“I Decline to Accept the End of Man….I Believe that Man Will Not Merely Endure, He Will Prevail” – William Faulkner
I attended college at Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi, and while I was in college, I curated at the William Faulkner Home Rowan Oak. Members of the Faulkner family are long time residents of the Oxford area, and Faulkner’s writing resonates with the images and lore of the region. While I was in college, a new library was built at Ole Miss, and the above quote was mounted on its wall: “I decline to accept the end of man…I believe that man will not merely endure, he will prevail.” – William Faulkner
Faulkner is an interesting study of humanity. He was a native of Mississippi, and he was one of a few outstanding writers who evolved from there. He was famous and he was even awarded the Nobel Prize. You would think that he would have always been treated like a Mississippi hero, but he was not. In truth, Faulkner was a heavy drinker and he behaved erratically. Many of Faulkner’s neighbors were highly critical of him. Before he became famous, many who knew Faulkner probably would have considered him to be a nuisance. But Faulkner endured. He continued to write, and in the end, he flourished.
For many years, I have been an avid gardener, and something about this Faulkner story relates to what I have also learned in my garden. Over several years, I have tried to grow almost every kind of flower–even orchids. About thirty years ago, I had a revelation. I was living in Mississippi then and I was doing all kinds of things to try to convert my red clay into good gardening soil. Over and over, I would place good plants into my soil and watch them wither and disappear.
One day, I was clearing some growth that had crossed my fence, and I noticed a beautifully flowering vine there. I had not planted the vine, and I deduced that it was a weed. My first thought was that I should yank it from where it was and plant something else there. But I stopped and asked myself why I should remove a plant that had volunteered to bloom and was doing it very well and replace it with something else that probably wouldn’t grow at all. Since that day, I have begun giving more credence to plants, even weeds, that bloom simply because they want to bloom–in places where they want to grow.
In my New Jersey garden, my most favorite free flowerers are my wild violets that grow in clumps all around my yard. Some people consider the wild violets to be loathsome weeds, and they pull them and throw them away. I do just the opposite. I love the way that the wild violets weave a purple and green carpet across my lawn in spring. If a wild violet is growing in a place that I need to plant something else, I gently dig it and move it somewhere else inside my flower bed. I don’t treat violets as a weed. I don’t treat them as grasses. I treat them as short flowers that should be encouraged to grow and to bloom at the front of my beds.
I also currently have bittersweet nightshade vines all over my New Jersey yard. There is no doubt that most would consider this beautiful vine to be a weed. Its European cousin is deadly nightshade, and this little beauty is also toxic, but it is a gorgeous and delicate treat in my yard. I honor it and I do everything that I can to preserve it.
“A Weed Is but an Unloved Flower” – Ella Wheeler Wilcox
When appraising nature, I am perplexed by the question, “Who decided that some plants were weeds and that some should be classified as flowers?”
I don’t know whether anyone actually encourages dandelions to grow. Even I am still trying to discourage the dandelions from taking over my natural garden, but my research shows that there are several good uses for this little yellow tare. It can be turned into excellent wine, and if you look at the blossom without bias, you must admit that a dandelion is no less beautiful than a daisy or a marigold. Yet, most of the world classifies the dandelion as a noxious weed–in much the same way that the people of the Oxford area considered William Faulkner before he defied them and prevailed.
Beach at Cape May, NJ
Something interesting happened to me Monday. I was simply sitting around doing what needed to be done so that I could survive, and someone randomly appeared and asked me if I would agree to accept a position in a neighboring town as a type of dramatist for elaborate children’s parties. For the past several years, I have been the storyteller for my local library. Trust me. I am paid very little to work as a part-time Children’s Librarian in my little town. Yet, because of my doing that poorly paying job, several outstanding and unexpected gifts have showered upon me. For instance, one of my patrons recently gave me a gorgeous kitchen-appliances and all, and now another has offered me this wonderful and easy and fun job performing for children’s parties. Among other things, the job pays well and as a bonus, I’ll be working in the exquisite Victorian beach town of Cape May, NJ.
This weekend, I’ll play the part of the Fairy Godmother, and I’ll arrive in a horse-drawn Cinderella carriage.
This is my point: I continuously work my boots off, trying to make this deal or that deal work for myself, but invariably the things that just pop up unexpectedly, like weeds, are the things that always work best for me.
I hate to wax Biblical about things. I am actually not a Bible thumper, but there is an excellent parable that applies very well here. When the people were worrying and questioning their lives, Jesus said to look at the flowers and to take heart in the fact that they always grow, regardlessly:
25 Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment?26 Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto [a]the measure of his life? 28 And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 Matthew 6:25-29
This post has gone all around the USA and back, but I began in Mississippi, talking about the Mississippi writer William Faulkner, who many believed to be a weed for many years of his life, but Faulkner flourished in spite of what those around him thought. William Faulkner bloomed where he was planted, and he did more than endure. He prevailed:
“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 help a 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.”
©Jacki Kellum May 18, 2016