanwhiIe, too, you are working in a land of sunlight and heat which are special to just such country at
just that time of year:
sunlight that stands and stacks itself upon you with the serene weight of deep sea
water, and heat that makes the jointed and muscled and fine-structured body glow like one indiscriminate
oil; and this brilliant weight of heat is piled upon you more and more heavily in hour after hour so that
it can seem you are a diving bell whose strained seams must at any moment burst, and the eyes are
marked in stinging sweat, and the head, if your health is a little unstable, is gently roaring, like a private
blowtorch, and less gently beating with aching blood:
also the bag, which can hold a hundred pounds,
is filling as it is dragged from plant to plant, four to nine burrs to a plant to be rifled swiftly, and the
load shrugged along another foot or two and the white row stretched ahead to a blur and innumerably man-
ifolded in other white rows which have not yet been touched, and younger bolls in the cleaned row behind
breaking like slow popcorn in the heat, and the sack still heavier and heavier, so that it pulls
you back as a beast might rather than a mere dead weight: but it is not only this:
cotton plants are low,
so that in this heat and burden of the immanent sun and of the heavying sack you are dragging, you are
continuously somewhat stooped over even if you are a child, and are bent very deep if you are a man or a
woman. A strong back is a godsend, but not even the strongest back was built for that treatment, and there
combine at the kidneys, and rill down the thighs and up the spine and athwart the shoulders the ticklish
weakness of gruel or water, and an aching that is increased in geometric progressions, and at length, in
the small of the spine, a literal and persistent sensation of yielding, buckling, splintering, and breakage:
and all of this, even though the mercy of nature has hardened your flesh and has anesthetized your
nerves and your powers of reflection and of imagination, yet reaches in time the brain and the more mirror-
like nerves, and thereby is redoubled upon itself much more powerfully than before: and this is all com-
pounded upon you during each successive hour of the day and during each successive day in a force which
rest and food and sleep only partly and superficially refresh:
and though, later in the season, you are
relieved of the worst of the heat, it is in exchange at the last for a coolness which many pickers like
even less well, since it
so slows and chills the lubricant garment of sweat they work in, and seriously
slows and stiffens the fingers which by then at best afford an excruciation in every touch.

The tenants' idiom has been used ad nauseam by the more unspeakable of the northern journalists but it
happens to be accurate: that
picking goes on each day from can to can't: sometimes, if there is a feeling
of rush, the Ricketts continue it by moonlight. In the blasting heat of the first of the season, unless there
is a rush to beat a rain or to make up an almost completed wagonload, it is customary to quit work an hour
and a half or even two hours in the worst part of the day and to sit or lie in the shade and possible draft of
the hallway or porch asleep or dozing after dinner. This time narrows off as the weeks go by and a sense of
rush and of the wish to be done with it grows on the pickers and is tightened through from the land- lord. I
have heard of tenants and pickers who have no rest-period and no midday meal,' but those I am acquainted
with have it. It is of course no parallel in heartiness and variety to the proud and enormous meals
which farm wives of the wheat country prepare for harvest hands, and which are so very zestfully re-
garded by some belated virgilians as common to what they like to call the American Scene. It is in fact
the ordinary every day food, with perhaps a little less variety than in the earlier summer, hastily
thrown together and heated by a woman who has hurried in exhausted from the field as few jumps as pos-
sible ahead of her family, and served in the dishes she hurriedly rinsed before she hurried out on the
early morning as few jumps as possible behind them. When they are all done, she hurries through the dish
washing and puts on her straw hat or her sun-bonnet and goes on back into the field, and they are all
at it in a strung-out little bunch, the sun a bitter white on their deeply bent backs, and the sacks
trailing, a slow breeze idling in the tops of the pines and hickories along the far side but the leaves
of the low cotton scarcely touched in it, and the whole land, under hours of heat still to go, yet list-
ed subtly forward toward the late end of the day.
They seem very small in the field and very lonely,
and the motions of their industry are so small, in range, their bodies so slowly moving, that it seems
less that they are so hard at work than that they are bowed over so deeply into some fascination or grief,

or are as those pilgrims of Quebec who take the great flights of stairs upon their knees, slowly, a prayer
spoken in each step. Ellen lies in the white load of the cotton-basket in the shade asleep; Squinchy picks
the front of his dress full and takes it to his mother; Clair Bell fills a hat time after time in great
speed and with an expression of delight rushes up behind her mother and dumps the cotton on all of her
she can reach and goes crazy with laughter, and her mother and the girls stop a minute and she is hugged,
but they talk more among themselves than the other families, they are much more quiet than is usual to
them, and Mrs. Ricketts only pauses a minute, cleaning the cotton from her skirts and her hair and put-
ting it in her sack, and then she is bowed over deeply at work again.
Woods is badly slowed by weakness
and by the pain in his shoulder; he welcomes any possible excuse to stop and sometimes has to pause whe-
ther there is any excuse or not, but his hvife and her mother are both strong and good pickers, so he is
able to get by without a hired hand. Thomas is not old enough yet to be any use. Burt too is very young
for it and works only by fits and starts; little is expected of children so small, but it is no harm what
little they do; you can't learn them too young. Junior is not very quick with it at best. He will work
for a while furiously hard, in jealousy of Louise, and then slacken up with sore hands and begin to bully
Burt. Katy is very quick. Last summer, when she was only eight, she picked a hundred and ten pounds in a
day in a race with Flora Merry Lee. This summer she has had runarounds and is losing two fingernails but
she is picking steadily. Pearl Woods is big for her age and is very steadily useful. Louise is an extra-
ordinarily steady and quick worker for her age; she can pick a hundred and fifty pounds in a day. The two
Ricketts boys are all right when their papa is on hand to keep them at their work; as it is, with Ricketts
at the sawmills they clown a good deal, and tease their sisters. Mrs. Gudger picks about the average for
a woman, a hundred and fifty to two hundred pounds a day. She is fast with her fingers until the work ex-
hausts her; 'last half of the day I just don't see how I can keep on with it.' George Gudger is a very
poor picker. When he was a child he fell in the fireplace and burnt the flesh off the flat of both hands
to the bone, so that his fingers are stiff and slow and the best he has ever done in a day is a hundred
and fifty pounds. The average for a man is nearer two hundred and fifty. His back hurts him badly too, so
he usually picks on his knees, the way the others pick only when they are resting. Mrs. Ricketts used to
pick three hundred and three hundred and fifty pounds in a day but sickness has slowed her to less than
two hundred now. Mrs. Ricketts is more often than not a fantast, quite without realizing, and in all
these figures they gave me there may be inaccuracy--according to general talk surrounding the Rust ma-
chine a hundred pounds a day is good picking--but these are their own estimates of their own abilities,
on a matter in which tenants have some pride, and that seems to me more to the point than their accu-
racy. There are sometimes shifts into gayety in the picking, or a brief excitement, a race between two
of the children, or a snake killed; or two who sit a few moments in their sweat in the shaded clay when
they have taken some water, but they say very little to each other, for there is little to say, and are
soon back to it, and mainly, in
hour upon hour, it is speechless, silent, serious, ceaseless and lonely
work along the great silence of the unshaded land, ending each day in a vast blaze of dust on the west,
every leaf sharpened in long knives of shadow, the clay drawn down through red to purple, and the leaves
losing color, and the wild blind eyes of the cotton staring in twilight, in those odors of work done and
of nature lost once more to night whose sweetness is a torture, and in the slow, loaded walking home,
whose stiff and gentle motions are those of creatures just awakened.

The cotton is ordinarily stored in a small structure out in the land, the cotton house; but none of these
three families has one. The Gudgers store it in one of the chambers of their barn, the Woods on their
front porch, raising planks around it, the Ricketts in their spare room. The Ricketts children love to
play in it, tumbling and diving and burying each other; sometimes, it is a sort of treat, they are allow-
ed to sleep in it. Rats like it too, to make nest-es in, and that draws ratsnakes
. It is not around, though,
for very long at a time. Each family has a set of archaic iron beam scales, and when these scales have
weighed out fourteen hundred pounds of cotton it is loaded, if possible during the first of the morning,
onto the narrow and high-boarded wagon, and is taken into Cookstown to gin.

It is a long tall deep narrow load shored in with weathered wagonsides and bulged up in a high puff above
these sides, and the mule, held far over to the right of the highway to let the cars go by, steps more
steadily and even more slowly than ordinary, with a look almost of pomp, dragging the hearse-shaped wagon:
its iron wheels on the left grince in the slags of the highway, those on the right in clay: and high upon
the load, the father at the reins, the whole of the family is sitting, if it is a small family, or if it is a
large, those children whose turn it is, and perhaps the mother too. The husband is dressed in the bet-
ter of his work clothes; the wife, and the children, in such as they might wear to town on saturday,
or even, some of them, to church, and the children are happy and excited, high on the soft load, and even
a woman is taken with it a little, much more soberly, and even the man who is driving, has
in the tight-
ness of his jaws, and in his eyes, which meet those of any stranger with the curious challenging and
protective, fearful and fierce pride
a poor mother shows when her child, dressed in its best, is being
curiously looked at; even he who knows best of any of them, is taken with something of the same: and
there is in fact about the whole of it
some raw, festal quality, some air also of solemn grandeur, this
member in the inconceivably huge and slow parade of mule-drawn, crawling wagons, creaking under the
weight of the year's bloodsweated and prayed-over work, on all the roads drawn in, from the utmost run-
ners and ramifications of the slender red roads of all the south and into the southern highways, a wa-
gon every few hundred yards, crested this with a white and this with a black family, all drawn toward
those little trembling lodes which are the gins, and all and in each private and silent heart toward that
climax of one more year's work which yields so little at best, and nothing so often, and worse to so
many hundreds of thousands:

The gin itself, too, the. wagons drawn up in line, the people waiting on each wagon, the suspendered
white-shirted men on the platform, the emblematic sweep of the grand-shouldered iron beam scales
cradling gently on the dark doorway their design of justice, the landlords in their shirt-sleeves at the
gin or relaxed in swivels beside the decorated safes in their little offices,
the heavy-muscled and
bloodfaced young men in baseball caps who tumble the bales with short sharp hooks, the loafers drawn
into this place to have their batteries recharged in the violence that is in process here in the bare
and weedy outskirts of this bare and brutal town; all this also in its hard, slack, nearly speechless,
sullen-eyed way, is dancelike and triumphal: the big blank surfaces of corrugated metal, bright and
sick as gas in the sunlight, square their darkness round a shuddering racket that subsumes all easy
the tenant gets his ticket and his bale number, and waits his turn in the long quiet line;
the wagon ahead is emptied and moves forward lightly as the mule is cut; he cuts his own load heavily
under as the gin head is hoisted;
he reaches up for the suction pipe and they let it down to him; he
swings and cradles its voracity down through the crest of and round and round his stack of cotton,
until the last lint has leapt up from the wagon bed; and all the while the gin is working in the deaf-
ening appetites of its metals, only it is his work the gin is digesting now, and standing so close in
next its flank, he is intimate with this noise of great energy, cost and mystery; and out at the rear,
the tin and ghostly interior of the seed shed, against whose roof and rafters a pipe extends a steady
sleet of seed and upon all whose interior surfaces and all the air a dry nightmare fleece like the
false snows of Christmas movies hangs shuddering as it might in horror of its just accomplished
parturition: and out in front, the last of the cotton snowlike relaxing in pulses down a slide of dark
iron into the compress its pure whiteness; and a few moments merely of pressure under the floor
level, the air of an off-stage strangling; and the bale is lifted like a theater organ, the presses
unlatched, the numbered brass tag attached, the metal ties made fast: it hangs in the light breathing
of the scales, his bale, the one he has made, and a little is slivered from it, and its weight and
staple length are recorded on his ginning slip, and it is caught with the hooks and tumbled out of the
way, his bale of cotton, depersonalized forever now, identical with all others, which shall be melted
indistinguishably into an oblivion of fabrics, wounds, bleedings, and wars;
he takes his ginning slip
to his landlord, and gets his cottonseed money, and does a little buying; and gathers his family toge-
ther; and leaves town. The exodus from town is even more formal than the parade in was. It has taken
almost exactly eighteen minutes to gin each bale, once the waiting was over, and each tenant has done
almost exactly the same amount of business afterward, and the empty, light grinding wagons are dis-
tributed along the roads in a likewise exact collaboration of time and space apart, that is, the time
consumed by ginning plus business, and the space apart which, in that time, a mule traverses at his
classic noctambular pace.
It is as if those who were drawn in full by the sun and their own effort and
sucked dry at a metal heart were restored, were sown once more at large upon the slow breadths of
their country, in the precisions of some mechanic and superhuman hand.

That is repeated as many times as you have picked a bale. Your field is combed over three, four or
five times. The height of the ginning season in that part of the country is early October, and in that
time the loaded wagons are on the road before the least crack of daylight, the waiting is endless hours,
and the gin is still pulsing and beating after dark. After that comes
hog-killing, and the gristing of
the corn and milling of the sorghum
that were planted late to come ready late; and more urgent and spe-
cific meditation of whether or not to move to another man, and of whether you are to be kept;
and set-
tlement time; and the sky descends, the air becomes like dark glass, the ground stiffens, the clay hon-
eycombs with frost, the corn and the cotton stand stripped to the naked bone and the trees are black,
the odors of pork and woodsmoke sharpen all over the country, the long dark silent sleeping rains
stream down in such grieving as nothing shall ever stop, and the houses are cold, fragile drums, and
the animals tremble, and the clay is one shapeless sea, and winter has shut.


Conversation in the Lobby

In May, 1939 the Partisan Review sent to a number of writers the questionnaire on the opposite page. It
happened succinctly to represent a good deal that made me angry, and I promptly and angrily replied to
it. My anger and speed made my answers intemperate, inarticulate, and at times definitely foolish: but
my later attempts to do the same job more reasonably seemed, in
the very fact of the reasonableness,
to do such questions more honor than they deserved. I decided to let the answers stand and, in so far as
they were an image of my foolishness, to let them accuse me.

It was not pleasant to do this, for I knew and liked (and like) some of the editors, and felt, also, some
respect for some of what they were doing; and I thought it likely thatmy reply would be regarded as a
personal attack. It was; and
the reply was not printed, on the grounds that no magazine is under
obligation to print an attack on itself,
and that I had not answered the questions. That I differ with
both opinions is a point worth mentioning but not worth arguing.

Readers who think that in printing this here I am (a) digressing from the subject of this volume, or (b)
indulging in a literary quarrel, are welcome to their thoughts.

I wish to thank Mr. Dwight Macdonald for his decency in returning the manuscript to me, knowing how I
would use it; and to ex- press my regret over every misunderstanding, unpleasantness, and difference of
opinion that is implicit in the incident, or that has arisen from it.

                   SOME QUESTIONS WHICH FACE

1. Are you conscious, in your own writing, of the existence of a 'usable past'? Is this mostly American?
What figures would you designate as elements in it? Would you say, for example, that Henry James's work
is more relevant to the present and future of American writing than Walt Whitman's?

2. Do you think of yourself as writing for a definite audience? If so, how would you describe this audi-
ence? Would you say that the audience for serious American writing has grown or contracted in the last
ten years?

3. Do you place much value on the criticism your work has received? Would you agree that the corruption
of the literary supplements by advertising--in the case of the newspapers -and political pressures -in
the case of the liberal weeklies--has made serious literary criticism an isolated cult?

4. Have you found it possible to make a living by writing the sort of thing you want to, and without the
aid of such crutches as teaching and editorial work? Do you think there is any place in our present
economic system for literature as a profession?

5. Do you find, in retrospect, that your writing reveals any alle- giance to any group, class, organiza-
tion, region, religion, or system of thought, or do you conceive of it as mainly the expression of your-
self as an individual?

6. How would you describe the political tendency of American writing as a whole since 1930? HOW do you
feel about it your- self? Are you sympathetic to the current tendency toward what may be called 'literary
nationalism' -a renewed emphasis, largely uncritical, on the specifically 'American' elements in our cul-

7. Have you considered the question of your attitude toward the possible entry of the United States into
the next world war? What do you think the responsibilities of writers in general are when and if war

In reply to your questions:

In your letter you say: 'These questions, we think, are cen- tral to any discussion of American litera-
ture today.'

Then God help 'American' or any other 'literature.' Or else let both suspect words become your property
and that of your inferiors. The good work will meanwhile be done by those who can use neither word.

You are supposed to be and I guess are the best 'American' 'literary' and 'critical' magazine. In other
words, these questions, the best you can ask, prove a lot about American literature and criticism and
about you, the self-assumed 'vanguard.' They prove you as bad for, or irrelevant to, good work, as The New
Masses or The Saturday Review or Clifton Fadiman or all the parlor talkers or the publishers or most of the
writers themselves.

It sounds like a meeting of the Junior League of Nations at Wellesley; or the Blairstown Conference; or a
debate between an episcopal and a unitarian minister on the meaning of god in human experience.

The questions are so bad and so betraying they are virtually unanswerable; and are indeed more interesting
as betrayals, that you only think you know what good work is, and have no right to your proprietary attitude
about it.

1. A 'usable past'? (The polite substitute for 'tradition.' Academic; philosophic; critics' language.) Bee-
thoven 'used' the 'past': but do you think he ever sat down to wonder, What am I using: What is useful?

All of the past one finds useful is 'usable' because it is of the present and because both present and past
are essentially irrelevant to the whole manner of 'use.' Moreover, things are 'usable' only by second-rate
people and worse. To those who really perceive them they are too hot to handle in any utilitarian way.
same things 'use' the good people because they have become a part of their identity.

You want to 'use' these people of the past in the same way you want to 'use' the writers and others of the
present. A lot of the imitation good ones love to be used. Some of the better ones use you, but you don't
know it: you think you are using them.

Each of these 'usable' people are of their time and place, certainly: but essentially they are timeless (or
near it), and international neither in the League-of-Nations nor the Esperanto nor the 'Marxian' sense, but
because they recognize themselves as members and liberators of the human race.

'Usable': Every good artist; every record of the past; and more particularly, all of the present and past
which exists in the 'actual,' 'unrecreated' world of personal or speculative experience.

Christ: Blake: Dostoyevsky: Brady's photographs: everybody's letters: family albums: postcards: Whitman:
Crane: Melville: Cummings: Kafka: Joyce: Malraux: Gide: Mann: Beethoven: Eisenstein: Dovschenko: Chaplin:
Griffith: von Stroheim: Miller: Evans: Cartier: Levitt : Van Gogh: race records: Swift: Celine:

Some you 'study'; some you learn from; some corroborate you; some 'stimulate' you; some are gods; some are
brothers, much closer than colleagues or gods; some choke the heart out of you and make you dubious of ever
reading or looking at work again:
but in general, you know yourself to be at least by knowledge and feeling,
of and among these, a member in a race which is much superior to any organization or Group or Movement or
Affiliation, and the bloody enemy of all such, no matter what their 'sincerity,' 'honesty,' or 'good intentions.'

And all the bad and the confused and self-deceiving stuff: Life; The Reader's Digest; any daily paper; any best-
seller; the Partisan Review; the Museum of Modern Art: you learn as much out of corruption and confusion and
more, than out of the best work
that has ever been done. Only after a while you begin to know certain sectors
by heart and in advance, and then they are no further use to you.

And why does it have to do with 'American' writing, present or future, when Whitman, Beethoven, Blake, Christ,
Celine, and Tolstoy have so much in common?

2. What do you mean, 'audience'? It draws in to the point of a pin and it spreads out flat like a quoit. Some
of the time you are writing for all men who are your equals and your superiors, and some of the time for all
the deceived and captured, and some of the time for nobody. Some of the time you are trying to communicate (not
necessarily to please); some of the time you are trying to state, communication or none. In the terms you are
setting it, no decent writer can possibly be interested in the question.
And what sort of conception of 'audi-
ence' and of 'serious' writing can you have, that you can wonder, journalistically, whether this past or any
other ten years can make any but an illusory and dangerous difference to it?

3. Do I place much value on criticism. I sometimes place value on the criticism of a few whom I respect, in one
way or another. Few of these happen to be writing critics.
I would agree that the literary supplements and the
liberal weeklies are corrupted: but more by the corruption of the minds which hold forth in them than by any a-
mount of advertising or politics. I will have to add that in this respect of unsound mind I think nearly every-
thing I have read in the Partisan Review is quite as seriously corrupting,
and able further to corrupt the cor-

4. No; no living. Nor do I think there is any place in our etcetera for 'literature' as a 'profession,' unless
you mean for
professional litterateurs, who are a sort of high-class spiritual journalist and the antichrist of
all good work.
Nor do I think your implied desire that under a 'good system' there would be such a place for
real 'writers' is to be respected or other than deplored.
A good artist is a deadly enemy of society; and the
most dangerous thing that can happen to an enemy, no matter how cynical, is to become a beneficiary
. No society,
no matter how good, could be mature enough to support a real artist without mortal danger to that artist. Only
no one need worry: for this same good artist is about the one sort of human being alive who can be trusted to
take care of himself.

