Monday, February 8, 2010

It needs forever to be in all its times and aspects and acts

Anna: There you are, Harlan.  I've called and called.  What are you doing?
Harlan: Looking.
Anna: At what?
Harlan: The river.
Anna: You've never seen enough, have you,  of that river you looked at all your life?
Harlan: It never does anything twice.   It needs forever to be in all its times and aspects and acts.  To know it in time is only to begin to know it.  To paint it, you must show it as less than it is.  That is why as a painter I never was at rest.  Now I look and do not paint.  This is the heaven of a painter - only to look, to see without limit.  It's as if a poet finally were free to say only the simplest things.
For a moment they are still again, both continuing to look, in  opposite directions, at the river.
Anna: That is our music, Harlan.  Do you hear it?
Harlan: Yes, I hear.
Anna: I think it will always be here.  It draws us back out of eternity as once it drew us together in time.  Do you remember, Harlan, how we played?  And how, in playing, we no longer needed to say what we needed to say?
Harlan: I'm listening.
But I heard here too, remember, another music, farther off, more solitary,  closer -
Anna: To what, Harlan?
Harlan: I'm not so sure I ever know.  Closer to the edge of modern life,  I suppose - to where the life of living things actually is lived;  closer to the beauty that saves and consoles this earth.  I wanted to spend whole days watching the little fish that flicker along the shore.
Anna: Yes.  I know you did.
Harlan: I wanted
to watch, every morning forever,the world shape itself again out of the drifting fog.
Anna: Your music,  then,   was it in those things?
Harlan: It was in them and beyond them,  always almost out of hearing.
Anna: Because of it you made the beautiful things you made,  for yourself alone, and yet, I think, for us both.  You made them for us both,  as for yourself,  for what we were together required those things of you alone.
Harlan: To hear that music,  I needed to be alone and free.
Anna: Free, Harlan?
Harlan: I longed for the perfection of the single one.  When the river rose and the current fled by,  I longed to cast myself adrift,  to take that long,  free downward-flowing as my own.  I know the longing of an old rooted tree to lean down upon the water.
Anna: I know that.  I knew that all along.  And then was when I loved you most.  What brought me to you was knowing the long, solitary journey that was you,  yourself - the thought of you in a little boat, adrift and free.  But, Harlan, why did you never go?  Why did you not just drift away, solitary and free,  living on the free charity of the seasons, wintering in caves as sometimes you said you'd like to do?
Harlan: Oh,  Anna, because I was lonely!  The perfection of the single one is not perfection, for it is lonely.
Anna: From longing  for the perfection of the single one,  I called you into longing for the perfection of the union of two,
Harlan: which also was imperfect, for we were not always at one, and I never ceased, quite, to long for solitude.
Anna: And yet, of the two imperfections, the imperfection of the union of two is by far the greater and finer - as we understood.
Harlan: Yes, my dear,  Anna,  that I too understood.  It is better, granting imperfection in both ways, to be imperfect and together than to be imperfect and alone.
Anna: And so this is the heaven of lovers that we have come to - to live again in our separateness, so that we may live again together, my Harlan.
~ Wendell Berry, from 'Sonata at Payne Hollow'