The Visions Called Up By the Stories'
Only liars and the credulous trust the infallibility of their memories. The rest of us understand that memory is a creative faculty. We abhor a vacuum and fill in the holes. We embroider and accept the stitching as real. We prefer a story with a linear plot and a satisfying resolution to a collection of fragmented images. Some of our best memories never happened. On this date, June 30, in 1932, the American painter Charles Burchfield noted in his journal
“It is difficult to separate actual boyhood impressions from the visions called up by the stories I read as a boy. Thus, I am never quite sure whether some of the memories of woodland rambles in luxuriant late June & early July are actually mine or those of Bevis & Mark.”
Burchfield’s reference is to Bevis: the Story of a Boy (1882), an adventure book by the English nature writer Richard Jefferies. Auden judged it “the only tolerable book about boyhood.” I haven’t read it but I understand Burchfield’s confusion. For me it was not so much stories that worked their way into my real-life memories as nonfiction books devoted to the natural world. To this day I’m uncertain whether I caught two cecropia moths on the trunk of a neighbor’s ash tree one morning in the early 1960’s, or I copied-and-pasted them out a field guide and onto the tree.
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