Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Some say that Louisa May Alcott wrote two perfect poems; one to her mother and the other on Thoreau's flute. She referred to him as a "large-hearted child". He was her botany instructor. Can you imagine exploring the wildside of Concord with "the genius of the fields"? In November of 1862 at the age of 30 Louisa volunteered as an army nurse in a Civil War hospital. She wrote, "I love nursing" and "I want new experiences." But she contracted typhoid fever and was returned home after 6 weeks of service. She never fully regained her health due to the deadly mercury compounds used in those days to fight fever. Native people used a natural and harmless remedy found in the inner bark of the willow to fight fever and reduce pain. Too bad no one consulted them. As a result her short life was full of pain. Louisa praised the prose of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Her father wrote of her, "I press thee to my heart, as Duty's faithful child." Born in 1832 she died in 1888 (56) with many more stories still stewing in her brewing mind. One that she spoke of was "The Philosopher's Wooing" which referred to Thoreau.
I can certainly understand her head full of stories and a strong desire to write them out. I don't want to carry my stories to the grave either. Although there is no crying public demanding a feast of Dunn tales I go on writing. I'm just another starving artist.
When I visited the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial at Red Cloud, Nebraska, March 2000, I purchased a collection of her short stories and "Willa Cather on Writing". Willa is able to reveal the deeper significance of her subjects and characters without grabbing me by the collar and dragging my nose through it. She doesn't always make me happy but she moves me deeply. With her there is no trivial event or emotion because she valued the humanity of her readers. Stephen Tennant warned us to beware "a souless book - a vigorous circumstantial record of worthless people who have lived in vain." Willa prefaced Sarah Orne Jewett's short story collection with warm words. Her admiration of Sarah glowed in her prose. "(She) wrote of the people who grew out of the soil..." She once told Willa "that her mind was full of dear old houses and dear old women..."
My mind too is a beautiful old country peopled by dear ones who want to get out on the pages before it is too late. Why? One might wonder, do you believe that you have anything significant to contribute to the enormous body of modern literature? I believe I can present a perspective that is unique to me and will be valued in the future. Perhaps even prized and lavished with praise. Pilgrims will visit my grave and leave their velvet gloves on my tombstone. Perhaps.

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