Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Speak What We Feel: Not What We Ought to Say

Speak What We Feel: Not What We Ought to Say

5.0 2
by Frederick Buechner

See All Formats & Editions

Four Unexpected Prophets Who Shine Light into the Darkness


Four Unexpected Prophets Who Shine Light into the Darkness

Editorial Reviews

Dallas Willard
A hauntingly terrifying and beautiful book about the depths of human existence.
Philip Yancey
I look to Frederick Buechner as a mentor in literature and faith, and this book marvelously combines both.
John Wilson
Hopkins and Twain? Chesterton and Shakespeare? Buechner takes these four writers, never mentioned in the same breath, and shows us a hidden affinity among them, in the process allowing us to see them as we never have before. Speak What We Feel is a book of uncanny insight.
Publishers Weekly
Prolific storyteller, memoirist and poet Buechner (The Son of Laughter; Telling the Truth) offers up a set of four uninspiring meditations on the powerful ways in which literature reveals the depths of human vulnerability as well as humankind's constant search to give meaning to the ambiguities of life. He uses a simplistic and rather vague formula to show that our greatest literature has come from writers who poured their life's blood into their work and unveiled their own shortcomings to us. Buechner then selects particular works of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mark Twain, G.K. Chesterton and William Shakespeare as examples of the artist's attempt to articulate forthrightly his own deep struggles with sadness, lonesomeness, guilt or the absence of God. Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for example, succeeds in staving off the novelist's loneliness and in "piloting a course around both the darkness of the past and the darkness that he knew awaited him not much further downstream." Similarly, the struggle between good and evil central to Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday simply reflects his own struggle with the "black despair" of depression. By mistakenly reading biography as the foundation for the literature, Buechner fails to grapple with the beauties and the difficulties of the works themselves. It is also hard to understand why he narrowed his selections to these four writers when, given his formula, he could just as easily have chosen Dostoyevsky, Emily Dickinson, Dante or Milton. Not one of Buechner's best. (Aug.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Spiritual writer, novelist, and Presbyterian minister Buechner (The Magnificent Defeat) considers four authors and the works that, in his view, each wrote in his own blood about the darkness of life: Gerard Manley Hopkins's late sonnets, Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, and Shakespeare's King Lear. He brings a Christian perspective to these works, suggesting, for example, that Shakespeare's Fool becomes a Fool for Christ's sake, sacrificing himself for his friend. Buechner's work is not one of literary criticism. Instead, he uses these works as sources for a meditation on suffering and the literary process, and he shows how the four writers wrestle, either directly or obliquely, with the meaning of Christianity. In an afterword, he reflects on the role of personal sadness in his own writing and suggests that these works might offer a lesson in how each of us could deal with sadness in our lives. This book will appeal to readers interested in either the purgative value of the literary process or the spiritual side of literature. Augustine J. Curley, Newark Abbey, NJ Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
“Serves to illuminate a path through the ambiguities and complexities of human life.”
Presbyterian Outlook
“[Reverberates] with particular poignancy...speak[s] honestly and eloquently.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
File size:
371 KB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

In 1886 Gerard Manley Hopkins met a young Irish poet named Katharine Tynan while she was sitting for her portrait in the Dublin studio of J.B. Yeats, father of the great W. B. "A simple, bright-looking Biddy with glossy very pretty red hair, a farmer's daughter," is the way he described her in a letter to a friend, and she in turn described him as "small and childish-looking, yet like a child-sage, nervous too and very sensitive, with a small ivory pale face."

It is hard to imagine a more incongruous pair -- the shy, reclusive little Jesuit who had never published a line and the burgeoning young colleen whose work was being touted everywhere -- but they became friends of a sort anyway and saw a fair amount of each other for the two or three years that he had left to live. He sent her some books, they exchanged a few letters, and on at least one occasion, together with a Jesuit colleague who was eccentric and bookish in somewhat the same way he was, Hopkins went even so far as to visit her farmhouse at Clondalkin. As token of the ease of their relationship, somewhere along the line she apparently asked him a question generations of his admirers have been asking themselves ever since. How was it that a man like him with all his interest in art and literature had decided to become of all things a priest? For someone as normally reserved and self-effacing as he was, his answer was startlingly straightforward.

