Washington University in St. Louis
Campus Box 1126
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
American literature; Non-fiction prose; Rhetoric; American political argument
Wayne Fields is Lynne Cooper Harvey Distinguished Professor of English, American Literature and American Culture Studies. He has written a memoir, What the River Knows: An Angler in Mid-Stream (1990) and a collection of short stories, The Past Leads a Life of Its Own (1992). He is the author of Union of Words: A History of Presidential Eloquence (1996) and has edited James Fenimore Cooper: A Collection of Critical Essays (1979). His essays include "One Hundred Years of Solitude and New World Literature," "The American Adams," and "To Redeem from Ignorance: Jefferson and the Liberal Arts."
Excerpt from WHAT THE RIVER KNOWS: AN ANGLER IN MIDSTREAM
River debris has heaped up against another old timber and from its tattered shelter twenty or thirty six-inch trout come darting downstream toward me, dark arrows that shoot forward in a wide barrage, then, glittering, catch the light with their speckled sides. Only at the last do they swerve around my legs, then flash through a dark grid that shimmers deep in the water as the light catches and is held by the ripples on the surface. This cross-hatching moves like an electrical field along the streambed and turns the trout from brown to gold as they flash through bands of sunshine and on into darkness again.
Crows call in the distance, waxwings flutter in the bushes along the shore. Ahead, hundreds of fingerling fish blanket the sand.
Even as I take in this place, delight in its patterns and colors, I despair of ever being able to recompose it, think anxiously of this evening's frustration when words will fail me once more. I am not so arrogant that I write to tell some great truth, that I think the world has much to gain from my undersized hands; I write in the hope of crafting a page, a paragraph, even a line that is filled with the grace I lack, that sings with a voice beyond mine. I write in the hope of forgiveness, in the hope of making something better than myself. Tonight, as on other nights, the old tangle will prevail. What I have seen can never make it from my mind to the page with the lyric power of this landscape, rather it will be defeated by the disjoining disease that is our human inheritance. Inevitably I will only compound the very debt I try so desperately to repay.