My Heart Leaps Up is one of the oddest of Lafferty’s books. It is a strongly autobiographical book, part of a greater whole of which only one other, partial element has ever been released. It is referred to as being part of a tetraology, the overall title of which was “In a Green Tree”, but that tetraology was intended to be a quintology, of which the fifth book was almost certainly never written, nor even named.
The details appear, where else?, in the Archipelago check-list. “In a Green Tree” was to consist of My Heart Leaps Up 1920-1928, Grasshoppers and Wild Honey 1928-1942, Deep Scars of the Thunder 1942-1960 and Incidents of Travel in Flatland 1960-1978. There was a note to add that, ‘For technical reasons, the unnamed fifth novel of this series, running from 1978-1990, cannot be written yet.’
My Heart Leaps Up was never published as a book but rather as a series of five chapbooks, each containing two chapters, appearing from 1986-90. Later, a larger size chapbook appeared of Grasshoppers and Wild Honey chapters 1 and 2, but nothing else.
Without the remainder of the tetraology, My Heart Leaps Up is forever only a partial story, and that is perhaps the biggest tragedy of all of Raphael Aloysius Lafferty’s career. He described “In a Green Tree” as ‘…not my own autobiography; it is more a biography of a group (my contemporaries, of course) and a neighbourhood I have lived in since 1920, which is the framework I chose to hang an epic-length historical-recent novel on.’
My Heart Leaps Up covers some of the school years of Lafferty’s panoply of children a class of 54 boys and girls, from beginning at Crucifixion School in the first grade, to graduation from the eighth grade. These precocious children go from age five to thirteen, a confident, energetic generation. Lafferty is often, and rightly, accused of not creating characters but rather viewpoints or standpoints, yet here it is clear that each of these children and complete and real and different.
Many times the story, if story there be, stops for roll calls, as Sister Mary Catherine calls the names and the children answer with sayings and verses, many of them deeply religious, more so than you might imagine from such a group, yet these moments neither weary nor repeat. Nor do the names flash by you as sometimes they do. This time, the names are real and not Lafferty’s exaggerated nomenclature, and behind each name you sense the beating of a real breath. Lafferty knows each and everyone of these and without hinting at those who have not survived alongside him, plainly misses each one who is not there.
There isn’t a story any more than any class of children growing up in those years of their lives form a story. There are geniuses in different ways, and there is much love and kissing between the children, and deep belief. And an equal amount of tall-tale-telling, of things that couldn’t have been in any strictly ordered world but which Lafferty, with loving skill, decorates his friends lives, and who’s to say that things were not that way back then?
One chapter is of a reverse honeymoon, where the happy couple remain at home but send the children and friends to Europe, to Ireland and England and France and more places, and much of that chapter is a travelogue, but a happy, expansive travelogue, of places and people, that makes you wish you could have been there, then and among them.
My Heart Leaps Up is naturally Lafferty’s most personal and affecting book. More even than the remaining two books of the Coscuin Chronicles, should the unpublished Lafferty ever be published and I be around to welcome it, I would more wish to read what else there is of “In a Green Tree”, and the later lives of these children.
And though it isn’t part of this book, for my re-read here I finished on Grasshoppers and Wild Honey Chapters 1 and 2, and these are also wonderfully full and improbable, and likely to be the last I will read of these characters whose lives I want to know and share. Being a fan of R.A. Lafferty has been a wonderful thing and a privilege, and if there are, as one other once said, maybe only three hundred or so of us, and many of them writers themselves, then we have been the fortunate ones but when it means that ‘In a Green Tree’ will not be read by the millions it deserves to reach and not even the three hundred of us it can be a peculiarly unhappy fortune.
Incidentally, the title would appear to come from the ‘blessed sheep of the Lake District, William Wordsworth, a short poem of the same name:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
It all fits. And the child is father to the man. Maybe we can discover the men (and women) these children were father and mother to.
And then there was one.