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Holy the Firm

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  4,271 ratings  ·  430 reviews
In 1975 Annie Dillard took up residence on an island in Puget Sound in a wooded room furnished with "one enormous window, one cat, one spider and one person." For the next two years she asked herself questions about time, reality, sacrifice death, and the will of God. In Holy the Firm she writes about a moth consumed in a candle flame, about a seven-year-old girl burned in ...more
Paperback, 76 pages
Published December 30th 1998 by Harper Perennial (first published 1977)
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May 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nature Worship

Holy the Firm is a metaphysical prose poem that doesn’t do what metaphysical poetry is usually meant to do, namely to suggest that which is beyond language. Religion is metaphysics ‘with intent.’ And Dillard certainly has intent. She wants us to be aware of her religion, which is neatly contained in her language.

Dillard’s book, like much of her other writing, is religious but with a difference. Religious poetry typically goes further than a statement of an abstract ‘beyondness’ by
Dec 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
     Annie Dillard's Holy the Firm is a classic.  By that, I mean a lot of things.  This slender volume--only seventy-six pages!--includes her famous moth essay, which I was required to read in my second year of college, and which I required my students to read in their first.  It's a good essay.  Apart from being an instrument of learning (or torture, depending on the student you're talking to), Holy the Firm is classic for another reason: it deals with the classic (or universal) question of su ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
Three days in the life of Annie Dillard.

Day One, November 18, "Newborn and Salted." She wakes up in a god ("every day is a god"), alone in her small dwelling in Puget Sound, Washington State, nature all around her. She has a cat named Small and a spider in her bathroom. She reads often. She writes what she sees: the moths dying into her burning candles, her cat, the spider in her bathroom and its kills, the land, the trees, the mountains, islands and the sea. She muses about time ("eternity's pa
Daniel Chaikin
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
12. Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard
published: 1977
format: 72 page hardcover, large print edition
acquired: inherited from my neighbor upon his move
read: Feb 26
rating: 4

Read this in a sitting. It's an experience, but one I find very difficult to explain without showing by quoting a lot.

The first part is a self-absorbed praise of every tiny detail of life. She opens "Every day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time." She goes through an intense bending of language and reality
Sep 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I still love this book as much as I did first time around. Beautifully written with much to ponder! Best nature spiritual book ever!
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
I’m a big fan of any book that makes references to Julian of Norwich
This slim volume electrified and astounded me with its depth and poetry. Dillard writes of her time spent in a one-room shack on an island in Puget Sound in northeast Washington with "one enormous window, one cat, one spider, and one person". With marvelous metaphors and surprising turns of phrase, this prose poem explores the eternal in the particular and vice versa, reaching for a solution for the paradoxes evident in the most common perspectives of our place in the universe. The view of God a ...more
Rachel Bash
Mar 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in a literary theory class as a sophomore in college, and it shook the very foundations of my thought. I know this sounds (and is) vague, but this is a book about EVERYTHING, written with poetic economy, concrete images, and, I imagine, some kind of grace. Dillard reflects on what it means to be an artist (it's being a nun, being a moth on fire, being a little girl burned, being a tired, burnt out writer), and in the process takes on time, mortality, and fury at the spitefulness ...more
Mar 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. Annie Dillard at her mesmerizing, rambling, inscrutable best. The theme of this book (and from what I've heard, she's claimed only one reviewer from Harvard has managed to figure it out) is less concrete than Pilgrim or An American Childhood, so it might be a frustrating read for those of us that require point to a book. (Personally, I'm not one of them. I'll happily float along, immersed in her amazing words and phrases ...more
Lou Last
May 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non

Pieces of the sky are falling down. Everything, everything, is whole, and a parcel of everything else. I myself am falling down, slowly, or slowly lifting up.

Stephen C.
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bleh
Abeit above my radar, i know this is very very good, just not my cup of tea.
Feb 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays
Just yesterday someone told me that Annie Dillard has said this is one of her least favorite books. Regardless, her self-standards are exceptionally high, and amongst our choices, her "worst" works must still be some of the most profound in thought and most unique in their creativeness.