5. 'I find, in retrospect,' that I have felt forms of allegiance or part-allegiance to catholicism and to the
communist party. I felt less and less at ease with them and I am done with them. I feel sufficiently intense
allegiance toward certain shapes of fact
and toward certain ideas that I prefer not to speak of them here, be-
yond saying that no organization of thought or of persons has ever held them, that they are antipathetic to
any such, and that I feel a rarity but by no means a lack of company, and that
this company is made up entirely
of men who do not breathe one another's breath nor require anything of one another: but are of the only free
human beings (and being such, are the only conceivable liberators of others)
: and that this freedom appears
to me impossible under a 'democracy' or in any self-compromising, 'cooperative' effort. I am most certainly
'for' an 'intelligent' 'communism'; no other form or theory of government seems to me conceivable; but even
this is only a part of much more, and a means to an end: and
in every concession to a means, the end is put in
danger of all but certain death. I feel violent enmity and contempt toward all factions and all joiners.
I 'con-
ceive of' my work as an effort to be faithful to my perceptions.I am not interested in 'expressing' 'myself' as
an 'individual' except when it is suggested that I 'express' someone else.

6. 'The political tendency of American writing as a whole since 1930 smells no more nor less to heaven than all
the other tendencies of all the tendential sheep who make up the bulk of what they please to call literature
and who are perhaps the worst of all poisoners of the air against good writing and the most effective secondary
stimulants toward the development of ferocity in personal integrity.
No, I don't like 'literary nationalism' either.
Nor 'peace,' nor 'democracy,' nor 'war,' nor 'fascism,' nor 'science,' nor 'art,' nor your evident self-assurance
that by the act of talking in favor of the 'necessary independence of the revolutionary artist' you know any
more about it than Granville Hicks does.

7. I have often considered this question (though I might better respect a writer who hadnt done so in the
least); first glibly ('on no condition will I enter a war'); later with more and more perplexity, distress, and
immediate interest, fascination, and fear. I think I know that I would do one of the following: I) Enlist in
that part of the war which seemed most dangerous, least glamorous, least relevant to any choice I might
have through 'education,' 'class,' 'connections,' or personal craftiness. This either for personal- 'religious'
reasons or out of an 'artist's' curiosity, or more likely both. 2) Join the stalinist party and do as I was told
or Bore from Within it. 3) Stay wherever I happened to be, mind my own business, refuse every order, and
take the consequences. 4) Stay wherever I happened to be, and write what I thought of the War, the Pacifists,
etc., wherever I could get it printed. 5) Escape from it by whatever means possible and by the same means con-
tinue to do my own work.
Of these I believe my likeliest efforts would be between I, 3, and 5. On my 'responsi-
bility as a writer,' I suspect I or 5 would be my choice, and that the steepest responsibility would favor 5.
2 is least attractive to me. I am worst confused between 'responsibilities' as a 'writer' and as a 'human be-
ing'; which I would presume are identical, yet which involve constant 'inhumanity' even in times of no official
war. Or, in other words,
I consider myself to have been continuously at war for some years, and can imagine
no form of armistice. In that war I feel 'responsible.' I doubt any other form of war could make me feel more


I will go unto the altar of God:
Even unto the God of my joy and gladness.

Give sentence with me, 0 God, that I may hear thee, and defend my cause against the ungodly people: 0 deliver
me from the deceitful and wicked man:

For thou art the God of my strength: why hast thou put me from thee: and why go I so heavily while the enemy
oppress me?

0 send out thy light and thy truth that they may lead me, and bring me unto thy holy hill and to thy dwelling:

For I will go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness, and upon the harp will I give
thanks unto thee, 0 God, my God:

Why art thou so heavy, 0 my soul, and why art thou so disquieted within me?

0 put thy trust in God, for I will yet give him thanks, which is the help of my countenance, and my God.

                        Part Three


I REMEMBER SO well, the first night I spent under one of these roofs:

We knew you already, a little, some of you, most of you:


                                                          First meetings

Down in front of the courthouse Walker had picked up talk with you, Fred, Fred Ricketts (it was easy enough to
do, you talk so much; you are so insecure, before the eyes of any human being); and there you were, when I
came out of the courthouse, the two of you sitting at the base of that pedestal wherefrom a brave stone soldi-
er, frowning, blows the silence of a stone bugle searching into the North; and we sat and talked; or rather,
you did the talking, and the loudest laughing at your own hyperboles, stripping to the roots of the lips your
shattered teeth, and your vermilion gums; and watching me with fear from behind the glittering of laughter in
your eyes, a fear that was saying, '0 lord god please for once, just for once, don't let this man laugh at me up
his sleeve, or do me any meanness or harm'
(I think you never got over this; I suppose you never will); while
Walker under the smoke screen of our talking made a dozen pictures of you using the angle finder (you never
caught on;
I notice how much slower white people are to catch on than negroes, who understand the meaning of
a camera, a weapon, a stealer of images and souls, a gun, an evil eye
): and then two men came up and stood shy-
ly, a little away; they were you, George, and you, Mr. Woods, Bud; you both stood there a little off side, shy, and
taciturn, George, watching us out of your yellow eyes, and you, Woods, quietly modeling the quid between your
molars and your cheek; and this was the first we saw of you:

You had come down to see if you could get relief or relief work, but there is none of that for your kind, you
are technically employed; and now we all stood there, having introduced ourselves, talking a little, and
the eyes
of people on us, and you gained a little confidence in us when I met these eyes with a comic-contemptuous
stare and a sneering smile;
and we drove you out home: out to your home, Ricketts, the furthest along that
branch road: and there you showed us your droughted corn, for you could not get it out of your head that we
were Government men, who could help you: and there on the side porch of the house Walker made pictures, with
the big camera; and
we sat around and talked, eating the small sweet peaches that had been heating on a piece
of tin in the sun, and drinking the warm and fever-tasting water from the cistern sunk beneath the porch;
we kept you from your dinners an hour at least; and I was very sorry and ashamed of that then, and am the same
at all times since to think of it:

And it was here that we first saw most of you, scarcely knowing you by families apart: I can remember it so
clearly, as if it were five minutes ago, and we were just drawn away from your company, and were riding the
light ridges of the winding road, in the silence before we were able to speak a word of you, when the whole time
was like one chord and shock of music: how you,
Paralee, came up a path barefooted carrying two heavy buckets,
a cornshuck hat on the back of your head; you were wearing a dress that had been torn apart a dozen times and
sewn together again with whatever thread was handy; so far gone, so all-the-way broken down into a work dress,
there had been no sense to wash it in a year; it had a big ruffle of wrecked curtain lace down the breast; and as
you came toward us you looked at us shyly yet very directly and smiling through your friendly and beautiful, orange-
freckled black eyes; and I shall not forget you soon, your courtesy, your dreadful and unanswerable need; your
manure-stained feet and legs as you stood in the path and smiled at us; nor God knows, you, Margaret, a year and
a whole world more hopeless;
nor you children: you started out from behind bushes and hid behind one another
and flirted at us and ridiculed us like young wild animals, and even then we knew you were wonderful, and yet it is
amazing to me now how relatively lightly we realized you then:
I think it was that there was so much going on, so
richly, and so disturbing: such a strangeness of meaning and precariousness of balance, which I was wishing so
much as never before to make secure; chiefly in one: in you, Mrs. Ricketts:

You realized what the poor foolishness of your husband had let you all in for, shouting to you all to come out,
children sent skinning barefooted and slaver-mouthed down the road and the path to corral the others, the Woods
and the Gudgers, all to stand there on the porch as you were in the average sorrow of your working dirt and get
your pictures made; and to you it was as if you and your children and your husband and these others were stood
there naked in front of the cold absorption of the camera in all your shame and pitiableness to be pried into
and laughed at; and your eyes were wild with fury and shame and fear, and the tendons of your little neck were
tight, the whole time,
and one hand continually twitched and tore in the rotted folds of your skirt like the
hand of a little girl who must recite before adults, and there was not a thing you could do, nothing, not a word
of remonstrance you could make, my dear, my love, my little crazy, terrified child; for your husband was running
this show, and a wife does as she is told and keeps quiet about it: and so there you stood, in a one-piece dress
made of sheeting, that spread straight from the hole where the head stood through to the knee without belting,
so that you knew through these alien, town-dressed eyes that you stood as if out of a tent too short to cover
your nakedness: and the others coming up: Ivy, blandly, whom nothing could ever embarrass, carrying her baby,
her four-year child in a dress made of pillow-sack that came an inch below his navel; he was carrying a doll;
Pearl, with her elegant skin, her red-brown sexy eyes; Miss-Molly: and Walker setting up the terrible structure
of the tripod crested by the black square heavy head, dangerous as that of a hunchback, of the camera; stooping
beneath cloak and cloud of wicked cloth, and twisting buttons;
a witchcraft preparing, colder than keenest ice,
and incalculably cruel: and at least you could do, and you did it, you washed the faces of your children swiftly
and violently with rainwater, so that their faces were suddenly luminous stuck out of the holes of their clothes,
the slightly dampened hair swept clean of the clear and blessed foreheads of these flowers;
and your two daughters,
standing there in the crowding porch, yielding and leaning their heads profound against the pulling and entangle-
ments, each let down their long black hair in haste and combed and rearrayed it (but Walker made a picture of
this; you didn't know; you thought he was still testing around; there you all are, the mother as before a firing
the children standing like columns of an exquisite temple, their eyes straying, and behind, both girls,
bent deep in the dark shadow somehow as if listening and as in a dance, attending like harps the black flags of
their hair)
: and we, the men meanwhile, Woods and George and I (Fred was in the lineup, talking over and over
about being in the funny papers and about breaking the camera with his face, and laughing and laughing and laugh-
ing), we were
sitting at the roots of a tree talking slowly and eating one small peach after another and watching,
while I was spreading so much quiet and casualness as I could
; but all this while it was you I was particularly
Mrs. Ricketts; you can have no idea with what care for you, what need to let you know, oh, not to fear
us, not to fear, not to hate us, that we are your friends, that however it must seem it is all right, it is truly
and all the way all right: so,
continually, I was watching for your eyes, and whenever they turned upon me, try-
ing through my own and through a friendly and tender smiling (which sickens me to disgust to think of) to store
into your eyes some knowledge of this, some warmth, some reassurance, that might at least a little relax you,
that might conceivably bring you to warmth, to any ease or hope of smiling; but your eyes upon me, time after
time, held nothing but the same terror, the same feeling at very most, or 'if you are our friend, lift this
weight and piercing from us, from my children'
(for it was of them and of your husband that you had this care,
at all times; I don't believe one could ever persuade you such a thing can exist as a thought for yourself);and
at length, and just once, a change, a softening of expression;
your eyes softened, lost all their immediate dread,
but without smiling; but in a heart-broken and infinite yet timid reproachfulness, as when, say, you might have
petted a little animal in a trap, beyond its thorntoothed fierceness, beyond its fear, to quiet, in which it knows,
of your blandishments: you could spring free the jaws of this iron from my wrist; what is this hand, what are
these kind eyes; what is this gentling hand on the fur of my forehead:
so that I let my face loose of any control
and it showed you just what and all I felt for you and of myself:
it must have been an ugly and puzzling grimace,
God knows no use or comfort to you
; and you looked a moment and withdrew your eyes, and gazed patiently into
the ground, in nothing but sorrow, your little hand now loosened in your dress.

If I were going to use these lives of yours for 'Art,' if I were going to dab at them here, cut them short here,
make some trifling improvement over here, in order to make you worthy of The Saturday Review of Literature; I
would just now for instance be very careful of Anticlimax which, you must understand, is just not quite nice.
It happens in life of course, over and over again, in fact there is no such thing as a lack of it, but Art, as
all of you would understand if you had had my advantages, has nothing to do with Life, or no more to do with
it than is thoroughly convenient at a given time, a sort of fair-weather friendship, or gentleman's agreement,

or practical idealism, well understood by both parties and by all readers. However, this is just one of several
reasons why I don't care for art, and I shan't much bother, I'm afraid. There was an anti-climax. The picture-
making was still going on when your children, George, came along, you, Louise, and you, Junior, and Burt. You
had been sent for; there were going to be pictures taken; and you came so late, not only because your house
was so far and because Burt was so slow, whimpering and crying trying to keep up with you; but also because your
mother had taken time to wash you all and to put a clean dress on you, Louise, and a ribbon in your hair. It was
the best dress you had, a prettier one than I was to see you wear again; it looked
almost though not quite like
the 'party-dress' of a little girl your age in town, of people whose mothers are so nice they would never speak
to yours unless about putting less starch in the cuffs, please:
white, and standing-out, and so soft, and trans-
lucent in the sunshine like your own soul, and one could only tell it from a really good party-dress by
the in-
tense sleaziness and fragility of the cloth, through which your body was visible,
and the safety-pinned floursack
you wore for a clout; and by the ribbling hard narrow cheapness of the ribbon, and meagerness of the sash which
was trying to look like a great blown sunlit bow at the small of your back and yet to save five or ten cents: and
by the stitching, which was done partly by a sewing-machine with the gallops and partly by hand: and by
a sort of
uncertain embarrassedness in which this whole sweet artifact set itself around the animal litheness of your coun-
try body. And then, too, you yourself gave it away, Louise, for your skin was a special quiet glowing gold color,
which can never come upon the skin of nicely made little girls in towns and cities, but only to those who came
straight out of the earth and are coninually upon it in the shining of the sun, active and sweating, and tough-
ening into work that has already made your clear ten-year-old mouth resolute and unquestioning of personal de-
sire: your skin shines like a sober lamp in outdoor noon in all this whiteness;
your feet and legs are bare, they
were washed, but already they carry the fine orange pollen of the clay; it is entirely obvious that you are not
what this dress is pretending you are, Louise, and that the whole thing is a put-up job. But as a matter of fact
I am noticing all this less than your eyes. Again, as with the Ricketts children, I am slow, but even so, it
would be hard to see them at all and not have lost at least half your soul to them, even before you knew it: and
already, though as yet I scarcely realize it,
we have begun this looking-at-each-other of which I am later to
become so conscious I am liable to trembling when I am in the same room with you. It is scary: scary as hell,
and even more mysterious than frightening; and so tentative as I, who am a painfully tentative person, have nev-
er been before:
yet somehow there is nothing shy about it, in either of us: it is frequent and, through all its
guards, wide open: but what it is open upon,
Lord only knows: there is no other blankness like you, like these
temperatureless, keen, serene and wise and pure gray eyes of yours, set so wide, between your square young
and this as I said I am beginning only very faintly to realize now; so that I have become quiet in your
presence and watchful, yet hardly know this beyond some feeling: here is a good child, here is a damned thor-
oughly good child. And so you three stand there, out at the side, near me, and near your father; Junior flick-
ering glances at me which I fear in another way, shooing the flies from the scabs of one foot with the other
foot, which is also scabby; Burt sniffling and beginning to talk to himself a little; and you, Louise, between
them solid and stolid, looking straight ahead of you (I can rarely tell where your eyes are focused, save when
they look at mine),
and; well; and there you all are, in good order, under the shade of the tree. Your father
will not let you get into the pictures on the porch: your picture will be later, to yourselves. (He is not un-
friendly or 'pointed' about this, just open, and quiet.) And Mrs. Ricketts has seen you prepared as you are, and
separate from those on the porch, and she is all tightened up again, and I know I have lost whatever shame-
ful little I had gained for her, and it is now hard for me to meet her eyes at all, the whole thing has become
so complicated and so shameful.
(It occurs to me now as I write that I was as helpless as she; but I must
confess I don't want to make anything of it.)

So in the course of time the work is done; they drift apart along the porch and break loose along the dirt of
the yard, in a sort of relaxation and loudness after tension: the children, that is; Mrs. Ricketts goes directly
into the house; and now George has begun to set things in motion for his picture. He doesn't want it around
here at the side of the house where everything is trashed and ugly, but with a good background; and in
this and in the posing of the picture he gets his way. It is perfectly in one of the classical traditions: that
of family snapshots made on summer sunday afternoons thirty to forty years ago, when the simple eyes of
family-amateurs still echoed the daguerreotype studios. The background is a tall bush in disheveling bloom,
out in front of the house in the hard sun: George stands behind them all, one hand on Junior's shoulder; Lou-
ise (she has first straightened her dress, her hair, her ribbon), stands directly in front of her father, her
head about to his breastbone, her hands crossed quietly at the joining of her thighs, looking very straight
ahead, her eyes wide open in spite of the sun; Burt sits at her feet with his legs uncrossing and his mind
wandering (Louise had helped him cross his legs, but no one can keep either them or his attention in place);
and there again they are; the three older of them thoroughly and quietly serious, waiting for the shutter to
release them: and it is while I am watching you here, Louise, that suddenly yet very quietly I realize a lit-
tle more clearly that I am probably going to be in love with you:
while I am watching you in this precious
imposture of a dress, standing up the strength of your father and looking so soberly and so straight into
the plexus of the lens through those paralyzing eyes of yours, and being so careful to hold perfectly still,
and under sufficient tension of behavior that twice, and then again, I see you swallow, and your mouth twitch
a little, trying very hard first not to do this, then to manage it without appearing to move: and it is this
sobriety, and stolidity and resolute dutifulness in the sunshine, and the way your mouth and throat worked,
which has donz the job on me:

And this was the last we had any particular reason to think we would see either of you or any of these others:
yet at the very last, just as we left, the unforgiving face, the eyes, of Mrs. Ricketts at her door: which has
since stayed as a torn wound and sickness at the center of my chest, and perhaps more than any other thing has
insured what I do not yet know: that we shall have to return, even in the face of causing further pain, until
that mutual wounding shall have been won and healed, until she shall fear us no further, yet not in forgetful-
ness but through ultimate trust, through love.



And so it was that during the next days, the next weeks, we found ourselves coming back and back while we
worked: it was so that we could not drive along the highway past those wand-like posts between which your
road leads off along the hill without during the next mile feeling in our chests a pulling eastward alongside and
behind us where you were, and a silence or some comment or questioning upon you: this is not a time to tell of
this fully as it happened, and I shall here say only, how several times we visited you, Woods, learning you to
be the shrewdest and the wisest, to talk to you, to explain ourselves, to seek your help through others to whom
you might direct us in this country, and at length to lay ourselves fully before you and to ask you whether
among you all, wherever it might be best convenient, we might live, paying our room and board, but with
nothing at all changed because we were there: this is not the place to tell of these negotiations, nor of their
subtlety and slowness: of how, long before you ceased to mistrust us, you were liking us, and were looking
forward to our visits; nor of how very much we came to like and to look forward to you, so that you became in
what our whole lives were then involved in a sort of father to us, with this half-recognized yet never made
open among the three of us; nor of how a strange sort of community and understanding developed among us which
we had with none of the others, in that
we were all three of a reflective and skeptical cast of mind, and more
particularly in our recognition of one another as criminals: neither these, nor the long and guarded, ironic
yet friendly slowdrawling talks we held along the afternoons where you sat half naked on your unmade bed and
scratched your body and spoke seditious truths in naive elaborations of irony and glittered your eyes at us:

none of these things are to be developed here; I can only say here how at length it was you who helped us ar-
range it, that we were to stay, not with you but at your son-in-law's, where there was room, and also because,
well, you fellers know, got me this woman, here, not that I don't trust yuns (glittering merrily) but some way
don't look right, couple young fellers, old man like me; don't know's I could stick up fer my rights, as you
might say, if they turned out any funny-business, you might say. You understand, taint I don't trust yuns, but
I know, young feller git too nigh a womurn, may not know hisself what he's lible to do next. Don't want to take
no chanstes.--Sure; sure: we understand that: lot rather have it that way ourselves. And meantime Ivy is sitting
on the scrapheap ice cream chair with her hands in her lap and her thick bare ankles crossed, one foot bent under
along the floor, and she is smiling to herself, wearing also the face of one who would say, I am not hearing
a word: and indeed we are all smiling back and forth, cautiously and respectfully, and yet openly. There has
really been no need in his putting it so delicately:
Ivy is a strong, young, good-looking woman, he is a weak-
ening and nearly old man, and she knows and he does, and we do, and we all know of the knowledge of each other,
that she is also a serenely hot and simple nymph, whose eyes go to bed with every man she sees;
and of how he
has guarded her (but of that more in its place). So now, this is all quickly and simply spoken-of and agreed-upon:

we and her husband understand each other in a thoroughly amused and almost affectionate way: and it is as if to
seal the agreement, and the needlessness of talking further of it, that he purses his mouth, cocks his body, and
baptizes with tobacco-amber the pink half-naked spine-feathered little abominable subpullet who eight feet away
is scratching the stone fireplace full of trash and the sourness of dead fire: who, startled, shakes herself squeak-
ing, lets oout a wet weak nervous turd, calms, and goes on eating quids and meat rinds.


