McNair to Hall: September 3, 1977


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September 3, 1977

Dear Don –

Rereading your poem Stone Walls in Chile late at night
makes me appreciate it more than I ever have before –
the distance has given it more edge, perhaps. I like
so much the way you convey that attraction to the past,
how the narrator recalls first the old faces, then the
landscape of the Kearsarge arch itself, juxtaposing that
memory/dream of the past with the dreams he had then
of the future, and finally bringing past and present
together in that wonderfully joyful and yet sad sound
Section 4, in which he recalls the “fall” of his
youth as he lives the “fall” of his manhood. (Section 4
is, well, masterful, esp. the way it expresses
that essential “connection” between the n’s past
and present through the landscape.)

(New pen) Perhaps it is because I identify
with the n’s attraction to the past, and with his
attempt to correct that past (its people, its


landscape, its heretofore unreclaimed self), that I do not so much like
Section 7, which seems to me to take the poem beyond its proper
concerns oops bounds. I think I know what you are trying to do
in that section, but it feels public – histrionic – and seems
to me to violate the personal and more strictly autobiographical
movement of the poem.

The poem is, to my mind, an awfully good one, presenting
a speaker who revives his ancestors and his region from
the death of the past, and through that experience awakens
fully alive in the present, where he sees himself moving
toward another death, “through the woods…to the village” of his
own “nightfall”. Yet there is finally no sadness about his
awakening because the cycle of his life, which he dreams
returning to the place of “stone walls”, as “connected”
with the cycles of other lives, and with the larger – much
larger – cycle of the region itself. (Yes, I do understand
that Section 7 contributes to the readers sense of what
I’ve just called the “larger cycle of the region”, but I
still wonder about it…)

All of the above is, of course, offered in a take–it–

Chile is hard to describe at this point since we


haven’t been here long enough to assimilate it. I
have yet to meet with the “literary club” of the
North America Institute here, and have only just met a man who
will soon introduce me to poets, including Nicanor Parra,
who is, by the way, alive and well. My teaching assignment goes
swimmingly: graduate students here are bright and very
committed to American Studies. My campus is beautiful –
medieval/monastic architecture, several green, flowering

We assumed there would be a DINA (secret police)
officer on every corner of the Santiago streets, but not so –
In fact, the word here and in Washington is that DINA has
been disbanded. We read in the Santiago press that
Carter and Pinochet (you wondered about the pronunciation
of that name – it’s French, though the Spanish pronounce
it PEÉ NOH CHAYT) have been conferring in
Washington – Pinochet having been invited to the
White House to discuss with others the terms of
the Panama Canal treaty. Do you read the same?
I have been asked to do a series of lectures
(4) at the Cath. U. of Valparaiso, so will soon
see more of the academic network here – In November,


will be lecturing at the U. of Conception.

Maybe these and other activities will tell me more about
social/ political realities here – about such things, my understanding is
limited. Everywhere there are evidences of the Allende period,
just passed ended: the boards over the windows of the executive
mansion, which was bombed by the military; the slogans
that show through the whitewash on city buildings – and the
conversations among the professors of the Catolica (most
of whom are pro-Junta) about the “Communist experiment”
that failed. But much more remains to be seen and learned.

So, more later. In envy you your up-coming
season in NH; would love to be with you, kicking
the leaves, or whatever. Oh well, at least we will not
have a fuel bill here. We think about you both and
would love to hear from you. Til then (as you once
said to me) “Keep writin’ those poems”!

Warmest thoughts & regards,


A note from McNair about this letter: I wrote this letter about the “not-so-monstrous” military junta in Chile before I witnessed a small group of demonstrators in downtown Santiago, their leader holding a script that shook in his hand as he read from it, determined yet clearly frightened. The military police quickly turned up with their sirens, forced the demonstrators into two vans, and streaked away.