Henry Beston on the Ends of the Earth

RJO’s Reviews on Amazon.com

These brief book reviews have been posted to Amazon.com, and they may be viewed there in their original form either collectively (on my public reviews page) or individually (by following the link at each title below).

An American Classic

The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod
Henry Beston
Henry Holt, 1992 (reprint edition)

The Outermost House is a classic, not just of natural history literature, but of American literature. If you love the outdoors, or the sea, or prose that flows like poetry, you should keep this small book always nearby. The harried introvert will especially appreciate it: reading even a page or two will transport you to a quiet place where the wind through the dune grass is the only sound that strikes your ear.

In addition to being a great writer, Beston is an acute observer biological phenomena, and not a bad theorist either. His discourse on the relationship other animals bear to us (“They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations …”) does more to unlink the Great Chain of Being than any philosophical essay. And Beston’s influence has been wide-ranging, not only among natural history writers, but among writers in general: unless I am mistaken, The Outermost House is one of the sources for the “Dry Salvages” section of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. (If no one else has noticed that before, I want coauthorship on the paper!)

Some books are so memorable that parts of them become internalized on first reading. The first time I read The Outermost House, its final sentence—as graceful an example of polysyndeton as you will find in English—became mine. Now, I pass it on to you: “For the gifts of life are the earth’s, and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and dawn seen over ocean from the beach.”

© RJO 1995–2022