in autobiography, the other foot the roaming one had already gone beyond. I was moving the ages, everything, home, where I could handle it, to a place I knew, and felt in command of, to a place I felt deeply for and more than anything else had a crucial struggle with. The crucial struggle is what I’m talking about always with home, with family, with beginnings. Without it there is only a dead transference, “modernization” of classic myth, a church pageant, Oedipus in overalls, Cassandra in a sunbonnet. And so later when Ernst Robert Curtius, the distinguished German translator of this novel, wrote in his Preface: “The House of Breath, to be sure, tells us about Charity and East Texas; and when it does extend itself regionally it reaches only as far as neighboring Louisiana. And for all that, this book is different from a regional novel. No regionalism is offered here. The language and the landscape of East Texas are only foils to a fabric, in which vital and neighborly human beings talk and move about. In the kitchen of the house in Charity hangs a map of the world. To the boy, whose story is being told, the outlines of countries and continents seem to be the organs of the human body. The organization and formation of the earth has imprinted itself upon the child’s consciousness, and in the most perceptual form. In sleepy Charity he had sensed the quality of the whole world and realized that he belonged to it. So it is that this novel of a childhood has become a book of universal scope.” So for me to write is to bring the world closer to me, to pass the world through me. It is of course the miracle of the transforming power of art that a world freed from the limits of selfaggrandizement, of a purely solipsistic, self-exciting passion such as one sometimes finds in D. H. Lawrence and my old early beloved Thomas Wolfe \(to mention a few: the list would be longer world can emerge, and the smaller voice of the creator fade away. A literature in which the smaller voice of the creator does not fade away does not interest me. DUMB AT FIRST, writers get voice from other writer’s. Or at least I did. Until my own came clear or until I was shown to accept my own several other voices spoke through me, performed a kind of ventriloquism on me. When I read one night, voiceless in a humid room in taken from the Houston Public Library called The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, by William Saroyan, I was then and there given a voice, full and passionate. But not yet my own. I began at once to write of myself as if I were Saroyan. I sang a sort of duet with William Saroyan quite what he wanted from his readers, I’m sure, singing partners all over the world! And when I .read “Song of Myself” for the first time, again I was given a voice, resounding in the little Texas room: “Salut au Monde!” “0 take my hand, Walt Whitman, Such gliding wonders! such sights and sounds!” I was given freedom to speak of myself out of long isolation and out of the captivity by my own family. I was 17. A secret writing life began for me. I filled pages with my own Manahatta, my own fish-shaped Paumanok wherever those places were; mine were Merrill Street, my little neighborhood, the streets and woods and bayous of the small dozing city of Houston. I poured out of myself Saroyanesque and Whitmanesque longings and exultations., songs of my own daring, eager self., reaching for life and love and feeling. Out of such a beginning I was, naturally, led headlong into Look Homeward, Angel and the stories of Thomas Wolfe. “And oh you musta been away, you musta been away . . .” In full voice or voices and with new power of feeling and expression, I came into the stories of Thomas Mann and was given, with ad By George Hendrick Urbana, Illinois AS A CHILD in Trinity, Texas, where he was born in 1915 and where he lived until he was 7, William Goyen heard the language he was to use in much of his fiction. In a comment on his own work included in his Collected Stories he said, “Since the people of the region where most of my stories start or end . . . are natural talkers and use their speech with gusto and often with the air of bravura of singers; and since the language of their place is rich with phrases and expressions out of the King James Bible, from the Negro imagination and the Mexican fantasy, from Deep South Evangelism, from cotton field and cotton gin, oil field, railroad and sawmill, I had at my ears a glorious sound.” Later, in an interview first published in the Paris Review in 1976, Goyen was even more precise about the sources of his language and his style: “As a literary person I truly am the offspring of my mother and women like my mother. . . . Hers was a singing way of expressing things, and this I heard so very early that it became my own speech; that’s the way I write.” This poetic language he learned from his mother and women like her this feminine language, this musical language monishments concerning the uses of control and of clarity, further permission to write of myself: “Tonio Kroger” became a lamp for my way in Texas, and I wrote of myself as feeling heartbreakingly apart from these Texans, yet longing to join the dancers on the floor. Through hundreds of secret pages and many voices, encouraged to feel my own feelings, I came to the courage to consider the material of my own beginning as worth something. And it was then that the life and work of Yeats and Synge entered mine and I saw how they had been grateful for the richness of their own place and people and had made a ringing poetry of it. I was overwhelmed by discovery when I read what Synge wrote in his preface to “The Playboy of the Western World”: “In writing ‘The Playboy of the Western World’ I have used one or two words only that I have not heard among the country people of Ireland, or spoken in my own nursery before I could read the newspapers. A certain number of the phrases I employ I have heard also from herds and fisher has often puzzled Goyen’s critics, some of whom have been more willing to believe it the lush product of a precious, hot-house prose-poet than an artistic rendering of a particular kind of East Texas speech. As a child, Goyen was, as he has said, imaginative, nervous, and sensual. In high school in Houston, he wanted to be “composer, actor, dancer, singer, fantastico,” much to the embarrassment of his parents. Opposed by his parents, he withdrew, went “underground at home” and began writing. All his artistic life, Goyen has been essentially an isolato. There have been notable literary influences upon his work, but he had avoided coteries and schools of writing. At Rice, during his junior year, he discovered Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Yeats, Joyce, Flaubert, Turgenev, Balzac, Melville, Hawthorne, the French Symbolists. These writers threw him into a turmoil, and he obviously learned much from them and from George Williams, professor of creative writing at Rice who took an early interest in him. Goyen’s reading influenced him in many ways as he attempted to find a way to render artistically his vision of the world. It was to an American of the last century, Nathaniel Hawthorne, from whom Goyen took, in broadest outlines, the form for most of his own fiction, a IGoyen’s World I THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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