Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gratitude for What Is Old

On Michael's recommendation a few months ago, I am reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.  The book is a series of letters from an aged and increasingly infirm minister to his young son about his family's past (the boy's "begats") and many other nuggets of advice, personal observation, and internal meditiation.  The writing is powerful and moving.  With the arrival of Thanksgiving, I thought to share a short passage that I found affecting and to the purpose:

I am also inclined to overuse the world "old," which actually has less to do with age, as it seems to me, than it does with familiarity.  It sets a thing apart as something regarded with a modest, habitual affection.  Sometimes it suggests haplessness or vulnerability.  I say "old Boughton," I say "this shabby old town," and I mean that they are very near my heart. 

I do not give thanks for the blessings of my life often enough.  Among the dearest of these are the "old."  Thank God for them. 


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I'm currently re-reading Gilead and sometimes will pick it up in random spots. It's so beautifully written.

Posted by: Matt Archbold | Nov 22, 2011 10:49:51 PM

Gilead is a masterpiece. I cannot think of a more beautiful passage of English written by an American novelist in my lifetime than the following:

"....I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty to it. And I can’t believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.

Posted by: Matthew Polaris | Nov 23, 2011 10:20:54 AM


I also think Gilead is a masterpiece. And the passage you quoted is made all the more forceful and poignant by Robinson's spare usage of words that exceed two syllables. I've had friends who have told me that the book is too "slow" or "uneventful" for them. I've told them they need to find a quiet corner and let the rhythm and restrained power of Robinson's writing carry them along.

Posted by: Bill Collier | Nov 23, 2011 1:36:48 PM



She's consciously writing in a Puritan plain style. Very spare, very ascetic--and very Old Testament in its attention to the concrete and avoidance of the abstract.

Posted by: Matthew Polaris | Nov 23, 2011 2:51:43 PM