from Jorge Semprun’s Literature or Life

Semprun, a member of the Resistance who was captured and imprisoned at Buchenwald, wrote that the latrines were the one place in the camp where humanity was restored to the prisoners:

It was in the collective latrines, in this unhealthy atmosphere reeking of urine, shit, feverish sweat, and acrid makhorka, that we found one another, literally brought together by huddling around the same cigarette butt, sharing the same caustic attitude as well, the same combative and fraternal curiosity about the chances of our unlikely survival.

Or, more likely, the death we would share.


from Hangman’s Tree by Monica Youn

… I was wrong


when I told you

life starts at the center

and radiates outward.


There is another

mode of life, one

that draws sustenance


from the peripheries:

each slim leaf

slots itself


into the green air;

each capillary root

sutures itself


into the soil.

Together these

small adhesions


can bear the much-

diminished weight

of the whole.

Passages from Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain

“So back one climbs, to the sources.”

“Place and mind interpenetrate till the nature of both is altered. I cannot tell what this movement is except by recounting it.”

“It is necessary to be sometimes exclusive, not on behalf of rank or wealth, but of those human qualities that can apprehend loneliness.”

“The talking tribe, I find, want sensation from the mountain – not in Keats’s sense. Beginners, not unnaturally, do the same – I did myself. They want the startling view, the horrid pinnacle – sips of beer and tea instead of milk. Yet often the mountain gives itself most completely when I have no destination, when I reach nowhere in particular, but have gone out merely to be with the mountain as one visits a friend with no intention but to be with him.”

“Yet so long as they live a life close to their wild land, subject to its weathers, something of its own nature will permeate theirs. They will be marked men.”

“Why some blocks of stone, hacked into violent and tortured shapes, should so profoundly tranquilize the mind I do not know.”

“So, simply to look on anything, such as a mountain, with the love that penetrates to its essence, is to widen the domain of being in the vastness of non-being. Man has no other reason for his existence.”

“Walking thus, hour after hour, the senses keyed, one walks the flesh transparent.”

from Paul Willems’ “Reading”

“And so the naturalist’s almanac, one of this library’s oldest inhabitants, witness to our nights of reading at Missembourg, tells us of events that have resounded in the walls of this old house, of meteors that have streaked through the skies, of trees struck by lightning, flowers startled by frost, of hailstorms, showers, and drought. But here, in the library, time has stood still for 108 years. Only the fine gray snow of dust commingled with moments gathers slowly on the edges of books in the almost geological strata by which time in libraries is measured. For these books measure time. Some here have an embarrassed air from still being white along the edges. Others, in addition to the dust that makes them seem dressed in comfy old suits, retain traces of each reading, and commemorate its events…”

Translated by Edward Gauvin