A Special Piece on Writing

b y   H e n r y   T r e e c e (1966)


If a writer says: ‘A poorly-dressed old man came in and sat, half-blind, at the oak table near the fire. After a time he began to scratch at the table top.’—this is objective writing. But writing subjectively, he might say: ‘He stumbled in from outside, from nowhere, crook-backed as a hawthorn on which dirty scraps of rag fluttered, blown by a long-dead wind. Like a moving tree seeking companionship of other wood, he sat at the oak table. The dry thorns of his fingers travelled across the golden grain, envying its smoothness, its youth—its prosperity, trying to wound it. Withered thorn against young oak. “Take care,” said the fingers, “be you not proud. The little fire that purrs in its iron cage will eat us both in time. Then, of our mingled ashes, who shall say: this was an oak tree, this was a thorn?”‘


I am not trying to say that the second is better than the first—or that either is good: I am pointing out a difference in the two statements. What the first writer says would be observed by all who saw the old man come into the room. What the second writer says has an extra dimension which depends on the writer having recognised a similarity between the old man and a thorn tree. All that follows, after this initial recognition, this simile or parallel, leans towards an almost mythic moral—that we must all die and be equal in death.


This is the vision which grows out of the writer’s perception of the old man. It may not be true for anyone else who sees the old man, but it is valid for the writer: it is a part of the cosmos, the regulated complex of impressions which goes to make his world different from that of the man standing next to him.


Or, to put it another way a number of writers, seeing the old man come in, might each be struck by his similarity to a thorn tree—but havin done that, each would develop this recognition differently, according to his own personal temperament, experience, background: each would create his own myth, his own ultimate vision of the subjective world of which the old man had become a part.




b y   H e n r y   T r e e c e (1966)


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5 thoughts

  1. I love your analysis of this piece. You really develop your own voice in your critique of it, and I love your writing style. I have a literary blog, so I love digging deep into prose. Great writing!

  2. I am sorry to inform you that this was not my analysis. It was a piece I shared that spoke to me. I’m sorry for the misinterpretation of this wonderful message. Humbly yours, Drew

  3. Wow! You’ve explained here very clearly something related to my own personal taste. I’m one of those readers want to know what HAPPENS and I want the opportunity to build my own relationships with the characters. I think another difference is that the reader will expect the story (based on the first example) to be about the old man. In the second example, the reader will expect the story to be about the person looking at the old man — a first person story in which the old man is just a fixture or possibly a character. Capote could switch back and forth brilliantly.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts

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