Annie Dillard as an Infant Puppy

Will Goodman '05, English 171, Sages, Satirists, and New Journalists, Brown University, 2005

Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is absolutely a travel piece, even if it never goes farther than Dillard's own backyard. Each day, Dillard goes to the same creek, but she sees and feels the place anew each time, ever exploring, ever discovering, ever surprised and amazed at what she finds. She may as well be traveling to Tahiti, Santiago, Budapest, or any other place whose foreignness and peculiarity awakens the powers of observation. Dillard explains that her enjoyment of the backyard, a place that would probably grow prosaic for most of us, results from her relentless pursuit of innocence.

Innocence sees that this is it, and finds it world enough, and time. Innocence is not the prerogative of infants and puppies, and far less of mountains and fixed stars, which have no prerogatives at all. It is not lost to us; the world is a better place than that. Like any other of the spirit's good gifts, it is there if you want it, free for the asking, as has been stressed by stronger words than mine. It is possible to pursue innocence as hounds pursue hares: singlemindedly, driven by a kind of love, crashing over creeks, keening and lost in fields and forests, circling, vaulting over hedges and hills wide-eyed, giving loud tongue all unawares to the deepest, most incomprehensible longing, a root-flame in the heart, and that warbling chorus resounding back from the mountains, hurling itself from ridge to ridge over the valley, now faint, now clear, ringing the air through which the hounds tear, open-mouthed, the echoes of their own wails dimly knocking in their lungs. [p.83]

"Innocence," Dillard tells us, "is not the prerogative of infants and puppies," and I can't help but imagine her walking out to Tinker Creek on a crisp Spring morning, basking in the sun, and spending blissful hours playing peek-a-boo and chasing her own tail.

Questions for Discussion

How would we characterize Dillard's style in this passage? How does it differ from her other prose styles in the book, especially when she is discussing scientific explanations?

In other sections of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Dillard focuses on the horrors of nature, like with the collapsing frog. How can we reconcile, or how can Dillard reconcile, the innocent wonder at nature's "good gifts," and the constant reminders of destruction and death? How does Dillard switch between each view?

What precisely does Dillard mean by "innocence"? How does her term relate to Ruskin's Modern Painters?

The first line of this passage, which ends "it is world enough, and time," is drawn from Andrew Marvell's poem, "To His Coy Mistress." What effect does Dillard create by channeling other writers and philosophers in her ruminations?

References

Dillard, Annie. A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. New York: Harper's Magazine Press, 1974.


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Last modified 29 April 2005