Paul West’s essay ‘My Newfoundland’

Here is an excerpt of an essay by Paul West who wrote many novels and poetry . This was published in the American Scholar magazine . You can find the full essay there . I had a professor in English 100 at Memorial University whose name was Paul West . I wonder if this author was my professor?

‘My first teaching job carried me straight from the RAF and England to St. John’s, Newfoundland, when I was but 27. I still find my first impressions to be the overpowering ones: of fog or knocking sea. The town seemed nothing like the Oldest City in North America. It clutched and clung to the rocks like snails—perhaps the mist might have dissolved it or the sea gnawed it down. From the air it looked precarious; from the sea, as I sneaked in through the Narrows, as sheer a pair of nautical jaws as one could wish for a landfall, the effect was altogether different: still the shantytown with much rust and much gesticulating new paint, but also the settled center of a kind of commerce, silver oil tanks glittering in whatever sun there was. The harbor had the slack gape of a transatlantic Cardiff or Merseyside in miniature.

I was fortunate in my arrival because the rain was pouring. From the first I could catch a sight of the genius of the island, this place that has icebergs in June. It all looked Finnish, perfunctory, and sparse. Miles and miles of timber hemmed in smallish areas of shaggy rock. Settlements seemed few, roads fewer. After a swift ride through streets of sad houses, all wooden and flimsy, I was dropped off at Circular Road, where lodgings had been arranged for me. I did not know it, but I was on the threshold of a revelation—a symbol was to be vouchsafed for me.’


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