But before this there has occurred an incident which helped determine it: that which I spoke of saying, 'I remember
so well, the first night I spent under one of these roofs,' when 'We knew you already, a little, some of you, most
of youY: it was in a time about at the most intense, the most nearly insane, of our frustrations; a time by which
already, according to our employers' standards of speed, I should have been back at my typewriter and Walker at his
tanks, and when we were still involved to suffocation in the inanities of the 'contacts' and obligations they had
wished on us, and were under the nearly incommunicable weight of paralysis which constant dissimulation, and slow-
ing to alien pace, beneath the white grates of that summer sky, can bring upon one: and had not as yet found any-
thing which could satisfy our hope, our need, our determination to do truly: so that for the moment we had broken
all but entirely and had prescribed ourselves a medicine, a day or two in Birmingham, where, we said to ourselves and
to each other, there would be a hotel bathroom black enough for Walker to develop some test interiors; and where
we might get help from a New Deal architect whose goodness and understanding Walker felt some certainty of in
advance; and
where we might get help through some communists I had seen in Tarrant City; but we knew well enough
that it was less for these things we went than that we might have the infinite relief of talking more nearly in our
own language to others, to those who at least were also spies, and enemies of our enemies; and that we might at the
same time use rooms and beds and bathrooms and eat foods and walk through lobbies whose provincial slickness we
could simultaneously rest upon and ridicule and in both ways delight in; and that we might walk in the dynamic and
heartening streets of a populous city, a relatively condensed and sophisticated civilization, whose ways we might
stroll by the hour without the pressure upon us, the following, the swerving, of the slow blue dangerous and se-
cret small-town eyes. We went, we sought out and talked with these people, a regular hemorrhage of talking which
must have alarmed them but which also stimulated their own terrific loneliness as well as ours, and which was other-
wise useless, we ate bloody foods in chilled rooms and drank liquors, we ate up the streets, their facades, their
show-windows, the distributions of traffic and people along these troughs, their lights at night, their odors of
soft coal and auto exhausts, the faces and forms of their women, as men starved or dried to husks in a desert might
eat and drink, and this cruel great spread-out country town was so grateful a metropolis to me as I had never known
since New York was virgin before me at fifteen, and I first walked in the late brilliant June dusk into the blinding
marvel of Times Square, watching the Covered Wagon cross the river Platte in electric lights, over and over and
over, my heart nearly breaking for joy here where all the shows of every kind on the otherwise rural round planet
were spread at once before me, a giant tray of choiring diamonds.

But it is now sunday morning; late; we sit high in the Hotel Tutwiler; behind the gray of an opposite screen two
floors beneath us a woman is shifting from nightgown through nakedness to day clothing but the sun is spread
strongly enough on that tall windowed wall that we can see scarcely anything; little pennons and serpents of black
smoke and white steam wave like handkerchiefs above the complex roofs of the lowspread city; it is transferred to
us how hot the tar-paper roofs of these buildings are beneath the sun by a special sort of pallor on their black-
ness; our fan is drilling a steady hole and column of relative coolness straight from the center of the ceiling
to the center of the floor:

We found out what train Walker would follow me down on and drank some more sloe gin tepid while we finished read-
ing the Spanish news and the funny papers. I decided to shave and put on a clean shirt. We tried the radio and all
we could get was church services. Down beneath us on the nearly smokeless hot sunlight, some tower of bells was
still belting out a hymn tune. I had intended to get away by the middle of the morning but it was hot and we
talked a good deal, and by the time we got downstairs I saw that I might as well eat first and get one more good
meal inside me before resuming the bad ones that were all I could get where I was going back to.

In the bright sunday noon the airconditioned coffee shop of this business-men's big hotel had
the deaf horror of
a vacuum
. Two sunday-clothed middle-class southerners and their adolescent daughter ate at a hard black table
in the dead middle of the room, talking very little
. When they spoke it was as if they were embarrassed at the loud-
ness of their quieted voices; and
their silver was sharp and loud in the brittle cold of ugly air. Waitresses stood at
the walls in pastel-shaded brittle dresses and hard, fresh makeup, useless and restless but restrained,
their restraint
making them still more angry at spending a sunday this way. We ate a large, cold, expensive lunch slowly and with
sick gentleness, the way you might unbandage treat and dress some complicated wound on your body, and it was
one-forty before I finally got going.

Twenty-four hours of every day for weeks now I had been in the company of another person, and now I was alone,
driving in this bright day. I knew now how much greater the strain had been than I had been able, while under it,
to realize; for I have never known more complete pleasure and relief at being alone. Thinking over the good day
and night Walker would be spending alone in Birmingham, I was almost equally glad on his account.
The heat
and the pleasure together softened me all over and made me drowsy and I lay down into the driving as if into a
hot bath, paying very little attention to anything except the road in front and in my mirror, and pleasurably hold-
ing the car, along these first sixty miles of narrow and twisted concrete, up against the thin margin of danger.

Except for tobacco and the pleasure of speed, almost none of my appetites were awake; I was just watch-
ing the road disinvolve itself from the concealing country and run under me with its noise and the tires and
the motor. From time to time I would go over some part of some piece of music I knew, and I enjoyed it, but
without any real edge. I knew
I very badly wanted, not to say needed, a piece of tail, and remembered the place
ing the road disinvolve itself from the concealing country and run under me with its noise and the tires and
ahead of me where we had talked with the whore; but neither the want nor the need nor her proximity much
impressed me: I felt only that it is too bad so seldom to feel the want of a thing at its keenest when it is
available. As I got nearer the filling-station-lunch-house where we had seen her,
my mind ran on ahead and
slowed around her. It lounged around and talked dialect with her and made out what it could about her and
where she had come from; then it took her out to an iron bed in one of the pine log cabins out back. The sun
stenciled an astronomical chart on the drawn, cracked windowshade and slivered through chinks in the logs,
and in the odor and shade of heated pine a wasp aligned his nervous noise. I found her body heavy, sour,
and wet with the heat on the squealing bed, spongy and so discouraging I was good for nothing, while she
grunted lines like got it in good, honey, and, sock it to me, shugah. So, as the place came in sight, soon-
er than I had expected it, I slowed the car only a little, watching out for her with the tagends of sharp
but sleepy appetite on the chance that my eyes would tell me different from my imagination. She was loaf-
ed up heavily against the flank of a Plymouth, one thick thigh lifted, lowheeled slipper on the running-
board, loosening out like hair her thick whore's dialect upon the whitehatted driver as he drank his dope,
and I was glad for good and all that I was not going to move in on that piece of head-cheese in such a guy's
and stepped up the car again. It was the same with Estelle, thinking of her now: not worth the sac-
rifice of this solitude however well it probably wouldn't work out, and in spite of the vapor-lamp quality
of her lavender and inappeasable eyes.
I didn't even slow and go through the street her store was on but
went straight on through the middle of town and cut south; and as I drew out fast along the road south of
Cherokee City, began to realize where it was I was going in such a hurry and what day it was, and slowed
down a little, and then I really did begin to realize it. Of all the christbitten places to spend a few free
hours alone, and of all the days to do it on. I thought of driving on back to Cherokee City and putting up
at some hotel there, for any town is a pleasure until you know it well enough to hate it or like it, and I
knew neither of these towns that well; but I knew I was going to Centerboro and no further, and kept
right on going there, on road and through country now that I knew by heart, raising a long ruche of o-
range dust behind me,
and wondering what I might read or write in the hotel room, or whether to get hold
of some liquor, or whether I might not go deep enough down into the Prairie to make it safe and manage to
get into some negro church meeting; and by now here I was, much sooner than I expected, god knows much
sooner than I wanted, already piercing the shallow outskirts of Centerboro, and a little ahead of me would
be the main street and all the narrow, mean white faces that turned slowly after me watching me and wish-
ing to God I would do something that would give them the excuse,' and the sun blistering down on the bus-
iness block: I brought the car down to a slow float and swung into it.

It was different from what I had foreseen, for I had thought of it in terms of weekdays, and this was sun-
day. There was no one at all in sight in the block, and no cars moving, only two parked cars so cooked in
the sun they looked as if they might take fire of it any minute. There are no trees in that block, and not
even the shadow of the low buildings even partially shut the wound;
the sun was hitting every surface in
sight, and all of them were bare and hard, and the street and walks were white. The light shrank my eyes
half shut, and in the street between the two lines of buildings it was like lime working in a trough. A
small hound took the street, trying to go slow because he felt slow and was born slow, but using his feet
staccato because the pavement hurt them. It was as hot as all the days of the week piled one on top of an-
other, or as if they were a series of burning-glasses through which this sunday struck. As soon as I
slowed and swung into this street, the sweat sprang out and ran on me, and I suddenly knew what a terri-
ble event a summer sunday is in a southern small town, and how strongly influential on its vic- tims and
their civilization, and that for miles and hundreds on hundreds of miles all around me in any direction I
cared to think, not one human being or animal in five hundred was stirring, nor even the leaves of the
trees and the crops except in the slow twisting of some white and silent nightmare. There was nothing in
the air that could be called a wind or even a breeze: the air lay all over this land like flesh, and when
it moved at all the movement was senseless, without direction and frightening, like the flexions of an a-
moeba. The sun had lost its edge and size and occupied half the sky with a platinum light that shriveled
the eye, and at any horizon along the road I had traveled I now remembered the dry, thin steam that had
been drawn in toward the sun.

The wind of the plain speed of movement had walled me away as though with the glass of a bathosphere from
the reality of this heat; but now the glass was broken and the deep sea stood in upon me; I was a part
once more of the pace and nature of this country.

Slowed a long way down into this nearly noiseless floating at five miles an hour I went both ways the
whole length of the main street in the shade of the trees that overhung nearly all but the business block
and therewas not a stir of life anywhere:
every last soul in all these shaded, jigsawed, wooden houses must
be dead asleep under the weight of the hot greasy sunday dinner in shaded rooms, not even a sheet over
them, whose added weight would break them open;
and the houses themselves, withdrawn in their dark
green, half-bald, twiggy lawns, were numb with sleep as ruins in the dappling and scarce twisting of
their tree shade. All the porches were empty, beyond any idea of emptiness. Their empty rockers stood
in them; their empty hammocks hung in them. Through windows could be seen details of rooms furnished twen-
ty to forty years ago, and at the same time the window surfaces gave back pieces of street and patterns of
leaves on light. Not even a negress cook stole out delicately by the back way in her white slippers on the
lawn and her hat and her white sunday dress; she was gone long ago, or asleep by the simmering of the kit-
chen range. It was silent as the crossing of an old-fashioned ferryboat, where no motor was used and the
flat barge, attached to a rope, is swung on the bias of the flat stream's relaxation.
On the cool, gray-
painted, shaded boards of one of these middleclass porches my body stretched its length and became the
loose and milky flesh of its childhood who listened, hours long in the terrible space and enlargement of
silence, while the air lay in the metal magnolia leaves asleep, once in a while moving its dreaming mouth
on the shapeless word of a dream or lifting and twisting one heavy thigh and creating in the leaves a chaf-
fering and dry chime, and I, this eleven-year-old, male, half-shaped child, pressing between the sharp
hip bone and the floor my erection,
and, thinking and imagining what I was able of the world and its pe-
ople and my grief and hunger and boredom, lay shaded from the
bird-stifling brilliance of the afternoon and
was sullen and sick, nearly crying, striking over and over again the heel of my bruised hand against the
sooty floor and sweating and shaking my head in a sexual and murderous anger and despair: and the thought
of my grandfather, whose house this now was, and of his house itself, and of each member of his family, and
of all I knew so keenly and could never say and of those I too did damage to, and of the brainless strength
and mystery behind all that blaze of brightness, all at once had me so powerfully by the root of the throat
that I wished I might never have been born: and then this passed, all this, as quickly as it had come, and
I was again in Centerboro driving on the slow flotation of silence, door by door and yard by yard in all
its detail home by home in a town I hated that was drained, drenched, drowned in the desperateness of sun-
day. It held even those who were awake under its power, the few, the few, stragglers in the shaded quarters
of the street, whose feet dragged in the rich boredom as if in flypaper, making a loud shuffle or swinging
scrape on the silence and whose voices here in the open, white-hot air, were subdued and sick to hear.
There was no more reason to be walking than to be on beds in the square shadow of screened and blinded
There was not only nothing to do but nothing to talk about and nothing to think about or to have the
vitality to desire; there was not even any reason to exist, nor was there enough energy to care that there
was no reason. I knew that miles out the red road at the swimming pool there would be girls whose bright
legs, arms and breasts in the thick clay water warmth would be comforting to look at as they lolled or lif-
ted, but I knew too that they would be inaccessible, and that I would hate them, and myself, if they were
accessible, and that even in their laughter and flirtation there would be the subdual of this sunday death-
liness in whose power was held the whole of the south, everything between Birmingham and the smallest
farmhouse, and the whole of a continent, and much of the earth. It was like returning several thousand
years after the end of the world, when nothing but the sun was left, faithfully blasting away upon the
dead earth as it twisted up, like a drowned body swollen light and lifted to the surface, the surfaces of its
body and the exactitudes of those scars and lesions it had sustained in the course of its active life
. But it
was worse. For this was not the end of the world, it was contemporary, the summer of nineteen-thirty-six,
and this dread was imposed by sunday, only for a space, and this was what life was like, the only world we
have. Tomorrow of these millions each single, destroyed individual would resume the shape of his living
just where he had left off; and there was nothing pleasing in the memory of that sure fact.

I went into Gaffney's Lunch. It was nearly cool and its fan drowsed. At the far end of the counter three
hard-built, crazy-eyed boys of eighteen lounged in a slow collapse like dough, talking low in sexual voices
and sniggering without enthusiasm; sick and desperate with nothing to do and with the rotting which the
rightborn energy of their souls could by no chance have escaped. They looked at me with immediate and
inevitable enmity.
I looked back impersonally, almost wishing there might for their sake and mine be a
fight, though I was unable to hate them and am not yet fully over my physical cowardice. They resumed their
talk, glancing at me once in a while. I could not hear what they said but by its tone I knew it had nothing
to do with me. I decided to assume no disguise in mannerism, but to be just as I was, which was what they
would hate, and to let them make what they wanted of it and to take whatever might come. I ate a tomato
sandwich as slowly as I possibly could and then another and drank three coca-colas fast and one slow and
smoked three cigarettes, while I looked at all the no-credit wisecrack signs, extinct dance announcements,
ads, tobacco cans, and packages of tobacco and candy and fig newtons and cigarettes that I could see in
front of me and in the mirror. The tone of the talk was not changing and did not change. I was just as
glad as not and then I knew I was a little gladder than not. I had nothing against them, I would have got
hell beat out of me by even one of them, to say nothing of three, and after such a fight I could have got
nowhere with work from this town. I bought two packs of cigarettes and went out into the silent sun again.
There was in the bright light a sensation of shadow and I looked at the sky and it was unchanged, stark
naked, and I looked lower. Huge thunderheads were barely lifted on the horizon, their convolutions a scar-
cely discernible brain-shape of silver in the strength of the light. They were no use; they were a trick
a drought sun likes to play; and gets away with over and over again.
They ride up looking rich as doom,
and darken; the look of the earth is already dark purple, olivegreen and wealthy under their shadow and
the air goes cold and waits. They let loose drops as big as teacups, about a dozen to the square rod, of
which you hear the palpable splash and break; and list off to one side. The sun, which has meanwhile low-
ered a very little, shines again and the dirt is hard and blue where the drops have hit it; it steams and
stinks as if you had spit on a stove.
I got on into the car. It had collected such heat while it stood that
my eyes were almost immediately blind with sweat and I could feel the tickling of the sweat like rapid in-
sects as it ran on my belly, but I didn't start the car; I was unable to move. I sat looking out through
the windshield at the white concrete in the sun, and did not light the cigarette that grew wet and weak be-
tween my fingers. There was nothing in the world I wanted so much as a girl, but she must not be a whore
or a bitch, nor any girl I knew well either, but a girl nearly new to me.
Between us we had only newly es-
tablished physical understanding and confidence and much was still exploratory, and she would know enough
to be quiet and to talk lazily. We would not try anything drastic but would lie in the shade where the
grass was short and cold, and perhaps drink weak drinks slowly, fully clothed but without many clothes on
in all this heat, and very lazily meddle around with each other's bodies, and talk some. It would be plea-
sant if we were in the course of becoming in love with each other, so long as that wasn't too strenuous,
and this fact would from time to time overtake our cool and lazy, semierotic talk with its serious and ho-
norable joy. This girl would have a good body in a thin, white cotton dress, and her flesh would have the
talent for being cool no matter how closely you touched it, in this hot afternoon, and she would feel as
much as I did the seaweight of broad leaves the summer had brought out above us and how they hung on the
air, and the sense of the damned south spread under and around us, miles and hundreds of miles, millions
and millions of people, in this awful paralysis of sunday, and the sense of death. And if, putting my fore-
head against her cold throat and feeling against my face through her dress the balance and goodness of her
breasts, knowing suddenly my weakness and the effort and ugliness and sorrow of the beautiful world, I
should almost in silence cry the living blood out of myself, this girl would not only know what it was a-
but would know that in the only way I would stand for anyone to know it, and we would still be com-
panions in the fall of the afternoon, though we might never find such good of each other again.

I took the car out the Madrid road, and soon the excessive heat was breezed out of it that had assembled
in it while it stood frying, and I was lifting a line of dust again while the sun leaned to my left with
all its heat still in it and stood like a poultice on my left face and shoulder. All these houses I hur-
ried past were familiar, uhuh; uhuh; on a few of the front porches there were people.
They looked after
me and the car, turning their heads very slowly, too far gone even subconsciously to be grateful even for
so small and meaningless a variant. God damn such a life.
I began thinking of the girl again. She was all
right but what the hell, fantast. Where was I going to get her and would I want her if I had her. If I
was ever in my life going to do one page of decent writing or one good minute of movies that was all in
hell I wanted and I knew I wouldn't; not by any chance; and that didn't make much difference either. Who
the hell am I.
I don't even want a drink, and I don't even much want xo die. I wish there was no one in
all my life I had ever come close enough to to harm, or change the life of, the least little bit, and what
is there to do about that. There is nothing that exists, or in imagination, that is not much more than
beautiful, and a lot I care about that, and existence goes on under pressures more terrible than can ever
be done a thing for, and a lot I care again. I could put my foot to the floor right now and when it had
built up every possible bit of speed I could twist the car off the road, if possible into a good-sized
oak, and the chances are fair that I would kill myself, and I don't care much about doing that either.
That would do Via some bad damage, just as continuing to live with her is bound to, and just as leaving
her is bound to. My father, my grandfather, my poor damned tragic, not unusually tragic, bitched family
and all these millions of each individual people that only want to live in kindness and decency, you
never live an inch without involvement and hurting people and --ing yourself everlastingly and only the
hard bastards come through, I'm not born and can't be that hard apparently and God--Genius and Works of
Art anyway and who the hell am I, who in Jesus' name am I.
This is a beautiful country. You can take that
and good art and love together and stick them up your--. And if you think da dialectic is going to ring
any conceivably worthwhile changes, you can stick that and yourself up after. Just an individualizing in-
tellectual. Bad case of infantilism. And--you, too.

As soon as I got on the slag above Madrid, I started watching for the church. It turned up a couple of
miles later. I slowed down and turned to the right between the two peeled posts and took the sharp little
hill in high. The man on the porch of the relatively prosperous little farmhouse on my right turned his
head after the car. I had wished for better luck, but all right.

The one I wanted to see was Gudger, to himself, or anyhow just with his family. His yellow eyes and very
slow way of talking had stayed with me most and some of the things he had said made it possible that he
had at least heard of the union. He was the most direct talker and seemed the sorest and most intelligent

and I wanted to learn more about him; but I didn't know where he lived. I wanted to avoid involvement to-
day with the Ricketts and with Woods, and if possible I would be glad if they never knew I was there, for
any one of the three families was pretty sure to be sensitive and jealous.
If I had to see Gudger at the
price of involvement with them or of setting them against me I was not at all sure I wanted to, today.

I went on past the row of gray houses and up the second hill and was on the nearly flat top. Out at a dis-
tance I could see Ricketts' house. I went on quietly, not very fast, looking at the cotton and the side
of the road and the road, and checking on the thunderheads that now stood up all over the sky on my right.

Some woods ran by on my left and I saw Woods' house, back from the road about a hundred yards; nobody in
sight except one of the babies on the porch.

I didn't know about this at all. I didn't feel like meeting people, talking, bothering anyone or myself a
bit. I wanted to look around and keep quiet.

Woods' low, dry cotton went by and then his corn. His house fell away behind as I took the curve and rea-
ppeared a moment in my mirror, and here was the Ricketts' house right by the road only a hundred yards off,
and now, its side porch and
all the filthy lard cans and the hard dirt scattered with hen turds; nobody
there. I would drive on out the road farther than I had been and see what I could find. I slowed the car
a little and lifted my foot and tried to coast by quietly.

