Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Going Back To It

I'm listening to Cry, The Beloved Country, by Alan Paton right now. I haven't read it since I was a tenth grader. (Can we just pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that that was EIGHTEEN years ago? Okay.) I was moved by it at fifteen, before I knew half of one percent of anything, before I even got it about what it meant to be moved by something. I thought it would be a good idea to read it again, now. Many, many things seem more awesome at 33 than they did at 15. (See: Jane Eyre, going to bed on time, bell peppers, etc.)

I don't remember much about Cry except South Africa. And one character's name is Absalom. And I made a found poem in 1995 that included the line, "Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika," (God save Africa) when we were done with the book. That's one of those fragments of language that sticks in my craw. I remember that I typed that poem in italic Times New Roman on our newish Mac (the one with no connection to the yet-to-be-available world wide web). I remember that after I printed it out on off-white paper, I drew a burning candle on the page with the light strokes of colored pencil. I can see it. I want to go find the box it's in so I can show you, Internet.

But I don't remember the plot.


Listening to Cry this morning on the way to school I flashed back to a blip of a lecture from Honors English 10: being told the language of the book was modeled on the King James Bible. I was listening to Michael York read the musical prose of the book, the kind of syntax that repeats itself and loops back with each new thought, picking up the structure of the previous line. And man if I didn't love that kind of poem-y prose before I could explain it. Now that I can explain it? It's become a part of me. It's how I make my living, unwrapping the tight corners of language, teaching kids how to do it.

Listen, I never went to any kind of church that got all King James-y. My first legit Bible, given at my Methodist confirmation, was a sensible Burgundy model with gold edges, a tan and blue map on the inside cover (inspiring the first time I considered that these were REAL places we were discussing, but that's the subject of a different post), and a clearly embossed "RSV" on the cover just above my serif-edged name. So my roots are both revised and standard. (Is that an oxymoron?) But if I'm claiming favorites, I love me some KJV.

"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures," you guys. It's perfect as a green three. I love that version of Psalm 23 like I love the kennings in Beowulf. (Whale-road? I die.) Archaic language lights my fire. When I read my Psalm 91, I want it to say "dwelleth" for it to sound right. I'm not sure why. It sounds true. And mysterious. And mystical. And comforting, like stories you listen to when you're a kid, sitting cross-legged on a colored carpet square, trusting that someone smarter than you is guiding the way. KJV. Literature plus God. It's sure. Trustworthy. Full of answers, like a grandpa.

And I'm amazed, a little bit, as I think about this story and how different I am when I come at the book this time. I know I used to know more about Absalom. I don't know much now. I mean, I can look it up on the Internet Machine. I will. But even though I'd say my faith is deeper and more meaningful at 33, most of the biblical trivia and factoids that my teenage brain held have long ago been pushed out by things like diaper-changing and Sunday Meal-Planning, separations, Christmas mornings, and life lessons. I don't have memory enough for the subtleties of those stories because I've read what feels like eight hundred more. And I'm hungry for even more than that. Lately I feel a literary craving like I've never felt... but also an overwhelming feeling like the more I read, the more I realize I haven't read.

There's no point to this post. But I'm kind of excited to re-read/re-listen to a book that I haven't considered for so long.

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