Epidermis v. Bark

I came across this passage while reading an essay by Joseph Brodsky on the American poet Robert Frost:

There is a difference between the way a European perceives nature and the way an American does. Addressing this difference, W.H. Auden, in his short essay on Frost (perhaps the best thing on the poet) suggests something to the effect that when a European conceives of nature, he walks out of his cottage or a little inn, filled with either friends or family, and goes for an evening stroll. If he encounters a tree, it’s a tree made familiar by history, to which it’s been a witness. This or that kind sat underneath it, laying down this or that law–something of that sort. A tree stands there rustling, as it were, with allusions. Pleased and somewhat pensive, our man, refreshed but unchanged by that encounter, returns to his inn or cottage, finds his friends or family absolutely inteact, and proceeds to have a good, merry time. Whereas when an American walks out of his house and encounters a tree it is a meeting of equals. Man and tree face each other in their respective primal power, free of references: neither has a past, and as to whose future is greater, it is a toss-up. Basically, it’s epidermis meeting bark. Our man returns to his cabin in a state of bewilderment, to say the least, if not in actual shock or terror.

[Joseph Brodsky, ‘On Grief and Reason’, in On Grief and Reason: Essays, pp. 225-26, New York 1995]

One thought on “Epidermis v. Bark

  1. The funny thing about my Tribus (Student of Glosophopaphrology) is that it started as a joke between a coworker and myself. I have no idea where the testicle nazi thing came from.

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