“Hopefulness must spring, he decided, from literature and the profession of poetry. Authors only write. So, to be fair about it, they have an obligation to profess hopefulness, in return for their write to live and write. The poet must know the magical effect of certain words: hay, grass, meadows, willows, rivers, firs, mountains, hills. People have suffered so long inside the walls that they have forgotten to be free Giono thought. Human beings were not created to live forever in subways and tenements, for their feet long to stride through tall grass, or slide through running water. The poet’s mission is to remind us of beauty, of trees swaying in the breeze or pines groaning under snow in the mountain passes, of wild white horses galloping across the surf.
“You know, Giono said to me, there are also times in life when a person has to rush off in pursuit of hopefulness.”
Norma Goodrich, writing about Jean Giono, author of The Man Who Planted Trees
Has this ever happened to you: As you are working on a writing project, you find that inspiring books and other resources seem to find their way into your hands as if sent from the universe? That’s exactly how I felt when I magically came across a lovely short fable beautifully illustrated with woodcuts called The Man who Planted Trees by a French writer named Jean Giono. It is a lovely tale of an old shepherd in France much like Johnny Appleseed.
This moving fable seems to have touched a chord in people around the world. It’s surely inspiring me as I pen my children’s novel. And it’s also introduced me to a wonderful writer whose work I want to explore. Beyond this, I was struck by the words of Norma Goodrich in her Afterword to a celebratory “Twentieth Anniversary Edition” about the role of the author:
“Knowing the magical effect of certain words.”
“Reminding us of beauty.”
What more uplifting missions can we have as writers? In a world where we are often at odds with nature and disconnected from it, through his simple, yet powerful fable, Jean Giono seems to have accomplished all this and more.
To inspire hopefulness, honor the magic of words, and remind our readers of beauty – what more fruitful wellsprings can our work have? Whatever writing project, in some form, we are working on, we can take these as aspirational touchstones. Write on!