Thomas Wolfe, A Letter To Mother

by Vertebrata



U dvadeset i drugoj godini, šest godina prije “Pogledaj dom svoj, Anđele” i petnaest godina prije smrti, Thomas Wolfe je napisao pismo majci :


I know this now: I am inevitable, I sincerely believe. The only thing that can stop me now is insanity, disease, or death.
The plays I am going to write may not be suited to the tender bellies of old maids, sweet young girls, or Baptist ministers, but they will be true and honest and courageous, and the rest doesn’t matter. If my play goes on I want you to be prepared for execreations upon my head. I have stepped on toes right and left-I spared Boston with its nigger-sentimentalists no more than the South, which I love, but which I nevertheless pounded. I am not interested in writing what our pot-bellied members of the Rotary and Kiwanis call a “good show.” I want to know life and understand it and interpret it without fear or favor. This, I feel, is a man’s work and worthy of a man’s dignity. For life is not made up of sugary, sticky, sickening Edgar A. Guest sentimentality; it is not made up of dishonest optimism. God is not always in His Heaven, all is not always right with the world. It is not all bad, but it is not all good; it is not all ugly, but it is not all beautiful; it is life, life, life-the only thing that matters. It is savage, cruel, kind, noble, passionate, generous, stupid, ugly, beautiful, painful, joyous – it is all these and more – and it’s all these I want to know, and BY GOD I shall, though they crucify me for it. I will go to the end of the earth to find it, to understand it. I will know this country when I am through as I know the palm of my hand, and I will put it on paper and make it true and beautiful.
I will step on toes. I will not hesitate to say what I think of those people who shout “Progress, Progress, Progress” – when what they mean is more Ford automobiles, more Rotary Clubs, more Baptist Ladies Social Unions. I shall say that “Greater Asheville” does not necessarily mean “100,000 by 1930,” that we are not necessarily four times as civilized as our grandfathers because we go four times as fast in automobiles, because our buildings are four times as tall. What I shall try to get into their dusty, little pint-measure minds is that a full belly, a good automobile, paved streets, and more, does not make them one whit better or finer – that there is beauty in this world – beauty even in this wilderness of ugliness and provincialisam that is at present our country, beauty and spirit which will make us men instead of cheap Board of Trade Boosters and blatant pamphleteers.
I shall try to impress upon their little craniums that one does not have to be a “highbrow”or “queer” or “impractical” to know these things, to love them, and to realize they are our common heritage – there for us all to possess and make a part of us. In the name of God, let us learn to be men, not monkeys.
When I speak of beauty I do not mean a movie close-up where Susie and Johnny meet at the end and clinch and all the gum-chewing ladies go home thinking husband is not so good a lover as Valentino. That’s cheap and vulgar! I mean everything which is lovely, and noble, and true. It does not have to be sweet, it may be bitter;it does not have to be joyous, it may be sad.
When spring comes I think of a cool, narrow back yard in North Carolina, with green, damp earth, and cherry trees in blossom. I think of a skinny little boy at the top of one of those trees, with the fragrant blooms about him, with the tang of the sap in his nose, looking out on a world of back yards, and building his castles in Spain. That’s beauty! – that’s romance. I think of an old man in the grip of a terrible disease, who thought he was afraid to die, but who died like a warrior in an epic poem. That’s beauty. I think of a boy of twenty-six years heaving his life away, and gasping to regain it, I think of the frightened glare in his eyes and the way he seizes my hands, and cries, “What have you come home for?” – I think of the lie that trembles in my throat, I think of a woman who sits with a face as white and set as if cut from marble, and whose fingers cannot be unclasped from his hand.
And the boy of eighteen sees and knows for the first time that more than a son is dying, that part of a mother is being buried before her – life in death – that something which she nursed and loved, something out of her blood, out of her life, is taken away. It’s terrible but it’s beautiful.
I think of the devotion of a woman of frail physique to a father, I think of the daisy meadows on the way to Craggy Mountain, of the birch forests of New Hampshire, of the Mississippi River at Memphis – of all of which I have been a part – and I know there is nothing so commonplace, so dull, that is not touched with nobility and dignity.
And I intend to wreak out my soul on people and express it all. This is what my life means to me: I am at the mercy of this thing ad I will do it or die.
I never forget: I have never forgotten, I have tried to make myself conscious of the whole of my life since first the baby in the basket became conscious of the warm sunlight on the porch, and saw his sister go up the hill to the girl’s school on the corner ( the first thing I remember).
Slowly out of the world of infant darkness things take shape: the big terryfying faces become familiar – I recognize my father by his bristly moustache. Then the animal books, which I memorize before I can read, and recite for the benefit of admiring neighbors, every night, holding my book upside-down. I become conscious of Santa Claus and send scrawls upthe chimney. Then St. Louis. A flight of stairs at the Cincinnati railroad station – which must be gone up – the Word’s Fair, the Ferris Wheel, Grover at the Inside Inn, the Delmar Gardens where you let me taste beer which I spit out, a ride on a bus-automobile over the Fair Grounds with Effie- it is raining, raining, the Cascades in the rain – a ride in the scenic railway – scared at the darkness and the hideous faces – eating a peach in the back yard ( St. Louis) – I swallowed a fly and am sick – and one of my brothers laughs at me – two little boys who ride tricycles up and down the street – they dress in white and look alike – their father injured or killed in elevator accident(wasn’t he?) – I commit a nuisance on the narrow steps of side yard and the policeman sees me and reports me – the smell of tea at the East India House – I’ll never forget it – Grover’s sickness and death – I am awakened at midnight by Mabel and she says, “Grover’s on the cooling board.” I don’t know what a cooling board is but am anxious to see.
I don’t know what death is but have a vague, terrified sensation that something awful has happend – then she takes me in her arms and up the hall – disappointed at the cooling board – it’s only a table – the brown mole on his neck – the trip home – visitors in the parlor with condolences – Norah Israel was there then it gets fairly plain thereafter and I can trace it step by step.
This is why I think I am going to be an artist. The things that really mattered sank in and left their mark – sometimes a peculiar smile – sometimes death – sometimes the smell of dandelions in spring – Once Love.
I will go everywhere and see everything. I will meet all the people I can. I will think all the thoughts, feel all the emotions I am able, and I will write, write, write…