Monday, March 27, 2006

Something Greater

I just watched a documentary on PBS about Eugene O'Neill. The documentary was directed by Ric Burns (Ken Burns' brother), whose work I've admired for years, especially his documentary The Way West. It's been a long time since I've thought about O'Neill's work. I watched The Iceman Cometh about a year ago. And I do remember that as a child I watched Long Day's Journey into Night on television and was struck by the power of it. My blogging friends will recognize a certain pattern in my youthful reading and movie-watching habits. From an early age I was drawn to dark tragedies and adult themes.

Watching the documentary tonight, I saw a particularly handsome actor (Robert Sean Leonard) speaking the words of Edmund from Long Day's Journey into Night and suddenly remembered that I'd once copied this speech into one of my school notebooks. I don't remember how old I was, but I must have been in junior high. Edmund is the character who is the voice of Eugene O'Neill, and Edmund is the real name of O'Neill's dead baby brother. So O'Neill purposely chose to speak though "a ghost."

Today, I gave a taped interview with a student. I was trying to explain to her how I've come to feel that writing takes me to a sacred space. Edmund's words, below, describe how he felt when he was near the sea. It's the same way I feel when I write, when the writing is happening as it should:

EDMUND: ... I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight, towering high above me. I became drunk with the beauty and the singing rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself--actually lost my life. I was set free. I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky. I belonged without, past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to Life itself. To God if you want to put it that way. ... And several other times in my life, when I was swimming far out, or lying alone on the beach, I have had the same experience. Became the sun, the hot sand, green seaweed anchored to a rock, swaying in the tide. Like a saint's vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see--and seeing the secret, are the secret. For a second there is meaning. Then the hand lets the veil fall and you are alone, lost in the fog again, and you stumble on toward nowhere, for no good reason. It was a great mistake my being born a man, I would have been much more successful as a seagull or a fish. As it is I will always be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not really want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death.


Paula said...

It's so cool when you speak to me and through me at the same time...

V said...

These words resonate with me. Your students are so fortunate.

emmapeelDallas said...

Wow, I've never read this quote before, so I'm very happy that you posted it. I like what you said about writing taking you to a sacred place...that's absolutely it, when the words flow almost effortlessly, but it is such a struggle, almost always, to get there. O'Neill understood what it was to feel one with the universe: "Became the sun, the hot sand, green seaweed anchored to a rock, swaying in the tide", but he also understood what it was like to feel on the outside, to feel as if you're stuck in observation with your face pressed up against the glass...and I know both of those extremes so very well.

Once again, what you've written gives me a great deal to think about, thank you.


Erin said...

WOW. I scarcely know what else to say. I'm in love (literally in love) with Edmund's words. What a perfect way to say what I (and so many people) have certainly felt. Perhaps all writers should have been fish--gliding along with the flow of the ocean.

"As it is I will always be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not really want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death."

Just ... WOW!



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Northwest Ohio, United States
"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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Fave Painting: Eden

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The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

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