William Faulkner, I believe, is the greatest American novelist of the 20th century. Like Dylan Thomas he had a serious drinking problem, but he did not drink while writing and he was prodigious. All of his novels and stories are set in his native state of Mississippi.
WILLIAM FAULKNER, Nobel Prize Address, 1950
I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work---a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anythng but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed---love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.
Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.
The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to kelp man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
There is a novel by William Faulkner titled The Bear
which tells the story of a relationship between a young hunter and a famous old bear. Through the relationship, as it develops, the hunter achieves his identity. It is not exactly a Christian story -- we have to be careful not to assume that the bear represents God -- but it is allegorical. An allegory is a story with a spiritual meaning behind it.
It begins with the boy who wants to be a hunter going into the woods where he knows there is a bear. Every time he goes into the woods he takes his gun, a compass and a canteen. So he is armed and ready. He is secure. He goes into the woods many times and sees signs of the bear, but he never sees the bear.
Years pass, and then one day he suddenly becomes aware that the bear has seen him. He is sitting under a tree, listening to a woodpecker knocking on the tree when it suddenly stops knocking. At that moment, he realizes that the bear -- which he cannot see -- is watching him. Then the woodpecker resumes knocking.
Something has happened. The bear has taken note of him. He is now a part of the woods. So the story goes along. He goes on looking for the bear, but he still cannot find him.
The one day the hunter decides that he is going into the woods without his gun. He intentionally leaves the gun at home. But he takes his compass, so he won't get lost, and canteen and a walking stick. All morning he looks for the bea, but he sees nothing.
Then he decides to leave the compass and canteen and walking stick too. He puts them on a bush and goes deeper into the woods. And then he gets lost. He's wandering all over the place and doesn't have the slightest idea where he is. So he decides to sit down on a log to rest, and there right in front of him he sees the big footprint of the bear.
The footprint makes a large indentation in the wet ground, and it is still filling with water! The bear has just been there! He looks ahead to the next print and the next, and then, standing in the same bush where he left his compass and canteen and walking stick -- he has been led back to where he started -- there he sees the bear!
The bear stands looking at him for a moment and then moves out of the bush, and with a final backward glance over its shoulder, just fades into the woods.
So, this is how it is. This is the mystical pattern that God weaves of letting go in order to grasp, of giving up in order to gain, of surrendering in order to be victorious.