Out of the bum, low potatoes on my left one of the Ricketts boys stood up fast and grinning and shouted
Hello, grinning with joy all over his face, and sure I had come to see them. The other boy and one of the
little girls stood up waving and grinning. I waved and smiled and put on the brakes. They floundered out
fast through the plants and ran up to the car close to me at the window, feet on the running-board and

quick bodies clamped close against the hot flank of the car, panting with the grinning look of dogs,
their eyes looking straight, hard, and happy into mine. (Jesus, what could I ever do for you that would
be enough.)
For a second I was unable to say anything, and just looked back at them. Then I said, taking
care to say it to all three, Is your Daddy around? They said nawsuh he was still to meetnen so was Mama
but ParlLee was yer they would git her fer me. I told them, No, thanks, I didn't want to make any bother
because I couldn't stay any time today; I just wanted to ask their Daddy would he tell me where Mr.
George Gudger lived. They said he didn' live fur, he lived jist a piece down over the heel I could walk
it easy. Not wanting to leave the car here to have to come back for, I asked if I could be sure of the
path. They told me, You go awn daown the heel

twhur Tip Foster's haouse is ncut in thew his barn nfoller the foot paff awn aout thew the corn tell ye
come to a woods, take the one awn the right nanexunawn a liyuf nye come aout at the high een un a cotton
patch, cut awn thew the cotton patch, you'll see the foot paff, ngo awn daown na heeln he's rat thur,
the only haouse. I pretended to be confused more than I was and said, Is they any way of getting an auto
in? The other little girl had come up on the other side of the car; she was leaning in the window on her
folded, slender arms and looking at me smiling gladly but furtively. They said, Shore, ye tuck it a way
awn back most t-tha high way twhur they was a ole gravel pit awn my left that wasn't used no more (I re-
membered it), turn to the left in round the gravel pit and a-past the nigger haouses and keep on a-goin'
tell I couldn' go no furdern I would be thur. I thanked them a lot and told them to tell their Mama and
Daddy hello for me and that I hoped I would git up and see them all soon; the little girl on my right
was giggling and the other one started to giggle, neither of them in at all an un- friendly way. The tow-
head of the two boys shook his head and laughed snortily like a horse with pleasure; the other kept his
eyes on mine and smiled steadily, and suddenly they all yelled, Yer's Daddy, Dad Dy! (0 Christ!) and ran
to meet him.

He was swinging up the road behind us limping on both his equally sore feet and saw who it was and came
faster, and I opened the door and lounged one leg out, waiting to get his eye to nod and grin and say
hello. He came on up already talking and we shook hands, and I told and asked him what I had told and
asked his children (suddenly and vividly remembering how when I was a child that had been repeated o-
ver me, taken out of my hands, and how I had known my childhood was mistrusted; and now knowing the
children must feel I mistrusted their efforts to be accurate).
Ricketts was giving me back five words
for every one, grinning and gleaming his eyes and wrinkling his forehead like a house afire and, from
behind his eyes, watching for his effect and for my true intention, which he feared.
He said he would
go along in the car and show me, in such a way, and so many times, that I knew I risked the complete
loss of any possible confidence or liking, and of any access to his family, if I should refuse, so I ex-
aggerated the size of the favor he was doing me and thanked him in proportion, and opened the door
on his side and turned the car around, waved at the children, and started on back down the road. No
distance down the road his wife came toward us barefooted in a black cotton sunday dress. I put my
hand up as if to the hat I did not have on and smiled, slowing the car.
She saw who I was and made a
small smile over a face that had doubt, a little hostility, and two degrees of fear, the tremulous
and the dreadful. I told Ricketts how sorry we had been the way it had turned out awhile back, get-
ting her and the children all lined up and taking pictures without giving her any explanation, and
keeping them all from their dinners, and he said she didn't keer nothn about none of that, in a tone
which without unkindness meant that she didn't have a right to, so if she did it made no difference.

I told him I couldn't be a bit sure yet just where our work was going to be taking us, but I hoped
we would be seeing them all some more. He said, any time, they were always right there. Then he
said, any time, they were always right there. Then he laughed very loudly and said, yes sir, any
time at all, they was sure God always right there. Then he laughed very loud and long and said, yes
sir, they was always right there all right, any time at all, and kept on laughing while, out of the
back of his eyes, he watched me. That is the pattern of almost anything Ricketts says.

Yet all this city-business, you can see; you can see how it was not really satisfactory: it was as a-
lien, indeed as betraying, of the true and only possible satisfaction of our need and purpose as when,
unable to sustain any instant longer of the effort, the pain, the loneliness, to do the piece of work
you would give all your blood to do, and aside from which no hope of peace can reside, a would-be 'art-
ist' breaks down, plays it out by the hour on a piano, sees a movie, takes sex or alcohol as if an en-
emy by the throat to devour it,
seeks out friends and talks them half dead before they crawl to bed,
and the bore, trembling and half crazy with need, self-recrimination, sorrow of what he has betrayed
and of the persons he has used,
begins that awful stone-heeled peripatation of the enchanted streets,
watching lights in unknown windows tall in walls, grieving for an open bar,
beating his thigh or the
sides of buildings with his fist as he walks, doping himself with memories of music, which ends only
in an exhaustion final beyond the lifting of one foot before the other, sometimes still in darkness,
sometimes in breaking of the dawn, sometimes
in clean full-swollen morning stare with the lamps long
shut, or a subway ride, in barrenness of gold straw seats, among those tin-pailed, each lonesome sol-
diers, gentle and as if sorrowful still with sleep, who have lifted once more the burden whence they
drooped it in the water, with night still streaming from it to the floor: and so, cold, cold, to cof-
fee and the daylit bed:

All it had brought me, was this terrible frustration, which had in its turn drawn me along these roads
and to this place scarce knowing why I came, to the heart and heart's blood of my business and my
need: and so was I satisfied, as how can I dream to tell you, first in one incident, so fully it seem-
ed there could be no more, then in a second so rich, so plain and fair, so incalculably peaceful,
that the first in retrospect seemed of the ordinary body of events: it was quite as if again as of
Birmingham it was thirst: as if in some inconceivable thirst and blaze of aridity, you had been satis-
fied twice over, twice differently, with the first not in the least detracting from the second; two
'dreams,' 'come true,' true like those that tortured my adolescence, and as if then some one of
them for whose shadow I gnawed at my wrist, had quietly, within the next few moments, materialized
before me, smiling gently yet gaily, abolishing all fear save that which is in wonder and in joy, that I
might behold and touch and smell and taste her, speak to her, worship her,
and hear her words, show
her places I had found in walking, music I knew and loved, find that she, too, in a distant city had
seen that movie whom few others had noticed and no one cared for; and that by some cause inexpli-
cable to her as well as to me, she too as well as I could never hear in our heads the words and the
music of 'tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching, cheer up comrades they will come,' without break-
ing apart inside, I suppose where the heart is, into a shuddering of sweet tears, though our images were
disparate; hers, she being enough younger, of the World War, and of the poor soldiers who, imprisoned
far from home, among those who did not even speak their same language, heard their brothers march-
ing in a band, and could not go out and march with them, play with them, die with them; mine of
last war in which there was much nobility, the Civil War, the War Between the States, when dark-bear-
ded, coal-eyed, narrow-featured men of it seems a different race, yet who were our grandparents,
whose broken old gentleness still trembles along the flagged streets of late spring, were meeting in
glades in a level sleet of lead to take each other's souls out: of a camp, a prison camp, Andersonville
whose pictures I had seen, a great stiff clay in winter, closed in a stockade, tents smoking, the ground
striped with shallow snow, the feet, the joints, bandaged in pitiful rags, the eyes like skulls; the guards
pacing, meeting, pacing, the odors of southern winter, and all centered upon these captives that slow,
keen, special, almost weeping yearning of terror toward brutality, in the eyes, the speech, which is pe-
culiar to the men of the south and is in their speech;
and beyond this, north, a continent: a continent
of southern clay, stiffgrassed, thin-housed, deep-frozen, down which from sheeted snows advanced a
blackness and brave string, earnest and gallant, bugles blithing, the bravery of whose feet is known
advancing, a hundred, a thousand miles, oh, kind, brave, resolute, oh, some day, some time, dangers
braved, all armies cut through, past, to the rescue:
cheer up; comrades: they will come: and beneath
the starry flag we shall see our homes again, and the loved ones we left so far away: so far away: whom
also I know, my soldiers, and their homes, those delicate frames, white in the white light snow, the
beaded women, whose jaws like eggs are rounded next the hair, their serious eyes, creatures of a na-
tion which has never learned loving and happy living, seated there waiting in the deepskirted secret
whiteness of their sex; and the soft-mouthed children, dark-clothed and ruffed, whose dark jelly eyes
regard the camera so mildly, so severely
; and thou, deep-crafted, rude-boned, mistaken Christ, who
sank in an incongruous pieta before a Good Friday farce, those reins left loose whose raving runs six
decades nor shall ever cure: we shall treat them as if they had never been away: 'we have lost our
best friend': 'I laugh because I must not cry; that's all; that's all.'

I must excuse myself this apparent digression because you of whom I write are added to the meaning
of this song, and its meaning to yours: for here, here, in this time; on this vast con- tinental sorrow-
ful clay it is I see you, encamped, imprisoned, each in your pitiably decorated little unowned ship
of home, ten million, patient, ignorant, grievous, ruined, so inextricably trapped, captured, guard-
ed; in the patience of your lives; and though you cannot know it you like these prisoners are con-
stantly waiting; and though you cannot hear it yet like them you do hear; how on the stone of this
planet there is a marching and resonance of rescuing feet which shall at length all dangers braved,
all armies cut through, past, deliver you freedom, joy, health, knowledge like an enduring sunlight:
and not to you alone, whose helpless hearts have been waiting and listening since the human world
began, but to us all, those lovable and those hateful all alike.
And whether this shall descend up-
on us over the steep north crown I shall not know, but doubt: and after how many false deliverances
there can be no hopeful imagining: but that it shall come at length there can be no question: for
this I know in my own soul through that regard of love we bear one another: for there it was proved
me in the meeting of the extremes of the race.

But this refreshment was as if, to this thirsting man, without warning or teasing of gradualness the
sky became somber and opened its heart upon him, and stood itself forth upon the earth, and more rain
fell than heaven might carry, and he stood beneath the roaring of its streaming, head back, eyes on
the falling wheaten sky, mouth wide to take its falling, and all the earth yielding up that sound of
applause which is beyond politeness, beyond reward, beyond acclaim, beyond all such vulgarity, and
is the simple roaring of all souls for joy before God, as I have seen occur a few times when Beetho-
ven through Toscanini has imparted his full mind (he who truly hears my music can never know sorrow

And secondly, quite different, quite so silent, and so secret, as the other was wild, it is in this
same thirst the sudden transport, the finding of one's self in the depth of woods, beside a spring:
a spring so cold, so clean, so living, it breaks on the mouth like glass: whereto I prostrate myself
as upon a woman, to take her mouth: and here I see, submerged, stones, the baroque roots of a tree,
fine dust of leaves, gray leaves, so delicate, laid and laid among this dust a quilt, the feathering
of a bird, whose plumage I cherish nor shall in my drinking disturb: and
standing from the heart, a
twindling, slender, upward spine (it is a column of gnats at evening, the column of the stars of all
, that little stream of sand upon whose stalk this clean wide flower has spread herself:
or better, since this joy is human, it is not in a woodland I stand, but
in a springhouse, of plain
boards, straddling a capacious spring, a place such as that which was at my grandfather's farm, with
the odor of shut darkness, cold, wet wood, the delighting smell of butter; and standing in this spring,
the crocks, brimmed with unsalted butter and with cream and milk;
the place is shut behind me, but
slit through with daylight, but the lighting comes as from a submerged lamp, that is, from the floor
of the spring of which half is beyond shelter of the house: and here on this floor, too, I see these
leaves, drifted and deep like snow, and driven, even beneath the house: and
between two sweating
stones, sitting there, watching me, shining with wet in the dark, with broad affronted eyes, the
face and shoulders and great dim belly of a black and jade and golden bullfrog, big as a catcher's
mitt, his silver larynx twitching constantly with scarcely controllable outrage.


All the way down from Ricketts' the wind had been lifting, taking up little spirals of dust among
the shaken cotton along our left, twisting and treating them roughly, blowing them to pieces, and
by the time we had drawn round the tip of the gravel pit to the left and were taking the car for
my first time among the difficulties of that broken little road of which I was to learn each trick,
forward and backward, like a piece of music; it was
tightened full of clay dust, gravel, splinters,
twigs, the meager firstlings of the grand impounded rain which slivered horizontals along the
blinded windshield, so that all the left flank of the metal car was steadily bombarded with little
sharpnesses so rapidly, so intensely, as by electrons. We sank a rooty slope and crossed a branch
(whose thin sheet shimmering was shirred all over the road) and opened on the left in a grim olive
light a field of corn all slashed one way, the leaves out level in great loudness, the olive light
suffused with a dim red gold, which was the substance of the earth; melons like hogs, their dust
backs sliced with water; peanut plants twittering as under the scathe of machine-gun fire, or al-
ternate frames cut from a stretch of film; and among woods again, the sanded road resumed in
rooted clay, uphill, ravine-like, wrenching a last hump free (the car listing steep as the Vestris),
and delivered in suddenness upon wide space of light on torsive clays where stands, first seen to
me, your holy house, George, cloven, expectant of storm, the dust sunken about it like sucked-back
smoke of magic,
the plants released erect and trembling as flesh at end of shock of surgery, the
house quiet save one blind creaking, a bull waiting the hammer: for in this last quarter-mile the
wind has suddenly sunken as if cut,
the dry storm being over, the orchestra arrested of its bully-
ing tutti, and among the quivering flocculence of vegetation, which knows well to expect another
blow, no sound as such at all, yet a quality of withdrawal, of tension, which is part smell, part
temperature, part sound, a motion of withdrawal as of wide hands armed with cymbals: the exhaust-
ing odor that breeds of dynamos, a searching change to coldness, a sound from all the air as of a
sizzling fuse, a blind blattering of thunder and brightness,
silence again, so steep, and down it,
water like trays that bursts four inches wide in a slapping of hands, broad-separate drops; and as
we draw up across your yard in rapid second, a new cold rushing in the air, a gray roar that runs
out of the woods behind your house and takes the field in a stride to meet us where we stop in
such a welter that, in the fifteen feet between the lean-to where we leave the car and the porch
we sprint for, the clothing is stuck along shoul- ders and thighs like tissue paper and we stand
on the porch against the wall in a quiet of blockaded wind which feels illegal, and the reeking of
rain is so outrageous all round that I can scarcely hear half what Ricketts is saying, though the
scare and pleasure of storm has brought his voice into a high shout: and we stand, watching, be-
neath the field, the embattled trees, which are scarcely visible, all thrashing, yet some struck,
each as if singled out for it, a great blow across the shoulders and base of the skull that beats
it down with an oooooh rather than groan, beaten low among the shoulders of his brethren where,
arms stretched, he bruises his forehead among them to weep, and a foam running and skipping as
foam on surf along their crests, and a regiment of crests suddenly sprung loose, each leaf a cat-
apult in the bumpy wind, smacking their sheen of water up at a wild angle of which wind shears off
the top, and the rigid trunks themselves swaying even from their strong footholds in a strong and
vertical oscillation as of wharved masts, and George comes out, to see who is here, not at all ex-
hilarated as we are, yet tense; and is much surprised to see me, and we shake hands; and my natural
inclination is to stay and watch the rain, but he is as much ready to draw back into his shell as
if we were all standing in it, or as if this were an impropriety he could be courteous but not too
patient with;
and we go back through the open hall (which frames at its far end a barnyard one em-
blazoned blizzard), and stepping quickly into the kitchen he takes a lamp from the table, and at
the opposite door he knocks; and the door is unbuttoned from inside which had been secured in a
thoughtless reflex of fear, and we all hurry in, and he buttons the door to again as promptly as
to shut out a following beast, and here in this room we are in a near dead darkness, in which at
first I know, only, that it is full of people, whom I do not yet see. Through two walls of this
shuttered room and parts of the ceiling daylight is let in short lead slivers; there is the sound
of a loud falling trickle and of many assorted paces of dripping water; and
even here in this
dry and windless place the air is bristly with sieved rain:
I begin to see around me a little;
George draws out a chair at the fireplace and I sit down; I see there are on the bed and floor
a woman and children, none of whom makes a sound or says a word, nor can I yet make out
their faces or their eyes;
George is scratching a match; it glints and dies; another; dead wet
pulp; another, flares; he guards it in his palm, he touches the wick; the dark flame climbs
shapeless in braiding of oleaginous smoke; he sets the chimney round it, brings it trim, the
flame pales, takes shape, brightens and swells to level, and stands there in glass; I look a-
round me: the sobriety of its fragrant light is spread not quite to the two far walls but on
all surfaces of wood more near, details of furniture, bed iron, bodies, faces:

The wood frame of the fireplace is whitewashed. The white-wash is scarred with matches.
The hearth is full of sweepings and char. Water drops in a steady spatter on the middle of
this heap, and the broken black stones of the chimney-back are crawled with its shimmering
in the lamp. A small outer hearth of foot smoothed sandstone is let into the floor; one leg of
my hickory-bottom chair stands in it. The floor is so beautiful in the light of the lamp. The
planks are pine; they must be each a foot wide. It is all wood around me, and except for the
white- washing it is all bare and untouched; it is all pine; wide boards of it; held together
against a structure of two-by-fours, some of them splintery, some smoothed with planes. The
door we entered is of broad pine vertical boards nailed together by a transverse and two hor-
izontals, hung from hinges: a thick wood button latch, its edges softened with a knife, a twen-
ty-penny nail stuck through its center has made upon the wood of the solid wall and swing-
ing door a circular shadow of its usage. (Later I am to see on much of the wood of this house
the arched breath of the saws.) The foot of the bed is iron; dark; the paint is gone from it;
and like moist whetstone to the touch: its several rods stand upward to a curving of iron, a
little like a lyre, and the head, in darkness, is the same thing taller. The lamp stands on a
little table next the fireplace, and this little table is spread with a piece of floursack whose
printing is still faint in it and through which the cheapest available kinds of pink and blue
shining threads have been drawn in a designing of embroidery which was not completed. The
bed is sheeted white, and beyond, more dimly, is another plain of white, and the iron of a
somewhat more ornate bed. Between my feet and George's, at the juncture of outer hearth
and floor there is a rapid little splittering of water which I can see falling between our eye-
sight, a little less swift than a continuous stream. Somewhere behind him a bigger dropping
is going on, with the loudness and force exactly of a finger nail struck as hard and rapidly
as possible against wood. Back in the darkness there is a folding and glad noise as of a for-
est brook. By lamplight and by day I see, beneath the door, water slide and spread along the
wood floor. A large and slow-collected drop breaks now and then on my right knee. I do not
move to avoid it but I shade with my hand so that this foolishness shall not be nodced. I
see George's feet in their bluchered workshoes, planted in the boards of the floor. I wa
his eyes while he watches mainly at nothing, and at the fear of waiting in them as he tries
to create a saving rhythm against the unpredictable thunder
. I watch these others who in the
dark are drawn into a rondure: Junior, sitting on the floor, at the foot of the bed, his teeth
working at the root of his thumb nail, watching me constantly with his hidden look:
sitting straight upright at the edge of a hickory chair by the bed and near me, holding a baby
close yet lightly against her prescient body;
watching me: Burt, on the bed, on his side, his
knees drawn tight, his body drawn in a tight curve round the seated hips of his mother, his
face jammed against her thin buttock, crying very quietly, twisting his forehead tighter and
tighter against her, chewing the cloth of her skirt: you, Annie Mae, whose name I do not yet
know, and whom I have never yet seen, and who I gather, are George's wife (though there has
been no foolishness of 'introductions,' nor any word spoken, of any such kind):
it is you I
was first aware of from when first I came into this room, before you were yet a shadow out of
the darkness, and you I have had on my mind while we have sat here, and so much cared toward,
how from the first you not only never spoke but have not once lifted your face, your head,
where you hold it there bowed deep, your sharp elbows on your sharp knees, the heels of the
hands clamped to your ears, your eyes I feel sure through the tension of your body so tightly
shut they must ache with it. All that I see now is this posture, the sharpness of your bent
spine through your dress, the black top of your head locked in your hands and the white broken
part down the center of the skull, and a little of your forehead: the wincing, and the narrow
moan you yield in each bellowing I of thunder: at which time George winces too, not at all a-
shamed of his fear, studious to hold it in bounds only for the sake of his family, that they
may have something to count on, to look toward for their own courage. No one has anything to
say in all this absorption in terror and patience of waiting except now and again Ricketts who,
since he must always talk most when he fears most, finds this silence an unbearably frightening
so that now and again, out of a silence in which he has been breathing quicker and quick-
er, he darts a loud-voiced and trembling, joking comment, to which George makes little or no
answer, almost as if it were obscene in this context, and which I try to ease into silence with
a 'yeah: sure is,' or a smile or short laugh.
He remarks how Annie Mae is all squinched up
on the bed like the devil was after her, a-har-har-har-har, devil hisself, and George says yes
that she sure is afeared of the thunder and the lightning;
Louise tightens her arms round the
baby, looking at me: after a little Ricketts says again, look at Annie Mae; skeered like devil
hisself was after her, yes sir, devil hisself. No one answers him. Yes sir, all squinched up
like devil hisself was on her tracks; never seed a woman so skeered a thunder; and he quiets a-
gain. There is a scratching at the door, without whimpering; nothing is done about it. It keeps
up; pauses; resumes in much more urgency; quits; and is done with. After a minute George says:
arn draws lightnin. Arn, and dawgs. I offer them another round of cigarettes. Ricketts as before
refuses: he keeps on spitting in the fireplace, stooping forward far in his chair to indicate
that he is taking due care in a home not his own and for the same reason spitting quietly and
rather delicately. George, as before, takes one with thanks. I realize later that he likes ma-
chine-made cigarettes less well than those he rolls for himself, but he is fond of the meaning
and distinction which is in their price, and would probably always use them if he could afford
them. All this while something very important to me is happening, and this is between me and
Louise. She sits squarely and upright in her chair, as I have told, silent, and careful of the
child, and apparently no more frightened than I, and scarcely even excited by the storm, watch-
ing me, without smiling, whether in her mouth or her eyes: and I come soon to realize that she
has not once taken her eyes off me since we entered the room:
so that my own are drawn back
more and more uncontrollably toward them and into them.
From the first they have run chills
through me, a sort of beating and ticklish vacuum at the solar plexus,
and though already I
have frequently met them I cannot look into them long at a time without panic and quick
withdrawal, fear, whether for her or for myself I don't know. Inevitably I smile a little, qui-
etly, whenever I meet her eyes, but that is all. I meditate, but cannot dare a full and open
smile, in any degree which presupposes or hopes for an answer, not only because I realize how
likely she would be not to 'return' it, which, needing her liking so much, I could not bear,
but because too I feel she is a long way above any such disrespect, and I want her respect al-
so for myself.
There are kinds of friendliness: and of love, and of things a long way beyond
them, which are communicable not only without 'smiling,' but without anything denominable
as 'warmth' in the eyes, and after thinking a little about it, endeavoring to bring myself to
dare to, and to lose my conscience, I let all these elements, in other words all that I felt
about her, all I might be able to tell her in hours if words could tell it at all, collect in my
eyes, and turned my head, and stood them into hers, and we sat there, with such a vibration
increasing between us as drove me half unconscious, so that I persisted rather than ran as one
might in war or round a pylon, blindly and deafly, and gained a second strength wherein I felt
as of a new level, a new world, and kept looking at her, and she at me, each 'coldly,' 'expres-
sionlessly,' I with a qualifying protectiveness toward her from myself, she without fear nor
wonder, but with extraordinary serene reception and shining and studiousness, and yielding of
no remotest clue, whether of warmth, hatred or mere curiosity; and at length it was she who let
her eyes relax away, slowly, with dignity, and gazed down
along the flat chest of her dress,
and upon her wrist, and I continue to watch her; and after a little, not long at all, she rai-
ses her eyes again, and an almost imperceptibly softened face, shy, as if knowledgeable, but
the eyes the same as before; and this time it is I who change, to warmth, so that it is as if
I were telling her,
good god, if I have caused you any harm in this, if I have started within you
any harmful change, if I have so much as reached out to touch you in any way you should not
be touched, forgive me if you can, despise me if you must, but in god's name feel no need to
feel fear of me;
it is as if the look and I had never been, so far as any harm I would touch you
with, so far as any way I would not stand shelter to you: and
these eyes, receiving this, held
neither forgiveness nor unforgiveness, nor heat nor coldness, nor any sign whether she un-
derstood me or no, but only this same blank, watchful, effortless excitation;
and it was I who
looked away.

Every few minutes George would get up and open the door a foot or so, and it showed always
the same picture: that end of the hallway mud and under water, where the planks lay flush to
the ground: the opposite wall; the open kitchen; blown leaves beyond the kitchen window; a seg-
ment of the clay rear yard where rain beat on rain beat on rain beat on rain as would beat out
the brains of the earth and stood in a bristling smoky grass of water a foot high; a corner of the
henhouse; the palings of the garden; the growth of the garden buffeted; a tree by the palings
with shearing of rain through it; open land beyond and beyond that trees in a line;
the rain
moving along the open land in tall swift columns of smoke, the trees lashing and laboring like
rooted waves;
and in all this time I have talked of, such steady rave of rain and such breakage
of thunder as I shall not try to tell: the thunder, at length, has diminished first, and now af-
ter a long time further, the rain too, and now we sit with the door a little ajar and watch it
follow itself in a frieze of tall forward-leaning figures on the field, and
this smokiness
faints slowly out of the air, and the yard dirt is needled, not battered; the thunder is growl-
ing well off to the west and the air, though completely clouded, is softly shiny; and there is
everywhere such a running and rustling, gargling sound of water
as might be heard if the recess-
ion of the late parts of a wave were magnified; and in all this I now see Louise's face in the
strange blend of lamp with daylight; and Burt relaxes, and looks for a little while as if a-
sleep; and Ricketts begins talking again more steadily; and now for the first time in all this
hour we have sat here,
Annie Mae takes her stiff hands from her ears and slowly lifts her beau-
tiful face with a long stripe of tears drawn, vertical, beneath each eye, and looks at us grave-
ly, saying nothing. After a minute she leans across toward her daughter (every line of her body
sharp and straight as if drawn by a ruler),
and asks, how's Squinchy? She is really asking for
him. Louise knows this, and gives him over to her, and she takes him against her body and gazes
carefully into his face, smoothing on his bulged forehead her russet hand. He is asleep, and
has been asleep in all this time, but now beneath her hand he comes awake, and cries a little,
and begins to smile, and much more to comfort herself than her child, she turns away from us,
and draws her dress away from her breast, and nurses him.

The shutters are opened. The lamp is drawn down, blown out.
The room is clear with light and
breathes coolness like a lung: it is filled with the odors of the rain on the earth and of wood,
pork, bedding, and kerosene, and is cleaned of the exhaustion of our breathing.
Our faces are
no longer subsumed but are casual and they and I look at each other more casually yet shyly,
much more sharply aware than before of the strangeness of my presence here.
Our voices and
our bodies take shape and loosen,
and we get up off our chairs and the bed and the floor, and
come out of the room to see what the rain has done. There still are no 'introductions'; there is
no kind of social talk at all, but as if a definite avoidance of any of these issues as too compli-
cated to try to cope with; but
quietness, casualness, courtesy, friendliness, of a sort that make
me feel at ease, only careful: and I see how they are very careful toward me, puzzled by me,
yet glad rather than not to see me, and not troubled by me.

But from where I say, 'The shutters are opened,' I must give this up, and must speak in some
other way, for
I am no longer able to speak as I was doing, or rather no longer able to bear to.
Things which were then at least immediate in my senses, I now know only as at some great and
untouchable distance; distinctly, yet coldly as through reversed field-glasses, and with no warmth
or traction or faith in words:
so that at best I can hope only to 'describe' what I would like to
'describe,' as at a second remove, and even that poorly:

The room was all shut-in, full of shut odors. The door let in light, but only across one end of
this room; so that as I have told the faces were held in two lights at once, in two temper-
atures also, and in two kinds of air.
With even this amount of the light and odor of day there
was change; we were all widened apart, and more aware of each other, in the diminished storm:
our ordinary egoism and watchfulness of a curious human situation was somewhat restored in each
of us, and with this, something happy that came of the air itself, not very different from the
venturing and resumed loudness of small birds on the barnyard air, whose pleated flight and
song were brash as with dawn: The letting-open of the blinds in two of the four blind walls then
let the room full of this cooled and happy light, wherein each piece of furniture stood completed
in its casual personality
within these blockaded boards, and where we found ourselves and saw
each other hovered, no longer with any reason here to be huddled, and sat a few moments as if
blinking, and as if embarrassed to be sitting; so that it was in part this embarrassment which,
after those moments of shy glancing at one another, broke us and brought us standing and stroll-
ing, chairs drawn back, and broken apart along the porch: and I would wish most deeply to say,
how strange the natural day in a room can be, and how curiously, how secretly, it can disturb
those who find it broken upon them, and who find themselves resumed each into his ordinary be-
ing, before he is quite ready to reassume it, in a room whose walls have widened, have opened
once more their square eyes, upon sectors of country, in steadily thinning satin rain:

But the music of what is happening is more richly scored than this; and much beyond what I can
set down: I can only talk about it:
the personality of a room, and of a group of creatures, has
undergone change, as if of two different techniques or mediums; what began as 'rembrandt,'
deeplighted in gold, in each integer colossally heavily planted, has become a photograph, a re-
cord in clean, staring, colorless light, almost without shadow, of two iron sheeted beds which
stand a little away from the walls; of dislocated chairs; within cube of nailed housewood; a fa-
mily of tenant farmers, late in a sunday afternoon, in a certain fold of country, in a certain
part of the south, and of the lives of each of them, confronted by a person strange to them,
whose presence and its motives are so outlandish there is no reason why any of it should be ever
almost as if there were no use trying to explain; just say, I am from Mars, and let
it go at that: and this, as well as the lifted storm, the resumption of work in lack of fear,
is happening in these minutes; each mind disaligned, and busy, in a common human timidity or
fear; the fear in which a new acquaintance begins to be made. I wish I might remember the talk,
or even the method and direction, the shape of the talk, but I can remember this scarcely at all.
I explained myself a little, this single visit, that is, as simply as Imight: such as it was it
was not difficult to believe, and was well enough accepted; neither I nor either of the other
men said much directly to Mrs. Gudger, nor she much to us; though, so far as I felt it would
be allowed as proper, I turned what I said or replied to include her, and a few times directly
her way. She became able to say a little how frightened she was of storms, but without apology
and in next to no humor, just statement, a sort of implied courtesy of explanation to me, if I
had thought it strange at all: I gave her indirect reason to know I did not in the least think
it strange:
I spoke a little to the two older children, as if it were natural to speak to child-
ren; they were puzzled by this but appeared rather to like it. Mrs. Gudger was very quietly cour-
teous toward me in a deeply withdrawn way: as a wife, as a woman, it was not her place to show
or even to feel any question who I was, why I might be there; that was the business of the man
and her greatest courtesy lay in this observance: the children, though, I felt their eyes on
me all the while. Nothing that was said made any difference of itself, but in each thing that
was said there was all the difference in the world in the way I should meet or say it: I relied
on quietness and occasional volunteering, and improvised on whatever seemed best to hand, and
began to have the pleasure of realizing that though I remained inevitably somewhat mysterious,
I was in each few minutes a little more comfortably accepted as friendly, as respectful toward
them, as candid of my ignorance, my motives, and my regard, and as a person who need not at
all be feared nor dealt toward in any lack of ease.

The yard dirt had no shape left to it at all; or had the shape the rain had given it; it looked
like a relief map.
The hens were out to their threshold or staggered out from under the house,
talking worriedly, trembling, dry and sopping wet in patches. The hog was grunting and water
swashed in his wallow; the cow let out a comment like a giant wooden flute:
I looked, and saw
her stretched head. Out in the edge of the cotton one of the three peach trees had been torn in
half: we got pieces of wire and lifted its drenching weight and wired it together: the grass un-
der these trees was littered full of the whole crop of peaches; hardly a dozen hung surviving;
they were broken apart and bruised beyond any use. We collected them in buckets and a tub and
with Mrs. Gudger and the children sorted apart those ripe and sufficiently whole to be used for
eating and for drying, and those fit only for the hogs. Gudger was concerned that I should not
muddy my sunday shoes, and (in re-erecting the tree) that I should not drench my clothes.

While we sorted peaches, the whole storm sank and the sun spread above its horizon and sank to-
ward it:
you know well enough how cleansed, and glad, and in what appearance of health and peace,
every twig and leaf and all the shape of a country shine in such a light, and can fill you with
love which has no traceable basis: well, this beyond such had come at the end of a long and cruel
drought, and there was a movement and noise all round me of creatures and meanings where at
length I found myself; and that I was not crying for joy was only that there was so much still
to watch, to hear, and to wonder before, while we stood on the front porch and talked, George
saying, over and over, while we looked out upon the resplendent country, how good a season it
had been, a real good season, and how it seemed sure enough to have been an answer to prayer, for
they had been praying for rain all these weeks now,
more and more: and over to the left where the
hill sank, there stood up among the tops of the thick woods
a long thin wall of'white and curving
mist above loud water:

And he invited me, several times, to stay the night; of course the cooking was pretty plain, but
stay the night; and each time in some paralyzing access of shyness before strong desire I thanked
him and said I had better not, knowing even while I said it how strongly I risked his misunder-
standing, and his hurt, yet unable to say otherwise: and at length, and sure, and sick to hell,
that I had hurt him, that I had seemed in my refusal to set myself above him, no matter how 'pol-
itely'; I told them good-bye and that I wanted to see them soon again, and Ricketts and I got
into the car; and, dangerous in every moment of bogging in the clay, we took our way across the
changed surface of his front yard and out of sight.

(I take Ricketts home. On the way back toward the high- way, short still of the branch road that
leads to the Gudgers':)


                                                        Second Introit

Ricketts had shown me tricks of driving I shouldn't have dared or imagined along the clay, and now
retracing it, alone, with the dark corning on, I followed my own ruts most of the time, often with
my hands off the steering-wheel, holding the car in a light and somewhat swift second gear so that
it seemed more to float and sail than to go on the ground, catching it lightly as possible in the
instant of slewing and putting on speed rather than slowing and guiding beforehand, as I should have
been more likely to do of myself. Half a dozen places we had come very near bogging, and here the
clay was so wrought-up it was necessary each time to guess again. You can't afford to use brakes in
this sort of material, and whatever steering you do, it must be as light-handed as possible; about
the only thing to say of speed in such situations is to go a full shade faster most of the time than
you can imagine is at all safe to go.
It is different from snow and from any other mud I know of,
and it holds a dozen sudden differences within itself, all requiring quick modifications of tech-
nique and all more or less indescribably hidden among one another: driving, you feel less like an
'operator' than like a sort of passive-active brain suspended at the center of a machine,
to let it take its own way, and to hold it at all in restraint only by little ticklings of an end
of a whip:
your senses are translated, they pervade the car, so that you are all four wheels as
sensitively as if each were a fingertip;
and these feel out a safe way through rather by force of
will or wish than by any action. The joke of this was that my forces of will or of wish were cross-
ed on themselves between the curiosity to manage this two miles of road, out of amateurish pride,
and the regret that I was not at the Gudgers' and the desire to be there and to have a good excuse
for being there: so that each time I got through a particularly tough stretch, it was in about as
much amused regret as pleasure: so that at length, feeling the right rear wheel slew deeply toward
the ditch; well, I didn't know then, and don't now, whether the things I was doing to save it were
'correct' or not, and whether or not it was by my will that I wrung the wheel and drove SO deep
that there was no longer any hope at all of getting it out: but I do know that as I felt it settle
it was a thorough pleasure to me, an added pleased feeling of, well, I did all Icould:
I sat in the
steep-tilted car maybe a full minute with the motor idling, feeling a smile all over the bones of
my face as strange to me as greasepaint: set it in low, shifted the steering, gave it all modula-
tions of power and of steering I could think of; they only foundered it deeper as I had begun to
hope they might: and abruptly shut off the engine and the lights and lighted a cigarette and sat
looking out at the country and at the sky, while the vanquished engine cooled with a tin noise of

There was the very darkest kind of daylight which can be called daylight at all, still on every-
thing, and all through the air, a cold, blue-brown light of agate; and I was stationary in the
middle of a world of which all members were stationary, and in this stasis, a sour odor of the
earth and of night strengthened into me steadfastly until, at length, I felt an exact traction
with this country in each twig and clod of it as it stood, not as it stood past me from a car,
but to be stood in the middle of, or drawn through, passed, on foot, in the plain rhythm of a hu-
man being in his basic relation to his country. Each plant that fluted up in long rows out of the
soil was native to its particular few square inches of rootage, and held relatianship among these
others to the work and living of some particular man and family, in a particular house, perhaps
whose lamp I saw beneath this field;
and each tree had now its own particular existence and per-
sonality, stood up branching out of its special space in the spreading of its blood, and stayed there
waiting, a marked man, a tree: as different as the difference between a conducted tour of a prison
and the first hours there as a prisoner: and all the while, it grew darker.

I took off my shoes and changed to sneakers (there was no sense in this, and I don't understand why),
rolled the legs of my pants to the knee, took out an extra pack of cigarettes, two pencils, a small
notebook, rolled up the windows, and locked the car: looked how deeply to the hub the wheel was sunk,
and started off down the road, looking back at the car frequently from changed distances as if at a
picture of myself, tilted up there helpless with its headlights and bumper taking what light was left.
I began to feel laughter toward it as if it were a new dealer, a county dietitian, an editor of For-
tune, or an article in the New Republic; and so, too, at myself, marveling with some scorn by what
mixture of things in nature good and beneath nausea I was now where I was and in what purposes:
all the while I kept on walking, and all the while the bone center of my chest was beating with haste
and hope, and I was watching for landmarks, less by need (for all I needed was to follow this road to
a branching and the branch to its end) then for gratification in feeling them approach me once more
in a changed pace and purpose and depth of feeling and meaning: for I now felt shy of them yet some-
how as if I newly possessed or was soon to possess them, as if they silently opened and stood quiet
before me to watch and evaluate and guard against me, yet at the same time, in a kind of grave aloof-
ness of the defenseless, to welcome me: and yet again in all this I felt humble, and respectful, careful
that I should not so much as set my foot in this clay in a cheapness of attitude, and full of know-
ledge, I have no right, here, I have no real right, much as I want it, and could never earn it, and
should I write of it, must defend it against my kind: but I kept on walking: the crumpled edge of the
gravel pit, the two negro houses I twisted between, among their trees; they were dark; and down the
darkness under trees, whose roots and rocks were under me in the mud, and shin-deep through swollen
water; and watched the steep-slanted corn, all struck toward me from my left, and nearly motionless
now, while along my right and
all upon me there was the rustling second rain of a trillion leaves re-
laxing the aftermath of storm, and a lithe, loud, rambling noise of replenished branches; thinking,
how through this night what seepage in the porous earth would soon express this storm in glanded
springs, deep wells refreshed; odors all round so black, so rich, so fresh, they surpassed in fecun-
dity the odors of a woman; the cold and quiet sweating of hard walking; and so at last to the dark-
ness of that upward ravine of road beyond which the land opens in a wave, and floats the house:

Up this ravine, realizing myself now near, I came stealthily, knowing now I had at least half-cont-
rived this, and after a misunderstood refusal, and for the first time realizing that by now, a half-
hour fully dark, you must likely be in bed, through supper, done with a day, so that I must surely
cause disturbance: slower, and slower, and two thirds ready to turn back, to spend the night in the
car; and out into the cleared yard, silently, standing vertical to the front center of the house; it
is dead black; not a light; just stands there, darker than its surroundings, perfectly quiet: and
standing here, silently, in the demeanor of the house itself I grow full of shame and of reverence
from the soles of my feet up my body to the crest of my skull and the leaves of my hands like a ves-
sel quietly spread full of water which has sprung from in the middle of my chest
: and shame the more,
because I do not yet turn away, but still stand here motionless and as if in balance, and am aware
of a vigilant and shameless hope that--not that I shall move forward and request you, disorder you--
but that 'something shall happen,' as it 'happened' that the car lost to the mud: and so
waiting, in
doubt, desire and shame, in a drawing-back of these around a vacuum of passive waiting, as the six
walls of an empty room might wait for a sound
: and this, or my breathing, or the beating of my heart,
must have been communicated, for there is a sudden forward rush to the ledge of the porch of bellow-
ing barking, and a dog, shouting his soul out against me: nothing else: and I think how they are rou-
sed by it and feel I have done wrong enough already, and withdraw a little, hoping that will quiet
him, and in the same hope hold forward my hand and speak very quietly. He subdues to a growled snarl-
ing of bragging hate and fear
and I am ready to turn and leave when a shadow heavily shuffles be-
hind him, and in a stooped gesture of peering me out, Gudger's voice asks, who is it: ready for trou-
ble. I speak before I move, telling him who I am, then what has happened, why I am here, and walk to-
ward him, and how sorry I am to bother them. It is all right with him; come on in; he had thought I
was a nigger.

I come up onto the porch shamefacedly, telling him again how sorry I am to have rousted them out like
this. It's all right. They were just got to bed, none of them asleep yet. He has pulled on his over-
alls over nothing else and is barefooted. In the dark I can see him stooping his square head a little
forward to study me. There is still antagonism and fear in his voice and in his eyes, but I realize
this is not toward me, but toward the negro he thought I was: his emotions and his mind are slow to
catch up with any quick change in the actuality of a situation. In a little more this antagonism has
drained away and he is simply a tired and not unkind man taking care of a half-stranger at night who
is also an anomaly; and thus he does as he has done before without any affectation of social grace:
people plain enough take a much more profoundly courteous care of one another and of themselves with-
out much if any surprise and no flurry of fussiness
and a kind of respect which does not much ask
questions. So it was there was neither any fake warmth and heartiness nor any coldness in his saying,
Sure, come on in, to my asking could he put me up for the night after all, and he added, Better eat
some supper. I was in fact very hungry, but I did all I was able to stop this, finally trying to com-
promise it to a piece of bread and some milk, that needn't be prepared; I'm making you enough bother
already; but no;
Can't go to bed without no supper; you just hold on a second or two; and he leans
his head through the bedroom door and speaks to his wife, explaining, and lights the lamp for her.
After a few moments, during which
I hear her breathing and a weary shuffling of her heels, she
comes out barefooted carrying the lamp, frankly and profoundly sleepy as a child;
feeling disgusted
to wake her further with so many words I say, Hello, Mrs. Gudger: say I want to tell you I'm awful
sorry to give you all this bother: you just, honest I don't need much of anything, if you'd just tell
me where a piece of bread is, it'll be plenty, I'd hate for you to bother to cook anything up for me:
but she answers me while passing,
looking at me, trying to get me into focus from between her sticky
eyelashes, that 'tain't no bother at all, and for me not to worry over that,
and goes on into the kit-
chen; and how quickly I don't understand, for I am too much occupied to see, with Gudger, and with
holding myself from the cardinal error of hovering around her, or of offering to help her, she has
built a pine fire and set in front of me, on the table in the hall, warmed-over biscuit and butter
and blackberry jam and a jelly-glass full of buttermilk, and warmed field peas, fried pork, and four
fried eggs, and
she sits a little away from the table out of courtesy, trying to hold her head up and
her eyes open, until I shall have finished eating, saying at one time how it's an awful poor sort of
supper and at another how it's awful plain, mean food;
I tell her different, and eat as rapidly as
possible and a good deal more than I can hold, in fact, all the eggs, a second large plateful of peas,
most of the biscuit, feeling it is better to keep them awake and to eat too much than in the least to
let them continue to believe I am what they assume I must be: 'superior' to them or to their food,
eating only so much as I need to be 'polite'; and I see that they are, in fact, quietly surprised and
gratified in my appetite.