"You wouldn't give only the dull ones to Almighty God," is what he is reported to have told her, and one wonders if perhaps at some other unguarded moment he found it possible totell her with equal candor about what seems to have been the almost unrelieved desolation of those last few years of his life in Dublin, where his decision to be a priest had landed him.

The double-barreled job he had been assigned there was to teach Latin and Greek literature to undergraduates at the newly founded University College, and at the same time to be a fellow of the Royal University of Ireland, which despite its grandiose name was little more than an examining body whose function was simply to grant degrees to successful candidates from a number of nearby colleges and private schools. On the face of it that would have seemed a congenial enough assignment for a man of Hopkins' interests and abilities, but it turned out to be far otherwise.

First of all, the Dublin of his day was the shabby, impoverished relic of what had once been a beautiful city. Its lovely old Georgian mansions had been converted into overcrowded rooming houses; the streets were swarming with tramps, drunks, and begging children. The river Liffey served as the chief public sewer, so that disease was rampant, and the death rate had risen so high that a lot of country people were afraid to come visit. Nor was the college, where Hopkins lived, in much better condition. The building was full of dry rot, sanitary provisions were primitive, and because it stood on very low ground, the basement stank with filth and vermin. Nor, for Hopkins, was all that the worst of it. Thinking that, come winter, he would be in danger of freezing to death, his mother sent him some warm things to wear, and he responded to the gift in a letter he wrote in comic Irish to his favorite sister, Kate. "Be plased tintimate to me mother Im entirely obleeged to her for her genteel offers," he said. "But as titchin warm clothen tis undher a misapprehinsion shes labourin. Sure twas not the incliminsee of the saysons I was complainin of at all at all. 'Twas the povertee of books and such like educational convainiences." What he refers to is that when the college was turned over to the Jesuits, the entire library was removed to the diocesan seminary at Clonliffe, and when they appealed to the bishop to return it, their petition was ignored. For Hopkins the absence of books was worse than rats in the cellar.

His job as a professor was to teach Greek and Latin literature to undergraduates, and by all accounts he was never much good at it, that child-sized, ivory-pale man. His voice was "weak but sweet, rather plaintive," as a friend remembered it, his manner was variously described as graceful or effeminate, and he had a long, narrow face that made his head seem almost too large for his body. In his lectures he tended to go on much too long about the kind of niceties of language and poetic meter that fascinated him as much as they left his students cold, and he also made the fatal mistake of telling them that, as a Royal University fellow, he would himself be the one to make up their examination when the day of reckoning came and for that reason would never lecture on any subject that the examination would cover for fear of giving them an unfair advantage over students from other colleges. That being the case, they not unreasonably concluded, there was no particular point in listening to what he did lecture to them about and instead spent a good deal of class time talking and laughing and generally cutting up. They made fun of his Conservative English views and at one point burst into gales of merriment when, God only knows why, he confessed to them that he had never seen a naked woman. On another occasion a colleague is said to have come upon him on his back letting a student drag him around the table by his heels to demonstrate what happened to Hector at Troy -- another version has it that it was the student who was being dragged by him -- and what they made of that one can only imagine. "I do not..."

Speak What We Feel. Copyright © by Frederick Buechner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Frederick Buechner, author of more than thirty works of fiction and nonfiction, is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He has been a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His most recent work is Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Speak What We Feel: Not What We Ought to Say 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
JFJones More than 1 year ago
An extraordinary tour de force look at four great authors giving the reader insights to be found nowhere else. As much a book of spiritual insight as it is a work of literary criticism. Highly recommended to anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago