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October 29, 1938 - Image 3

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1938-10-29

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Page Three

THOMAS WOLFE ... by Elliott Maraniss

ican University students to say that
with the death of Thomas Wolfe
a literary career of startling
brilliance and peculiar value was cut
short, that American literature has
lost one of its most notable figures.
For us there is a particular poignancy
in the news of his death. Thomas
Wolfe's "legend of man's hunger in his
youth" is the legend of our own hunger,
the epic of the struggle of youth to de-
velop its potential powers of creation in
spite of the forces that seek to frustrate
it. In him our strivings and desires
were elevated into intoxicating song,
our visions and consciousness endowed
with powerful emotional content. He
stood for us, spoke for us; and his loss
is a shadow that lengthens.
The artist today who speaks to and
for the modern man must touch the"
high and difficult problems of his ex-
perience. He must evolve a concept of
esthetics which is directed completely
toward life, for no more than the man
in the street can he escape the realis-
tic urgencies and consequences of liv-
ing. In America the most living pul-
sating force has been the persistent
urge toward democracy. Democratic in-
dividuals, free, self-determining hu-
mans as opposed to men who have
never dared to live their passions out,
who cling unrelentingly to the vanish-
ing but still powerful certainties of aris-
tocracy, classicism and fundamentalism
-that in essence has been the dynamo
of American social relationships,
Social facts engender cultural facas:
the men who .have sung the hymns of
the democratic quest have been the only
heroic figures in our literature. The
great American writers have been those

who have expressed their belief in the
potential power of the average man to
create and achieve a human vision of
the universe.
It is in this respect that the death
of Thomas Wolfe contains so personal
a significance for the youth of then
country. He was the bard of our demo-
cratic aspirations. Through him our
values, our yearnings and our attempts
at comprehension were embodied in im-
perishable words. America's first Gar-
gantua since Whitman, he stalked
through the land like a modern Quixote,
searching for manifestations of- the
democratic spirit, and when he found
them he raised his voice in loud and
long songs so that we who also searched
could rejoice with him. The hymns to
America and October in "Of Time and
the River" and those to Brooklyn and
Fifth Avenue in "From Death To Morn-
ing" come close to the finest writing
in the American language. Deeply con-
scious of the vastness of America, he

was in turn disturbed and exalted by it.
He used the materials of a particular
section but so vast were his aspirations.
so universal his nostalgic yearnings, so
profound his feeling for the essential
spirit of the country, that he managed
to surpass mere regionalism. The South
emerged from his pen both as genteel
as the proponents of Southern aristoc-
racy would suggest, and as superficial
and sordid as opponents of the old
agrarian order would estimate; he
penetrated deeply into the mass of im-
pressions and appearances and had ap-
parently arrived at an understanding
of the inner meaning of events.
Wolfe died almost at the very mom-
ent that he gave promise to lead an-
other American literary re-birth. He
was ready to sound the keynote of the
generation. His desperate seeking for
a new way of freeing his own expansive
soul from the bondage of reality finally
led him to an appreciation of the pri-
mary necessity of forging the chaos of

reality into unitary form. Before he
could put into practice his newly-ac-
quired awareness of the basic patterns
and meanings of human relationships,
before he could, because of his rare
sensibilities and the remarkable fusion
in him of spirituality and consciousness,
elevate the social principles of the dem-
ocratic way of life and infuse it with
an emotional content that would link
it with humanity, reality and the heart
of man, he died; and his death is all
the more tragic because of the necessity,
of someone else performing the task he
had set for himself.
Had Thomas Wolfe written and com-
pleted his saga of the search of the
American man for the timeless values
of democracy he would probably have
become one of our immortals, in "the
same sense that Whitman is immortal.
As things stand now there is only one
way in which his work and his memory
can live: we hungry youths must con-
tinue the search. We must formulate,
as Wolfe did not have time to formu-
late, specific and human ideals for
which to strive. Our most prolific and
far-reaching voice is gone, but if his
passion for understanding, his feeling
for the democratic community of peo-
ple, his propensity for development and
growth, are all made part of our gen-
eral native heritage, the world will have
gained another eternal symbol of the
aspirations of humanity. If, in the
years that elapse there is a rekindling
of the passionate fires that burned in
him, if we can take the jumbled objects
of American civilization and convert
them into nutriment for .the spirit, the
figure of Thomas Wolfe will grow to
ever-greater stature.

THOMAS WOLFE, 1900 - 1938
Mould'ring on the Carolina hill, this leaf fell green.
From this ground the leaf took life, from these roots of
unpliant oak, the savor of the earth.
The wind spoke especially to this leaf and it to the wind.-
And even for its promise of a golden autumn, the wind
claimed it, swept it to the ground, whence other leaves
will take their strength, grow green to gold, from dust
it left behind.

Chiang Kai-shek is looming singular
Above the plural death
And strongly speaking to weakness,
Moving through the myriad misery,
Making the weak be strong,
The fearful brave.
Across the ocean we have not the crash
Of shrapnel-hounded planes,
The lonely wail of voices
Screaming at life for the last time.
The shudder of the temple falling prone,
The howizter blown
From a final hill, ,
The hunger seeping through the trench
And noble death become a vulgar stench.
We are safe, and do not shudder to the
drone of a plane.
We are far away, but we feel China
Her sentence on the chart of time,
Chiang Kai-shek the active verb,
And his people as the subject.
We are far away, but we feel. China
The leader with a sane. humility
Firmly speaking, moving, watching
And nodding at his people's; new no-

There was a man who had a little
Which he desired to show to other
But, loath to send it naked from his
He set about to clothe it. "Now I ought"
He told himself, "to make a garment
Darkly and intricately, so that
It's found, my Thought will have
the force of ten.
We hold things dearer which are harder
The cloak at last was finished; it was
And flowing, flaring, pleated up
with words,
Broidered with symbols, sibilants
and surds.
He dropped it on the small Idea's back.
The noble fabric stood up, stiff and
fine . .
No head appeared above the collar-

-By Harold Podolsiky

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