But somehow I have lost hold of the reality of all this, I scarcely can understand how; a loss of the
reality of simple actions upon the specific surface of the earth. This country, these roads, these o-
dors and noises, the action of walking the dark in mud, the approach, just what a slow succession of
certain trees past your walking can implant in you,
can mean to you, the house as it stands there dark
in darkness, the indecisiveness and the bellowing dog, the conversations of questioning, defense, as-
surance, acceptance, the subtle yet strong distinctions of attitude,
the walking between the walls
of wood and the sitting and eating, the tastes of the several foods, the weights of our bodies in our
chairs, the look of us in the lamplight in the presence of the walls of the house and of the country
night, the beauty and stress of our tiredness, how we held quietness, gentleness, and care toward one
another like three mild lanterns held each at the met heads of strangers in darkness
: such things,
and these are just a few, I have not managed to give their truth in words, which are a soft, plain-
featured, and noble music, each part in the experience of it and in the memory so cleanly and so sim-
ply defined in its own terms, striking so many chords and relationships at once, which I can but
have blurred in the telling at all.

To say, then, how, as I sat between the close walls of this hallway, which opened upon wide night at
either end, between these two somberly sleepy people in the soft smile of the light, eating from un-
sorted plates with tin-tasting implements the heavy, plain, traditional food which was spread before
me, the feeling increased itself upon me that at the end of a wandering and seeking, so long it had
begun before I was born, I had apprehended and now sat at rest in my own home,
between two who were
my brother and my sister, yet less that than something else; these, the wife my age exactly, the
husband four years older, seemed not other than my own parents, in whose patience I was so different,
so diverged, so strange as I was;
and all that surrounded me, that silently strove in through my sen-
ses and stretched me full, was familiar and dear to me as nothing else on earth, and as if well known
in a deep past and long years lost; so that I could wish that all my chance life was in truth the be-
trayal, the curable delusion, that it seemed, and that this was my right home, right earth, right blood,
to which I would never have true right. For half my blood is just this; and half my right of speech;
and by bland chance alone is my life so softened and sophisticated in the years of my defense-
lessness, and I am robbed of a royalty I can not only never claim, but never properly much desire
or regret.
And so in this quiet introit, and in all the time we have stayed in this house, and in all
we have sought, and in each detail of it, there is so keen, sad, and precious a nostalgia as I can
scarcely otherwise know; a knowledge of brief truancy into the sources of my life, whereto I have
no rightful access, having paid no price beyond love and sorrow.

The biscuits are large and shapeless, not cut round, and are pale, not tanned, and are dusty with
flour. They taste of flour and soda and damp salt and fill the mouth stickily. They are better with
butter, and still better with butter and jam. The butter is pallid, soft, and unsalted, about the
texture of cold-cream; it seems to taste delicately of wood and wet cloth; and it tastes 'weak.'
The jam is loose, of little berries, full of light raspings of the tongue; it tastes a deep sweet
purple tepidly watered, with a very faint sheen of a sourness as of iron.
Field peas are olive-brown,
the shape of lentils, about twice the size. Their taste is a cross between lentils and boiled beans;
their broth is bright with seasoning of pork, and of this also they taste. The broth is soaked up in
The meat is a bacon, granular with salt, soaked in the grease of its frying: there is very
little lean meat in it. What there is is
nearly as tough as rind; the rest is pure salted stringy fat.
The eggs taste of pork too. They are fried in it on both sides until none of the broken yolk runs,
heavily salted and peppered while they fry, so that they come to table nearly black, very heavy,
rinded with crispness, nearly as dense as steaks.
Of milk I hardly know how to say; it is skimmed,
blue-lighted; to a city palate
its warmth and odor are somehow dirty and at the same time vital, a
little as if one were drinking blood.
There is even in so clean a household as this an odor of pork,
of sweat, so subtle it seems to get into the very metal of the cooking-pans beyond any removal of
scrubbing, and to sweat itself out of newly washed cups; it is all over the house and all through
your skin and clothing at all times, yet as you bring each piece of food to your mouth it is so much
more noticeable, if you are not used to it, that a quiet little fight takes place on your palate and
in the pit of your stomach; and it seems to be this odor, and a sort of wateriness and discouraged
tepidity, which combine to make the food seem unclean, sticky, and sallow with some invisible sort
of disease,
yet this is the odor and consistency and temper and these are true tastes of home; I
know this even of myself; and much as my reflexes are twitching in refusal of each mouthful a true
homesick and simple fondness for it has so strong hold of me that in fact there is no fight to speak
of and no faking of enjoyment at all. And even later,
knowing well enough of such food what an insult
it is to those who must spend their lives eating it, and who like it well enough, and when I am sick
with it, I have also fondness for it, and when this fails, a funny kind of self-scorning determi-
nation that I shall eat for a few weeks what a million people spend their lives eating,
and feel
that whatever discomfort it brings me is little enough and willingly taken on, in the scale of all
it could take to even us up.

All this while we are talking some: short of exact recording, which is beyond my memory, I can hardly
say how:
the forms of these plainest and most casual actions are the hardest I can conceive of to set
down straight as they happen; and each is somewhat more beautiful and more valuable, I feel, than,
say, the sonnet form
. This form was one in which two plain people and one complex one who scarcely
know each other discourse while one eats and the others wait for him to finish so they may get back
to bed:
it has the rhythms and inflections of this triple shyness, of sleepiness, of fast eating, of
minds in the influence of lamplight between pine walls, of talk which means little or nothing of it-
self and much in its inflections:
What is the use? What is there I can do about it? Let me try just
a few of the surfaces instead. Just in the fact that they were drawn up out of bed to do me this nat-
ural kindness, one in overalls and one in a house dress slid on over nakedness, and were sitting here,
a man and his wife, in an hour whose lateness is uncommon to them,
there is a particular sort of inti-
macy between the three of us which is not of our creating and which has nothing to do with our talk,
yet which is increased in our tones of voice, in small quiet turns of humor, in glances of the eyes,
in ways even that I eat my food, in their knowledge how truly friendly I feel toward them,
and how se-
riously I am concerned to have caused them bother, and to let them be done with this bother as quickly
as possible. And the best in this--it will be hard to explain unless you know something of women in
this civilization--is the experiencing of warmth and of intimacy toward a man and his wife at the same
time (for this would seldom happen, it being the business of a wife to serve and to withdraw).
I felt
such an honor in her not just staying at more distance, waiting to clear up after me, but sitting near,
almost equal in balance with her husband, and actually talking; and I began even through her deep ex-
haustion to see such pleasant and seldom warmth growing in her, in this shifted status and acceptance
in it, and such a kindly and surprised current of warmth increasing through this between her husband
and her, a new light and gentle novelty spreading a prettiness in her face
that, beyond a first ex-
postulation that she get back to her rest and leave me to clean off the table, I not only scarcely wor-
ried for her tiredness, or her husband's, but even somewhat prolonged the while we sat there, shamed
though I was to do so, and they wakened, and warmed to talking, even while fatigue so much more heav-
ily weighed them under, till it became in the scale of their sleeping an almost scandalously late-
night conversation, in which we were all leaned toward each other in the lamplight secretly examining
the growth of friendliness in one another's faces, they opening further speaking as often as I and
more often: while nevertheless there stole up my quiet delight from the pit of my stomach a cold and
sickening shame to be keeping them up, a feeling I had mistaken their interest and their friendliness,
that it was only a desperate and nearly broken patience in a trap I had imposed in abuse of their
goodness; and I broke through a little wait in what we were speaking, to say how sorry and ashamed I
was, and that we must get to sleep; and this they received so genuinely, so kindly, that even in their
exhaustion I was immediately healed,
and held no fear of their feelings about it: and we drew back
our chairs and got up and she cleared the table (no, beyond quickly stacking my dishes toward her I
could not offer even to help her with this) and
there followed a simple set of transitions which
are beautiful in my remembrance
and which I can scarcely set down: a telling me where I would sleep,
in the front room; a spreading of pallets on the floor of the back bedroom; a waking and bringing-in
of the children from their sleeping on the bed I was to have: they came sleepwalking, along bare
floor toward lamplight, framed in the lighted upright planks of the door: the yielding-over to me of
the lamp, which I accepted (there are courtesies you accept, though you are ashamed to), provided
they should have used it first to get themselves to bed: they give me, meanwhile, their little tin
night-light, which looks like the minutest kind of Roman lamp: I say good night to Mrs. Gudger and
she to me, smiling sleepily and sadly in a way I cannot deduce, and goes on in;
I button my door,
that leads into their bedroom, and wait in this front room, new to me, with my night-light, sitting
on the edge of the child-warmed bed, looking at the little sketches of carpentry I can see in my
faint light, and at the light under their door and through seams in the wall, while
in a confusion
of shufflings and of muted voices which overspreads the sleeping of children like quiet wings; and
rustlings of cloth, and sounding of bedsprings, they restore themselves for sleeping: then a shuf-
fling, a sliding of light, a soft knock at the door; I come to it; Gudger and I exchange our lamps,
speaking few words in nearly inaudible voices, while beyond his shoulder I feel the deep dark brea-
thing a soft and quiet prostration of bodies:
All right in year hain't you?--Ah, sure, fine. Sure am.
--Annie Mae telled me to say, she's sorry she ain't got no clean sheet, but just have to (oh, no!)
make out best way you can. --Oh, no. No. You tell her I certainly do thank her, but, no, I'll be fine
like this, fine like this--She just don't got none tell she does a warshin.--Sure; sure; I wouldn't
want to dirty up a clean sheet for you, one night. Thanks a lot. Door, right head a yer bed, if you
want to git out. I look, and nod:

Yeah; thanks.



The door draws shut.

I stand alone, and I find that, without my knowledge or will, my left arm has slowly extended, the
lamp in the hand at the end of it, as far as I can stretch, and I turn upon the center of the room.

                                           In the room: the Testament

Six sides of me, all pine: Floor supported; walls walled, stood vertical, joined at their four edges,
at floor, at one another, and at roof: roof, above rafters, tilted tall, from eaves to crest. Between
slats, the undersides of shingles. One wall is lapboard, that one which joins the other bedroom: the
others, the skeleton and the inward surface of the outward skin of the house. A door to the bedroom:
a door by my bed to the hallway: in the wall at the foot of my bed, a square window, shuttered; anoth-
er in the wall next at right angles. On the floor beneath this window, a small trunk. To its left,
stood across the corner, a bureau and mirror. To its right, stood across the corner, a sewing-machine:

I have told of these: But here, and now, I was first acquainting myself of this room in a silence of
wonder to match the silence of sleeping in the next room.
Its fragrance was everywhere; its plainness
and coloring were beautiful to me. The furniture stood, where I have begun to see, sober and naked to
me in the solemn light, and seemed as might the furnishing of a box-car, a barn. This barn and box-car
resemblance I use, it occurred to me then and since, as an indication of the bonelike plainness and as
if fragility of the place; but I would not mislead or miscolor: this was a room of a human house, of
a sort stood up by the hundreds of thousands in the whole of a country; the sheltering and home of
the love, hope, ruin, of the living of all of a family, and all the shelter it shall ever know,
and since
of itself it is so ordinary, so universal, there is no need to name it as a barn, or as a box-car.

But here, I would only suggest how thin-walled, skeletal, and beautiful it seemed in a particular time,
as if it were a little boat in the darkness, floated upon the night, far out on the steadiness of a va-
cant sea, whose crew slept while I held needless watch, and felt the presence of the country round me
and upon me. I looked along the walls, how things which were pretty were stuck and pinned to the wood;
and at the wood:
I should find it hard to tire of watching plain wood which is in some human usage; of
running my fingers upon it as it were skin; little tricks of glass and china, and of sewn cloths, which
were created to be pretty, to be happy: the restings of furniture on the surface of the naked floor;
various reflections of the room in the eaten mirror:
the square, useless lamp which stood in the dark
corner under the sewing-machine: the iron bed, whose sheets and coverlets Mrs. Gudger had drawn smooth
for me, the mark of my butt on its edge, my shoes beside it, crazy with mud, worn out and sleeping as
a pair of wrecked horses: how the shutters filled their squares of window and were held shut with
strings and nails: crevices in the walls, stuffed with hemp, rags, newsprint, and raw cotton: large
damp spots and rivulets on the floor, and on the walls, streams and crooked wetness; and a shivering,
how chilly and wet the air is in this room: a shutting-off of these matters and mere 'touch' and list-
ening, how the home was squared on us, and beyond on all sides the billion sleeping of the natural
earth: sitting, where the table blocks the fireplace, watching the lamp, how the light stands up and
the wick sleeps in the glass,
and meditating those who sleep just beyond this wall: it was in this
first night that I found, on the bureau, a bible; very cheap; bound in a limp brown fake-leather which
was almost slimily damp; a family bible: I opened it up quietly in the lamplight, here and there
through it: I quote from notes I made at that time:

The Title Page:

The New Testament

With the words spoken by Christ printed in red
(printed in red)

Malachi 4, v. 6.
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their
fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

And elsewhere, printed in brown ink; the handwriting in pencil:

Presented to.. .
r 423 1
Family Record: Parents' Names
Wife ....................... ......... Born
Children's Names
... . .............
.......................4.......*................= 1 It was written thus. He wasborn in 1934.
[ 421 1


This bible was of some absorbent paper and lay slack, cold, and very hemy in the hand. It gave out
a strong and cold stench of human excrement.

                                                 In the Room: In Bed

I put in my hand and it took the last warmth of the sleeping of the children. I sat on the edge of the
bed, turned out the lamp, and lay back along the outside of the covers. After a couple of minutes I got
up, stripped, and slid in between the sheets. The bedding was saturated and full of chill as the air was,
its lightness upon me nervous like a bclt too loosely buckled.
The sheets were at the same time coarse
and almost slimily or stickily soft:
much the same material floursacks are made of. There was a ridgy
seam down the middle. I could feel the thinness and lumpiness of the mattress and the weakness of
the springs. The mattress was rustlingly noisy if I turned or contracted my body.
The pillow was hard,
thin, and noisy, and smelled as of acid and new blood; the pillowcase seemed to crawl at my cheek. I
touched it with my lips: it felt a little as if it would thaw like spun candy.
There was an odor some-
thing like that of old moist stacks of newspaper. I tried to imagine intercourse in this bed; I managed
to imagine it fairly well.
I began to feel sharp little piercings and crawlings all along the surface of
my body. I was not surprised; I had heard that pine is full of them anyhow. Then, too, for a while
longer I thought it could be my own nerve-ends; I itch a good deal at best: but it was bugs all right. I
felt places growing on me and scratched at them, and they became unmistakable bedbug bites. I lay a-
while rolling and tightening against each new point of irritation, amused and curious how I had changed
about bedbugs. In France I used to wake up and examine a new crop each morning, with no revulsion:
now I was squeamish in spite of myself. To lie there naked feeling whole regiments of them tooling at
me, knowing I must be imagining two out of three, became more unpleasant than I could stand. I struck
a match and a half-dozen broke along my pillow: I caught two, killed them, and smelled their queer
rankness. They were full of my blood.
I struck another match and spread back the cover; they rambled
off by dozens. I got out of bed, lighted the lamp, and scraped the palms of my hands all over my body,
then went for the bed. I killed maybe a dozen in all; I couldn't find the rest; but
I did find fleas, and,
along the seams of the pillow and mattress, small gray translucent brittle insects which I suppose
were lice.
(I did all this very quietly, of course, very much aware I might wake those in the next
room.) This going-over of the bed was only a matter of principle: I knew from the first I couldn't beat
them. I might more wisely not have done so, for I shouldn't have discovered the 'lice.' The thought of
their presence bothered me much more than the bedbugs. I unbuttoned the door by my bed and went out
into the hallway; the dog woke and sidled toward me on his toenails sniffing and I put my hand on his
head and he wagged from the middle of his spine on back. I was closely aware of all the bare wood of
the house and of the boards under my bare feet, of the damp and deep gray night and of my stark naked-
I went out to the porch and pissed off the edge, against the wall of the house, to be silent, and
stood looking out. It was dark, and mist was standing up in streaks, and the woods along my left and at
the bottom of the field in front of me were darkest of any part of the night.
Down under the strongest
streak of mist along my left, in the deep woods, there was a steady thrusting and spreading noise of
water. There were a few stars through thin mist, and a wet gray light of darkness everywhere
. I went
down the steps and out into the yard, feeling the clay slippery and very cold on my feet, and turned
round slowly to look at the house.
The instant I was out under the sky, I felt much stronger than be-
fore, lawless and lustful to be naked, and at the same time weak. I watched the house and felt like a
special sort of burglar; but still more I felt as if I trod water in a sea whose floor was drooped un-
thinkably deep beneath me, and I was unsafely far from the wall of the ship.
I looked straight up into
the sky, found myself nodding at whatever it was I saw, and came back and scraped my feet on the steps,
rubbed them dry with my hands
, and, with one more slow look out along the sunken landscape went back
into the bedroom. I put on my coat, buttoned my pants outside it, put my socks on, got into bed, turned
out the lamp, turned up my coat collar, wrapped my head in my shirt, stuck my hands under my coat at the
chest, and tried to go to sleep. It did not work out well. They got in at the neck and along my face and
at my ankles, and along the wrists and knuckles. I wanted if I could to keep my hands and face clear. I
wasn't used to these bugs. Their bites would show, and it might be embarrassing whether questions or com-
ments were placed or not. After a little while I worked it out all over, bandaging more tightly and care-
fully at every strategic joint of cloth. This time I put the socks on my hands and wrapped my feet in my
shorts, and once I was set, took great care to lie still. But they got in as before, and
along my back
and up my belly too: through my stiff, starved dozing I could feel them crawling captured under the clo-
thes, safe against my getting at them, pricking and munching away:
so in time, I revised my attitude. I
stripped once more, scratched and cleaned all over, shook out all my clothes, dressed again, lay down
outside all the covers, and let them take their course while I attended as well as I could to other
things; that is, to my surroundings, to whatever was on my mind, and to relaxing for sleep. This worked
better. I felt them nibbling, but they were seldom in focus, and
I lay smoking, using one shoe for an
and looking up at the holes in the roof. Now and then I reached out and touched the rough wood
of the wall just behind me and of the wall along my right: or felt the iron rods of the bed with my hands,
my feet, and the crown of my head; or ran the fingertips of my left hand along the grain of the floor: or
tilting my chin, I looked back beyond my forehead through the iron at the standing-up of the wall: all the
while I would be rubbing and desperately scratching, but this had become mechanical by now. 1don't exactly
know why anyone should be 'happy' under these circumstances, but there's no use laboring the point: I was:

outside the vermin, my senses were taking in nothing but a deep-night, unmeditatable consciousness of a
world which was newly touched and beautiful to me, and I must admit that even in the vermin there was a
certain amount of pleasure: and that, exhausted though I now was, it was the eagerness of my senses quite
as fully as the bugs and the itching which made it impossible for me to sleep and, sickly as I now strain-
ed toward sleep, it was pleasurable to stay awake.
I dozed off and on, but had no realization of deeper
sleep. I must have been pretty far gone, though, for when Gudger came in barefooted to take up the lamp,
I feigned sleeping, and lacked interest to look at the furniture which was now visible by a sort of sub-
daylight: and heard the sounds of dressing and movements in the house, and saw the wall of their room
slit with yellow light, only with a deep and gentle sorrow, in some memory out of childhood which seemed
now restored like the ghost of one beloved and dead: and was taken out of full sleep by the sound, a lit-
tle later, of his shoes on the floor, as he came to the side of the bed and spoke to me.

The sun was not yet up, but the sky over the hill was like white china and it was full daylight now, ever-
ything hung with rain and letting it run off in large drops; the grain of wood in the wall of the house was
yellow, red and fading blue-black (as of wet tortoise shell), which the sun would not bleach for several
hours yet; the ground was drawn down close on itself with a somehow blue-sheened surface that looked
hard as iron. The lamp was no longer giving any light beyond its own daylighted chimney, and Mrs. Gudger
put it out. Even now, with the hot load of the breakfast inside me, I was stiff with cold and was not yet
well awake.

We cut up across the hill field by the path their walking had laid in it; the path was all but rained out.
In some parts it was packed hard enough to be slippery, the rest of the time it let our feet down as deep
as plowed dirt itself and we lifted them out in each step with one to three inches of clay hung on them.
The cotton plants brushed us at the knees so that in no time we were drenched there.

It was only a chance that the road and the ditch clay would have hardened enough during the night to
make it possible to get the car out. With about ten minutes work, that brought up a shallow, stickily dry-
ing sweat in the cool of this morning, we managed to do it, and moving precariously in low and second as
if walking a slackwire, with a couple of sideslips that nearly ditched us again, we got the car out to the
slag and swung right and made speed on its slow rollercoaster lifts and falls while around us fields, with
which I found I felt a strong new kind of familiarity, lilted and relaxed upon our motion.

After not more than three miles, just within first sight of Cookstown, low and diminutive, Gudger told me
to turn right just this side of the grismill.

It was dirt road again, but wider, and thick enough with sand to be possible, though it was still good and
wet. I managed about thirty-five on it, and the tires were very loud under us.
This was new country to me,
still totally poor, yet with something loosened and pastoral about it and as if self-sufficient and less hope-
lessly lonesome and abandoned;
the early light and the cleanness and silence after the rain may have been
responsible for this impression. There were more small, privately owned farms than on many roads I had
driven over, none of them any richer-looking than tenant farms; yet living was a little different on them
and a little less pointless.
Even in the smoke that wrinkled up out of their chimneys and lavished lazily
like the tail of a pleased cat and in the keen odors of fire and breakfast that lay occasionally across the
road, there was a little more security than in these same on a tenant farm, and a little more of the sense
of a family planted in one place and coming up like a tree, even if it was a starved tree.

Strung along at two out of three mail boxes, thinly along the road, men stood smoking and waited. I started
to slow for the first and Gudger said the truck would be along. With all the equipment in the back we had
room only for one more anyway. They looked at us coldly and shyly as we went past. To three or four
Gudger lifted a hand, and these lifted a hand, not smiling.

We ran sharply up a hill with small black pines on it and at the top a small unpainted church and clay burial
ground, and the hill ran down much more slowly. Gudger said turn right down there at the bottom. I swung
right through a snowlike sludge of clay and righted the car along a rut between the deep ones and a light
rut in the grass. It was harder going again. Wet blackberry brambles laid water on the windshield. In two hun-
dred yards more the woods were up to one side of us, a high field to the other, and the road was sand again,
and Gudger said to take the right fork, and it was as subduing as going into a tunnel. The pines and the
soft-wooded and high trees and the oaks and hickories were thick all around us and over us now, so that
the air was cold, dark and clear, and noisily hushed as I remember when, a child, I used to crawl into a
culvert, and sat down and listened. The sand road was drenching wet and there was the mark of one car
that had been ahead of us, and ahead there was the rattling of a wagon, and we rounded a heavy bush and
saw it and slowed; the men looked round, two black, one white, who lifted his hand as Gudger lifted his;
the negroes nodded. The whipped mules dragged the wagon on through a flooded branch that submerged
yards of the road and stood up around the bushes and tree-trunks on either side so that they had no root-
age, and I watched where and how deep the wheels went while I idled the motor and lighted Gud- ger's and
my own cigarette. It was twenty-one past six. Gudger said, 'We got here in good time.' They got the wagon
on through and drew up along a patch of grass and roots at the side of the road. I said thanks with hand
and head, put the car into low and then into second and, following their trail, which still creased the
water a little, went through pretty fast with a loud cold splitting and crashing noise of the new water
and was on solid land again. The white man and I lifted hands as I went by and the negroes nodded again,
but more slightly. They were all three looking at us curiously and tentatively. 'Left up yer ahead';
where there was wide light on the wet road. We swung as if into the face of a powerful searchlight into
a long grassy clearing stacked down the middle with wet yellow lumber and full of light which had, since
we lost it to woods, greatly increased and which came straight and low at us from the far end; we went
past another wagon and drew up at the side of the road in the heavy grass halfway down the clearing.
wagon passed alongside and Gudger and the men on the wagon lifted their hands and the men looked back
non-committally at me and Gudger and the sedan and the Tennessee license. Gudger's watch made twenty-
three past six.

We sat still in the car and finished the things we had been say- ing, very slowly and shyly on both sides,
all through the drive; which were, very carefully keyed, chiefly about what the tenant farmer could do to
help himself out of the hole he is in. Gudger made him another cigarette and we smoked, talking very little.
We were not by any means at ease with each other, but he now felt he could trust me and we liked each
other. While we talked, I was looking around slowly.

The sawmill was at the far end; it was still in the morning shadow of the woods. The sun had just cleared
the tops of the pines beyond it so that they were still burnt away.
Rising and twisting all through these
close-growing pines, and on the high glittering grass and in long streams in the air, was the white smoke of
the cold, now swiftly heating, early morning, which the sun drew up, and the sun struck through this smoke
and diffused it so that the air was clear, transparent and all but blinding bright, as if it had been polished.
wagon that had drawn aside from us in the woods road had come up and let off its men, and a truckload of
negroes and white men arrived from Cookstown, and the clearing was thickening but not by any means crowd-
ed with men and the sound of their talk and the noises of the beginning of a day's work: nearly every one
of these men glanced at us more than once, carefully and with candor, yet they did not stare, and were
only careful, not hostile.
Over by the toolshed of fresh pine a negro, harnessing his team, threw back
his head and looked into the sun and sang, shouting, a phrase which sprang out of his throat like a wet
green branch.
Gudger said he was agoin to have to git on to work now. I told him I sure was obliged to
him for taking me in last night and he said he was glad to have holp me.


                      SHADY GROVE

Shady Grove, Alabama, July 1936

JUST beside it there is a large square white-painted church, which we got into. Bare benches of heavy
pine, a lot of windows, partition-curtains of white sheeting run on wires, organ, chairs, and lec-

The graveyard is about fifty by a hundred yards inside a wire fence.
There are almost no trees in it:
a lemon verbena and a small magnolia; it is all red clay and very few weeds.

Out at the front of it across the road there is a cornfield and then a field of cotton and then trees.

Most of the headboards are pine, and at the far end of the yard from the church the graves are thinned
out and there are many slender and low pine stumps about the height of the head- boards. The shadows
are all struck sharp lengthwise of the graves, toward the cornfield, by the afternoon sun. There is no
one anywhere in sight.
It is heavily silent and fragrant and all the leaves are breathing slowly with-
out touching each other.

Some of the graves have real headstones, a few of them so large they must be the graves of landowners.
One is a thick limestone log erected by the Woodmen of the World. One or two of the others, besides a
headpiece, have a flat of stone as large as the whole grave.

On one of these there is a china dish on whose cover delicate hands lie crossed, cuffs at their wrists,
and the nails distinct.

On another a large fluted vase stands full of dead flowers, with an inch of rusty water at the bottom.

On others of these stones, as many as a dozen of them, there is something I have never seen before: by
some kind of porcelain reproduction, a photograph of the person who is buried there; the last or the best
likeness that had been made, in a small-town studio, or at home with a snapshot camera. I remember one
well of a fifteen-year-old boy in sunday pants and a plaid pull- over sweater, his hair combed, his cap
in his hand, sitting against a piece of farm machinery and grinning. His eyes are squinted against the
light and his nose makes a deep shadow down one side of his chin. Somebody's arm, with the sleeve
rolled up, is against him; somebody who is almost certainly still alive: they could not cut him entirely
out of the picture. Another is a studio portrait, close up, in artificial lighting, of a young woman.
She is
leaned a little forward, smiling vivaciously, one hand at her cheek. She is not very pretty, but she be-
lieved she was; her face is free from strain or fear. She is wearing an evidently new dress, with a mail-
order look about it; patterns of beads are sewn over it and have caught the light. Her face is soft with
powder and at the wings of her nose lines have been deleted.
Her dark blonde hair is newly washed and
professionally done up in puffs at the ears which in that time, shortly after the first great war of her
century, were called cootie garages.
This image of her face is split across and the split has begun to
turn brown at its edges.

I think these would be graves of small farmers.

There are others about which there can be no mistake: they are the graves of the poorest of the farmers
and of the tenants. Mainly they are the graves with the pine headboards; or without them.

When the grave is still young, it is very sharply distinct, and of a peculiar form. The clay is raised
in a long and narrow oval with a sharp ridge, the shape exactly of an inverted boat. A fairly broad board
is driven at the head; a narrower one, sometimes only a stob, at the feet. A good many of the headboards
have been sawed into the flat simulacrum of an hourglass; in some of these, the top has been roughly roun-
ded off, so that the resemblance is more nearly that of a head and shoulders sunken or risen to the waist
in the dirt.
On some of these boards names and dates have been written or printed in hesitant letterings,
in pencil or in crayon, but most of them appear never to have been touched in this way. The boards at some
of the graves have fallen slantwise or down; many graves seem never to have been marked except in their
own carefully made shape. These graves are of all sizes between those of giants and of newborn children;
and there are a great many,
so many they seem shoals of minnows, two feet long and less, lying near one
another; and of these smallest graves, very few are marked with any wood at all, and many are already so
drawn into the earth that they are scarcely distinguishable.
Some of the largest, on the other hand, are
of heroic size, seven and eight feet long, and of these more are marked, a few, even, with the smallest
and plainest blocks of limestone, and initials, once or twice a full name; but many more of them have ne-
ver been marked, and many, too, are sunken half down and more and almost entirely into the earth. A great
many of these graves, perhaps half to two thirds of those which are still distinct, have been decorated,
not only
with shrunken flowers in their cracked vases and with bent targets of blasted flowers, but other-
wise as well. Some have a line of white clamshells planted along their ridge; of others, the rim as well
is garlanded with these shells. On one large grave, which is otherwise completely plain, a blown-out e-
lectric bulb is screwed into the clay at the exact center. On another, on the slope of clay just in front
of the headboard, its feet next the board, is a horseshoe; and at its center a blown bulb is stood up-
right. On two or three others there are insulators of blue-green glass. On several graves, which I presume
to be those of women, there is at the center the prettiest or the oldest and most valued piece of china:
on one, a blue glass butter dish whose cover is a setting hen; on another, an intricate milk-colored glass
basket; on others, ten-cent-store candy dishes and iridescent vases; on one, a pattern of white and color-
ed buttons. On other graves there are small and thick white butter dishes of the sort which are used in
lunch-rooms, and by the action of rain these stand free of the grave on slender turrets of clay. On still
another grave, laid carefully next the headboard, is a corncob pipe. On the graves of children there are
still these pretty pieces of glass and china, but they begin to diminish in size and they verge into the
forms of animals and into homuncular symbols of growth; and there are toys: small autos, locomotives and
fire engines of red and blue metal; tea sets for dolls, and tin kettles the size of thimbles: little effi-
gies in rubber and glass and china, of cows, lions, bulldogs, squeaking mice, and the characters of comic
strips; and of these I knew, when Louise told me how precious her china dogs were to her and her glass lace
dish, where they would go if she were soon drawn down, and of many other things in that home, to whom they
would likely be consigned;
and of the tea set we gave Clair Bell, I knew in the buying in what daintiness
it will a little while adorn her remembrance when the heaviness has sufficiently grown upon her and
she has done the last of her dancing: for it will only be by a fortune which cannot be even hoped that she
will live much longer; and only by great chance that they can do for her what two parents have done here for
their little daughter: not only a tea set, and a cocacola bottle, and a milk bottle, ranged on her short
grave, but a stone at the head and a stone at the foot, and in the headstone her six month image as she lies
sleeping dead in her white dress, the head sunken delicately forward, deeply and delicately gone, the eyes
seamed, as that of a dead bird, and on the rear face of this stone the words:

We can't have all things to please us,
                   Our little Daughter, Joe An, has gone to Jesus.

It is not likely for her; it is not likely for any of you, my beloved, whose poor lives I have already so
betrayed, and should you see these things so astounded, so destroyed, I dread to dare that I shall ever look
into your dear eyes again: and soon, quite soon now, in two years, in five, in forty, it will all be over,
and one by one we shall all be drawn into the planet beside one another; let us then hope better of our chil-
dren, and of our children's children; let us know, let us know there is cure, there is to be an end to it,
whose beginnings are long begun, and in slow agonies and all deceptions clearing; and in the teeth of all
hope of cure which shall pretend its denial and hope of good use to men, let us most quietly and in most rev-
erent fierceness say, not by its captive but by its utmost meanings:
Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed
be thy name: thy kingdom come: thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven: give us this day our daily bread:
and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us: and lead us not into temptation:
but deliver us from evil: for thine is the kingdom: and the power: and the glory: for ever and ever: amen.

Two Images

THE last words of this book have been spoken and these that follow are not words; they are only descriptions
of two images. One is of Squinchy Gudger and his mother as they are in the open hall; one is of Ellen Woods
as she lies sleeping at the edge of the front porch: both in a silent, white hour of a summer day.

His mother sits in a hickory chair with her knees relaxed and her bare feet flat to the floor;
her dress open
and one broken breast exposed. Her head is turned a little slantwise and she gazes quietly downward past her
son's head into the junctures of the earth, the floor, the wall, the sunlight, and the shade
. One hand lies
long and flat along her lap: it is elegantly made of bone and is two sizes too large for the keen wrist. With
her other hand, and in the cradling of her arm and shoulder, she holds the child. His dress has fallen aside
and he is naked. As he is held, the head huge in scale of his body,
the small body ineffably relaxed, spilled
in a deep curve from nape to buttocks,
then the knees drawn up a little, the bottom small and sharp, and the
legs and feet drifted as if under water, he suggests the shape of the word siphon. He is nursing.
His hands
are blundering at her breast blindly, as if themselves each were a new born creature, or as if they were
sobbing, ecstatic with love; his mouth is intensely absorbed at her nipple as if in rapid kisses, with small
and swift sounds of moisture;
his eyes are squeezed shut; and now, for breath, he draws away, and lets out a
sharp short whispered ahh, the hands and his eyelids relaxing, and immediately resumes; and in all this while,
his face is beatific, the face of one at rest in paradise, and in all this while her gentle and sober, earnest
face is not altered out of its deep slantwise gazing:
his head is now sunken off and away, grand and soft as a
cloud, his wet mouth flared, his body still more profoundly relinquished of itself, and I see how against her
body he is so many things in one, the child in the melodies of the womb, the Madonna's son, human divinity sun-
ken from the cross at rest against his mother, and more beside, for at the heart and leverage of that young
body, gently, taken in all the pulse of his being, the penis is partly erected.

And Ellen where she rests, in the gigantic light: she, too, is completely at peace, this child, the arms squar-
ed back, the palms open loose against the floor, the floursack on her face; and her knees are flexed upward a
little and fallen apart, the soles of the feet facing:
her blown belly swimming its navel, white as flour; and
blown full broad with slumbering blood into a circle: so white all the outward flesh, it glows of blue; so dark,
the deep hole, a dark red shadow of life blood: this center and source, for which we have never contrived any
worthy name, is as if it were breathing, flowering, soundlessly, a snoring silence of flame; it is as if flame
were breathed forth from it and subtly played about it: and here in this breathing and play of flame, a thing
so strong, so valiant, so unvanquishable, it is without effort, without emotion, I know it shall at length out-
shine the sun.

Let us now praise famous men.

LET US now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.

The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning.

Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding,
and declaring prophecies:

Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and el-
oquent in their instructions:

Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing:

Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations:

All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times.

There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported.

And some there be which have no memorial; who perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though
they had never been born; and their children after them.

But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten.

With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant.

Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes. Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory
shall not be blotted out.

Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore.



SUGGESTED: Detail of gesture, landscape, costume, air, action, mystery, and incident throughout the writings of
William Faulkner.
Many passages in Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, and Erskine Caldwell.
Sketches made in Georgia by David Friedenthal.
Stark Love, a motion picture, by Karl Brown.
Photographs in Pellagra, by Dr. A. Marie; The State Co.,
Publishers, Columbia, S. C.
Frontier, a motion picture, by Alexander Dovschenko.
Married Woman Blues, by Sleepy John Estes; Decca.
New Salty Dog and Slow Mama Slow, by Salty Dog Sam; Oriole.
Who Was John and 1My Poor Mother Died Ashouting, by Mitchell's Christian Singers; Decca.
American Photographs, by Walker Evans; Museum of Modern Art.
All southern city and small town newspapers and postcards.
Road maps and contour maps of the middle south.


                     BEETHOVEN SONATA
                    HELD NO DISTURBANCE

                   San Francisco, Dec. 6 (A.
                  P.). -'Beethoven,' said Judge
                  Herbert Kaufman, 'cannot dis-
                  turb the peace.'
                   So he freed Rudolph Ramat,
                  69 vears old and blind, of a
                  charge of disturbing the peace
                  by playing his accordion on
                  Market Street.

                   'Your honor,' Ramat pleaded
                  yesterday, 'I have worked
                     -from the New York Sun.'



Margaret Bourke-White Finds
Plenty of Time to Enjoy Life
Along With Her Camera Work

            Famous Photographer Who Took Pictures for You Have
                Seen Their Faces Discusses Experiences
                  Among Southern Share-Croppers

                     By May Cameron

(Herschel Brickell's reviews of books appear in this space fve
days a week.)
It's difficult to know where to begin on Margaret Bourke-
White, because she is so many people rolled into one.

"You can't possibly miss her," Miss Bourke-White's secretary
told me, "because she's wearing the reddest coat in the world."

A superior red coat, Miss Bourke-White called it, and such fun. It was designed for her by Howard Greer, and if
you're as little up on your movie magazines as I am, I'd better explain that the Greer label is some pumpkins.
You'd find it, if you could look, in the more glamorous gowns of Dietrich and, among others, Hepburn.

This famous photographer, just past thirty, can well afford Hollywood's best. In less than eight years she has
climbed to the top of the heap in her profession and is now -movie actresses barred -one of the highest-paid wo-
men in America. Trying to imagine this made me a little dizzy, but here it is: for every minute -minute, mind
you -of her working time today Margaret Bourke-White commands quite a few dollars.

And this is the young lady who spent months of her own time in the last two years traveling the back roads of
the deep south bribing, cajoling, and sometimes browbeating her way in to photograph Negroes, share-croppers and
tenant farmers in their own environments. Seventy-five of these photographs appear in You Have Seen Their Faces,
a book for which Erskine Caldwell wrote the text.


Ingenuity such as she was never called upon to use in her years of industrial photography went into the making of
many of the photographs included in the book.
The striking photograph of a Negro preacher caught at the very
height of his emotion and oratory Miss Bourke-White took on her knees right in front of the pulpit, the prea-
cher's own emotion making him entirely oblivious to exploding flashlights.
Her rare photographs of the "coming
through" ritual, if it could be called a ritual, in a white Holiness church were possible only because the minis-
ter had never before had a photographer to deal with and he didn't know what to do about it

The small-town orator-politician had already started talking when Margaret Bourke-White set up her tripod and went
to work on him. She is certain that he wouldn't have posed for her, but, once he had started to orate, nothing,
not even a strange photographer, could stop him. And to one of the last couples pictured in the book, Miss Bourke-
White and Erskine Caldwell had to pay a bribe.

"So far as we could tell, they hadn't any food, but they begged for snuff, two kinds, Buttercup and Rooster snuff,
Margaret Bourke-White explained. "They hoped we'd throw in a little coffee and maybe some chewing tobacco, but
snuff came first. They tell you snuff's good when you are hungry or when you have a toothache or when you're just
feeling generally iow. They seem to live on snuff and religion--which has no real relation to religion--and patent

"Caldwell's new play, Journeyman, is concerned with one congregation of a white Holiness church. The Negro chur-
ches are not, somehow, so shocking, because you think of Negroes as being actors and emotional,
but with the white
people the whole business is so sordid and desperate and out of place. It isn't as though their church played any
role, as we know religion. It's just a place where people go to shout and scream and roll on the floor. They are
so beaten down and their lives are so drab and barren and lonely that they have nothing. This terrible thing every
Sunday is their only emotional release."


Miss Bourke-White, whose beautiful photographs of dynamos and cranes and turbines and girders and industrial fine
points are known to every one, made several trips to Russia and, in observing an agricultural nation being turned
into an industrial one, became tremendously interested in the man behind the machine.

"I loved the industrial photographs for their pictorial value and all the excitement of machinery, and I still do;
but a couple of years ago I began to feel that if I was worth anything at all I wanted to do something really worth
while, something lasting," she said. "In Russia I got the first glimpse of figuring out man's relationship to the
machine and to his employer, and my eyes were opened tremendously. It's more complicated in America, of course, but
now I am most interested in taking pictures of what's going on, not necessarily news, but just man's place in the
whole setup of today.

"I'm tired of glorifying big business, tired of photographing beautiful, empty-headed models stepping into beautiful
I do only the industrial photographs that are inter- esting now, as, for example, my trip to Brazil
last year to photograph coffee plantations, which had never been done, and to do airplane pictures, of which I do
a great many.

"I believe, too, that photographs are a true interpretation. One photograph might lie, but a group of pictures can't.
I could have taken one picture of share-croppers, for example, showing them toasting their toes and playing their
banjos and being pretty happy. In a group of pictures, however, you would have seen the cracks on the wall and the
expressions on their faces.
In the last analysis, photographs really have to tell the truth; the sum total is a true
interpretation. Whatever facts a person writes have to be colored by his prejudice and bias.
With a camera, the shut-
ter opens and it closes and the only rays that come in to be registered come directly from the object in front of

In the eight or nine years since she started selling photographs, while still in Columbia, Margaret Bourke-White has
had the energy and made the time to find an awful lot of fun in just living. She's a tango expert; crazy about the
theater; loves swimming, ice skating, skiing, and adores horseback riding. Sometimes, she explained, when she knows
that the light will be right only a few hours of the day for whatever pictures she is taking, she has her horse
brought around to "location" and rides until the light is right. Movies occupy whatever week-ends she spends in New
York, often as many as five a day. Aside from a photographer's interest, she just likes the damn things.1



THE generic word for tenant is tenant. In the vicinity of which we tell, however, and, it appears, generally through-
out the south, the word is used to designate only one of the two chief classes of tenant, that is the man who, as
distinguished from the man who owns nothing save, perhaps, some furniture, one or two eating or hunting animals, and
the clothes on his back, owns a mule and some farm implements and who, not needing to be furnished these, can arrange
to yield less of his two major crops in payment of rent to the landowner.

One name for the other chief sort of tenant, the man who, owning neither mule nor implements, must be furnished these
as well as land and shelter, and must pay the landowner half his cotton and a third to half his corn, is sharecropper.
He is also called a halvers-hand and is described as working on halves, or halvers. In the vicinity of which we tell
and, it appears, generally throughout the south, the word sharecropper and its synonyms are used only of this class of

These usages do not differ from class to class, but are common to the language of landowner, tenant and sharecropper a-

Of all the words which may be used to designate any sort of tenant, the word we heard used least frequently throughout
our investigation, by landowners, storekeepers, townspeople, small farmers, tenants, sharecroppers, and all local human
beings white or black, save only new dealers, communists, and various casts of liberal, was the word sharecropper.

In the north,' however, and particularly in the seaboard north, where most of the writing and printing and reading of
the United States is carried on, sharecropper has, through the agencies of print and the lectured word, become the
generic term. Literally, of course, it describes both sorts of tenant, for each sort shares his crop: and it may be that
through constant usage it will establish itself as generic.
At present, however, it is in this generic spread unavail-
able to the mouth of anyone who would speak at all seriously of cotton tenants, and such a person will use it hesitant-
ly if at all even in its specific and proper sense. For not only is the word inaccurately used save where it is indige-
nous, and not only is it a dialect word, to which a conscientious 'educated' person knows he has forfeited the right,
even should he know its meaning accurately; and
not only is it a dialect word inaccurately used by those who have
no right to use it; but it has very swiftly, and within a very few years, absorbed every corruptive odor of inverted
snobbery, marxian, journalistic, jewish, and liberal logomachia, emotional blackmail, negrophilia, belated transfer-
ence, penis-envy, gynecological flurry and fairly good will which the several hundred thousand least habitable and
scrupulous minds of this peculiarly psychotic quarter of the continent can supply to it: and is one of the words a
careful man will be watchful of, and by whose use and inflection he may take clear measurement of the nature, and
the stature, and the causes, and the timbre, of the enemy.


Other anglosaxon monosyllables are god, love, loyalty, honor, beauty, duty, integrity, art, artist, religion, truth,
science, poetry, culture, fascism, communism, dialectical-materialism, fellow-traveler, anarchist, philosophical-an-
archist, marx, freud, semantic, loyalist, franco, hitler, duce, com- mittee, friend, enemy, state, totalitarian state,
mental state, statement, education, student, teacher, maestro, woman, man, Woman, Man, humanity, kidnap, vigilante,
sex fiend, perver- sion, normal, genius, guarantee, peaceful-picketing, collective-bargaining, Negro, negro, Jew,
jew, dinge, jig, boog, colored, jigaboo, nigger, darky, spade, eph, shine, smoke, hebe, kike, sheeny, eskimo, jewish,
jow, joosh, antisemitic, swing, cat, alligator, gator, icky, wacky, lick, hotlick, gutbucket, barrelhouse, benny-
goodman, plumbing, stick, tea, lush, godbox, jitterbug, tong, goddam, god damn, god damned, swell, oke, okay, lousy,
superb, good, excellent, fine, nice, magnificent, bravo, bis, pooch, virgin, frigid, wife, husband, prick, pricque,
box, bubs, jamsession, jive, silicosis, syphilis, wasserman, sex, sexual, sexuality, homosexual, heterosexual, bisex-
ual, asexual, fairy, pansy, flit, headleigh, swish, les, lesbie, lesbian, labor, laborite, writer, author, musician,
composer, workshop, studio, den, stuff, shot, pic, pix, angle, contact, leica, candid, Life, margaret bourke-white,
maggie berkwitz, surrealism, photography, photographer, documentary, work, van gogh, dali, picasso, shakespeare, cri-
tic, reviewer, authority, book, publisher, gallery, show, theater, exhibition, stage, drama, tragedy, satire, sin-
cerity, trotskyite, The Old Man, stalinist, liberal, minicam, henchman, the cape, the vineyard, flying, motoring,
bathe, cue, revival, Iuntnfontanne, group theater, group, group consciousness, movement, john-ford, walt-disney,
the dance, balleto-mane, leftist, editor, cub, hack, shop, inhibition, complex, regionalism, nationalism, jingoism,
patriotism, americanism, altruism, schism, jizzum, hizzun, malnutrition, pare-lorentz, capital, thurman-arnold,
veblen, mysticism, intellectual, emotional outlet, escapism, ideology, business, big business, big operator, layout,
setup, pushover, scientist, scientific, medical, surgical, visceral, fiddle, prostie, frank, honest, incest, sponsor,
cinematic, film, movie, talkie, moom pitcher, genitalia, parts, privates, idealist, psychotic, psychic, psyche, psych-
oanalysis, neothomist, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, intuitive, esp, stooge, gross, clear, cleaned, commun-
ication, literature, understand, howdoyoufeelnow, sympathy, sympathizer, galleys, machine, laugh, sadisticanal, balls,
nuts, nerts, bastid, taste, serve, deserve, fault, father, mother, dad, mummy, mumsy, mumpsypum, daddy, daddyboy,
chickabiddy, comfy, cute, satisfactory, congratulations, congratters, sexual intercourse, fearful, dreadful, aw-
ful, godawful, nasty, nastiness, snotty, ghastly, great, greatness, greatest, best, worst, splendid, i mean, on the
other hand, that is, for pete's sake, qxr, capehart, disk, disque, album, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus H.
Christ, Jeez, jeez fellas, jeez fellas, The Nazarene, The Nazarene Carpenter, The Galilean, Our Lord, Our Savior,
Christ, christ, kee-rist, crissake, gawd, sacrosanct, sacrament, sacrilege, development, health, mental health, dec-
adent, depravity, amoral, amorist, unethical, act of kind, coitus, relations, been with, live with, sleep with, mis-
tress, lover, pubes, curse, fall off the roof, flag- ging, courses, unwell, period, friend, art treasure, American,
democracy, munich betrayal, rape-of-czechoslovakia, battle-of-britain, determinism, guy, gal, person, class-consci-
ousness, early-chaplin, late-beethoven, early-steinbeck, orson-welles, tom-wolfe, toscanini, fifth-column, reactio-
nary, demagogue, blitzkrieg, defense.


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.

Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads
without improvement are roads of Genius.

The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow.

The weak in courage are strong in cunning.

Listen to the fool's reproach; it is a kingly title.

The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.

You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.

The Giants who formed this world into its sensual existence and now seem to live in it in chains are in truth the
causes of its life and the sources of all activity, but the chains are the cunning of weak and tame minds which
have power to resist energy, according to the proverb, the weak in courage are strong in cunning.

Thus one portion of being is the Prolific, the other the De- vouring. To the devourer it seems as if the producer was
in his
chains; but it is not so, he only takes portions of existence and fancies that the whole.

But the Prolific would cease to be Prolific unless the Devourer as a sea received the excess of his delights. Some
will say, Is not God alone the Prolific? I answer, God only Acts and Is, in existing beings or Men.

These two classes of men are always upon earth, and they should be enemies. Whoever tries to reconcile them seeks to
destroy existence.

If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.

Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth.

One thought fills immensity.

Mutual forgiveness of each vice,
Such are the gates of Paradise.

Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believed.

Everything that is is holy.

(Onthe Porch: 3

FROM these woods a good way out along the hill there now came a sound that was new to us.

All the darkness in near range of the earth as far as we were able to hear was strung with noises that were all one
noise, and to this we had become so accustomed that
this new sound came out of silence, and left an even more power-
ful silence behind it, so that with each return it, and the ensuing silence, gave each other more and more value,
like the exchanges of two mirrors laid face to face.

Whereas we had been silent before, this sound immediately stiffened us into much more intense silence. Without ex-
change of word or glance we each received communication of a new opening of delight: but chiefly we now engaged in
mutual listening and in analysis of what we heard, so strongly, that in all the body and in the whole range of
dnd and memory, each of us became all one hollowed. and listening ear.

It was perhaps most nearly like the noise hydrogen makes when a match flame is passed across the mouth of a slanted
test-tube. It was about the same height as this sound: soprano, with a strong alto illusion. It was colder than this
sound, though:
as cold and as chilling as the pupil of a goat's eye, or a low note on the clarinet. It ran eight i-
dentical notes to a call or stanza, a little faster than allegretto, in this rhythm and accent:

Every note was sharply, dryly, and cleanly accented, just short of staccato; and each was driven out with such
strictness and restraint that there was in the short silence between each note an extreme tightness and mutual, or-
ganically shared tension. Each of the first seven notes was given exactly the same force;
the seventh, hit harder,
splayed open a fraction,
and out of two things, the extra, hammer hardness it was hit with, and a barely discernible
trailing-down at its end, gave the illusion of being a higher note.

This sound, then, started up, with great dramatic suddenness, at some indeterminable distance from us, a distance
which in time became a little more determinable, though it was never at all possible accurately to locate it; for
the ear always needs the help of the eye. It was from somewhere in the woods out to the left of the house at the bot-
tom of our hill; and a little later it became clear that it was not in the low woods, but somewhere up the opposite
slope; and after a little we got it in range within say twenty degrees of the ninety on the horizontal circle which
at first it could have occupied any part of. It became clear that it would be between an eighth and a quarter mile
away; and this became remarkable to us because at that considerable dis- tance we could nevertheless hear, or rather
by some equivalent to radioactivity strongly feel, the motions and tensions of the throat and body, the very tilt of
the head, that discharged it.

Soon we were helped in locating it (as a second point in any geometry always is helpful, whereas one point alone can
run you crazy) by the opening-up of a second call. This call was identical with the first but, coming from a good
deal farther away, seemed higher, hollower, and thinner: scarcely more, yet very definitely more, than a loud clear echo.

Which of these calls seemed the more mysterious, it is not pos- sible to say. Their quality was very different by
virtue both of their difference in distance and of a distinct though indefinable difference in the personality of the
callers. At one moment the more distant call was more exciting simply in its distance and be- cause, by its secondary
appearance and by its distance beyond the first caller in relation to us, we got the illusion that it was the thing
sought by the other; the next, the nearer call took all the honors from it, by nearness; by having become the searcher
with whom we had identified ourselves and taken sides and by having yet at the same time remained so entirely itself,
without regard for us, no part of us, more alien to us, because it was alive and conscious and within our near pers-
pective of kinship, than any stone or star. The fact is of course that these two series of calls, when they had been
set going, enhanced each other quite as richly as each enhanced and received enhance- ment from its own, and the o-
ther's, interventions of silence, and a little later from its participation in, yet aristocratic distinction from,
that plebeian, unanimous ringing of the air which had at no time ceased or diminished and which, now that we were
listening so intently, became once more a part of the reality of hearing.

By use only of silences, without changing their stanzaic struc- ture, these two calls went through any number of rhy-
thmic-dramatic devices of delays in question and answer, of over- lapping~,of tricks of delay by which each pretended
to show that it had signed off for the night or, actually, that it no longer even existed. There is an old, not speci-
ally funny vaudeville act in which the whole troupe builds up and burlesques a dramatic situation simply by different
vocal and gesticulative colorations of the word 'you.' I thought of that now: but its present use was any amount bet-
ter because the artists were subtler and what they had to say was more enigmatic and more exciting to the audience.
Neither of them changed a note or a beat of his call; and if either allowed himself any change of tone or color what-
ever, it was so delicate that it is impossible to assign it to the callers save through the changefulness and human
sentimental- ity of us who were listening and making what we could of it. But certainly, one way or the other, its
meanings changed. One time it would be sexual; another, just a casual colloquy; an- other, a challenge; another, a
signal or warning; another, a comment on us; another, some simple and desperate effort at mutual location; another,
most intense and masterful irony; another, laughter; another, triumph; another, a masterpiece of parody of any one,
any combination, or all of these assigned or implicit tones: but at all times it was beyond even the illusion of full
apprehension, and was noble, frightening and dis-tinguished: a work of great, private and unambitious art which was
irrelevant to audience.

We were trying hardest of all to make out what animal or bird was making these sounds, but we had no clue, no ancho-
rage in knowledge through whose help we might by comparative pro- jections have taken it. I cannot even try to say
how in the long run we concluded (perhaps in part through its sharpness, tightness out of the throat, and carnivo-
rous timbre) that it was the voice of a fur-bearing animal and that the animal was on the small side and that he
might most likely, then that he must, be a fox. It is this sort of mystery we should run against in all casual expe-
rience if we found ourselves without warning pos- sessed of a new sense.

Now this is one of a universe of things which should be ac- cepted and recorded for its own sake. The first entrance
of this call was as perfect a piece of dramatic or musical structure as I how of: the context perfectly prepared,
the entrance of the mysterious principal completely unforeseen yet completely casual, with none of the quality of
studiousness in its surprise which hurts for instance some of the music of Brahms; and from its first entrance on,
the whole world was frozen and fixed under its will as by the introduction of a precipitant; so that the identical
entrance of the second voice carried with it an excitement almost beyond what is possible to bear.

When this second voice had spoken, the first did not answer, but froze just as we and our world had frozen. That
which had called was listening intently too. And that which had called the caller was waiting and listening. And
now after a long space of more and more tremendous silence (into which there arose, but very faintly, loosely, as
natural and common as dew, the ramified ringing of frogs, insects, and night birds), after this long space of si-
lence had extended itself beyond any degree of natural endurance, the second voice spoke a second time, identically,
yet, because of the silence, the lack of answer, more imperious-sounding than at first. Then there was a wait, in
whose first part the call repeated itself on the ear's memory silently yet keenly as print, and in whose latter ex-
pansion once again we were intense with waiting; and then, by some rhyth- mic genius a little, but only a very lit-
tle, off-beat, off the beat of eccentrics our ear had of the sum of the calls computed, a very little before it was
quite possible to expect it, there came the voice of the first creature; and it was with the breaking open of this
voice that we too broke open, silently, our whole bodies broke open into a laughter that destroyed and restored us
more even than the most absolute weeping ever can. This is a laughter I have experienced only rarely: listening to
the genius of Mozart at its angriest and cleanest, most masculine fire; the sudden memory of some line of Shakes-
peare, 'Nymph, in thine orisons be all my sins remembered'; walking in streets or driving in country; watching ne-
groes; or in that delicate stage of love when a girl, serious and scarcely tinged with smiling, her eyes muted and
her head poised most immaculately, first begins, not in pleasure alone, but in a kind of fear and deep gentleness,
to use her light, slow, frank hands upon your head and body: a phase so unassailably beyond any meaning of tender-
ness and of trust, so like the opening of first living upon the shining of the young earth in its first morning,
that an overwhelming know- ledge of God and of his non-existence fight in you and, all in this same quietness, you
feel it impossible that you can look into her eyes one more moment and not be so distended by incredulous joy that
you are of one size and ignorance and fleshlessness with space itself.

And this phase of love, to anyone who holds love in the utmost esteem that is its due, must be beyond all compar-
ison the cruelest and bitterest thing in human experience. Even within its own moments it draws you both irresisti-
bly into those desper- ate battlings of the body which only in their first few seconds seem the greater joy they are
not, and which so soon blunt and blind the delicate munificence of your exchange into their own beautiful but violent,
charcoal-drawn terms. Out of this violence of flesh and of total mutual confidence it is not possible many times to
withdraw into that quieter sphere of apposition in which the body, brain and spirit of each of you is all one perfect-
ly focused lens and in which these two lenses devour, feed, enrich and honor each other; it is not possible because
the violence blurs, feathers and distorts the essential constituency of the lens. And it is then, living in flushes
of memory of a thing more excellent than you may much hope to share between you again, that with scarcely conscious
bravery and sorrow, and with measureless compassion, love must assume itself to be established and alive between you.
There will be goodness and joy between you again, with wisdom and luck a great deal, more than enough, but not all
the kind regard nor all the love within the scope of existence will ever restore you what for a while, and only that
you might lose it in the blind service of nature, you had.

In the sound of these foxes, if they were foxes, there was nearly as much joy, and less grief. There was the fright-
ening joy of hearing the world talk to itself, and the grief of incommunica- bility. In that grief I am now as then,
with the small yet ab- solute comfort of knowing that communication of such a thing is not only beyond possibility
but irrelevant to it; whereas in love, where we find ourselves so completely involved, so com- pletely responsible
and so apparently capable, and where all our soul so runs out to the loveliness, strength, and defense- less morta-
lity, plain, common, salt and muscled toughness of human existence of a girl ' that the desire to die for her seems
the puniest and stingiest expression of your regard which you can, like a proud tomcat with a slain fledgling, lay
at her feet; in love the restraint in focus and the arrest and perpetuation of joy seems entirely possible and sim-
ple, and its failure inexcusa- ble, even while we know it is beyond the power of all biology and even while, like
the fading of flowerlike wonder out of a breast to which we are becoming habituated, that exquisite joy lies, fain-
ting through change upon change, in the less and less prescient palm of the less and less godlike, more and more
steadily stupefied, human, ordinary hand.

And so though this incident of the calling of two creatures should by rights be established at very least as a poem,
or a piece of music, and though, even, I know that a more gifted human being, and even I myself, could come nearer
giving it, I do not relinquish the ultimately hopeless effort with entire grief: simply because that effort would be,
above most efforts, so useless.

This calling continued, never repeating a pattern, and always with what seemed infallible art, for perhaps twenty
minutes. It was thoroughly as if principals had been set up, enchanted, and left like dim sacks at one side of a
stage as enormous as the steadfast tilted deck of the earth, and as if onto this stage, accompanied by the drizzling
confabulation of nocturnal-pastoral music, two masked characters, unforetold and perfectly irrelevant to the action,
had with catlike aplomb and noiselessness stept and had sung, with sinister casualness, what at length turned out
to have been the most significant, but most unfathomable, number in the show; and had then in perfect irony and sil-
ence withdrawn.

It was after the ending of this that we began a little to talk. Ordinarily we enjoyed talking and of late, each ab-
sorbed throughout most of the day in subtle and painful work that made even the lightest betrayal of our full reac-
tions unwise, we had found the fragments of time we were alone, and able to give voice to them and to compare and
analyze them, valuable and necessary beyond comparison of cocaine. But now in this. structure of special exaltation
it was, though not unpleasant, thoroughly unnecessary, and obstructive of more pleasing usage. Our talk drained ra-
ther quickly off into silence and we lay thinking, analyzing, remembering, in the human and artist's sense praying,
chiefly over matters of the present and of that immediate past which was a part of the present; and each of these
matters had in that time the extreme clearness, and edge, and honor, which I shall now try to give you; until at
length we too fell asleep.

FOREWARD: James Agee in 1936







    All Over Alabama


July 1936

    Late Sunday Morning

    At the Forks

    Near a Church







Curtain Speech




    A home in its fields

    The spring: the garden: the outbuildings


    The house is left alone

    In front of the house: its general structure

    In front of the house: the facade

    The room beneath the house

    The hallway

    Structure of four rooms


    Bareness and space

I. The Front Bedroom

    General: Placement of furniture

    The furniture

    The altar

    The tabernacle

II. The Rear Bedroom


    The fireplace

    The mantel

    The closet

    The beds

III. The Kitchen


    The table: the lamp

IV. The Storeroom

    Two essentials

    In the room

    In the front bedroom: the Signal

    The return


    The Woods Spring


    The Ricketts Fireplace



    Relations and averages

    Further comments on relations and averages


    General habitability

    Sanitation and lighting







    Three women's dresses


    A Few Notes


    (Selection from Part I:

    Work 2: Cotton



    Picking season



    First: First Meetings





    Third: second introit

    In the room: the Testament

    In the Room: In Bed

Shady Grove

    Shady Grove, Alabama, July 1936

    Two Images

Title Statement



Man in Suit Jacket and Seersucker Pants. Photo by Walker Evans

Annie Mae Gudger, 27 Photo by Walker Evans

Fred Ricketts, Cotton Tenant Farmer

Summer of 1936 William Edward Bud Fields, wife Lily Rogers Fields at their sharecropper cabin in Hale County Alabama

Burroughs (Gudger) Family, Hale County, Alabama Tenant Farmer

Summer 1936 Children of sharecropper Frank Tengle at their Hale County Alabama cabin

Crossroads store at Sprott, Alabama. 1935 or 1936