I haven't read much Dillard, but each time I do, I am astounded by her attention to detail and by her ability to create shockingly clear images with words. Indeed, her gift for using words is beyond explanation.
Jan 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
When I first read this book my heart had been deeply stirred by a compelling desire to experience God in his wild, untamed attributes, knowing that the experience would be terrifying and purifying. It was then that my deep desire was birthed to spend at least one year in the Pacific Northwest where I would experience the gray, windy, blustery, wet winter that only the Pacific Northwest knows. I knew it would be at once terrible and transformationally beautiful. Well, I got my wish when I moved u ...more
J. Alfred
Dec 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Confusing as you can believe, heartbreaking, and absolutely gorgeous. This book deals more honestly with the problem of God and pain than anything else I've ever read except Job.
The majority of the book is about a young girl whose face is badly burnt in a freak accident. From what I understand, it is based on a real event, but Dillard names her child Julie Norwich; her mother's name is Anne. Thus the child is Julie of Anne Norwich. This is interesting in that there was a fourteenth century myst
Matthew Mousseau
"Nothing is going to happen in this book. There is only a little violence here and there in the language, at the corner where eternity clips time."
- pg. 20

"Esoteric Christianity, I read, posits a substance. It is a created substance, lower than metals and minerals on a 'spiritual dcale,' and lower than salts and earths, occurring beneath salts and earths in the waxy deepness of planets, but never on the surface of planets where men could discern it; and it is in touch with the Absolute, at base.
Oct 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a glorious non-fiction book. Dillard takes the quotidian and turns it into poetry. Her description of fealty is a sublime mix of joy and terror. Her descriptions are so lovely the reader often forgets she is writing about pain, or agony, or death. This book is not religious but is overflowing with faith. Do yourself a favor and check it out!
Jan 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
In my top ten all-time favorites. Dillard's prose is haunting. Moths have never seemed the same since. ...more
Dec 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is heady, abstract, concrete, brilliant, and beautiful. At times I feel the essayist has meandered away from her readers, but I am happy trying to follow.
Sep 25, 2016 rated it liked it
Love her writing, but not the Christian god aspect of this one.
Christian Engler
Sep 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard certainly can not be accused for excess verbiage. Her little book, consisting of less than eighty pages, is a thoughtful and sometimes intense investigation into the soul. One can almost imagine her staring deeply at a flowing river or a particular kind of tree and genuinely seeing Divinity in and around it, authentically feeling it and being transportated to the nether reaches of the unexplained. Yet, it is a good place or moment where nothing can touch you or hu ...more
Nick Swarbrick
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature, reflective
I think Holy the Firm is one of the hardest reads I’ve done for a long time. It wasn’t enjoyable-but the insights were often joyful; it wasn’t technically complex writing - but the ways ideas of landscape and beauty and the Divine fold in on themselves are astonishing. If the first essay, which sets the tone, is shocking (beautiful and engaged but somehow dispassionate as Dillard watches a moth burn in a candle flame), the second draws the reader more deeply into the mysteries she Is exploring. ...more
Kevin Spicer
Jul 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"The question is, then, whether God touches anything. Is anything firm, or is time on the loose?"

Spirituality is always at the tip of our tongue. We know, or have remembered, that it requires engagement with the elements, embodiment in living. We want to find springs and lap water into buckets, see it spilling into light, we want to build fires and feel the darkness at our backs. But the world is in endless motion, our lives refuse stillness. And after all this, what do we make of violence? If w
J Douglas
May 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the top five books that have shaped my life. The person who gave it to me told me to read it twice. That was amazing advice. The first read was beautiful. It was obviously packed with symbolism I wasn't quite apprehending and it was jammed to the gills with gorgeous florid language and vibrant imagery. And by 'jammed to the gills' I mean that by the time you are a few pages in you can not help but see how she has already begun to knit words together so that everything references a ...more
Aug 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Yesterday I felt like going to the Arboretum and reading some Annie Dillard, so I chose this book and a lovely maple to sit by and enjoyed both very much. I won't explain here what this book is about, because finding out what it is about was part of what made this short book so enjoyable. Dillard wrote this book while she was living in Puget Sound and, like in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, writes a clever mixture of reflections on nature, God, and various fascinating facts that she has read about the ...more
Jan 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
I read this much too fast and will read it again soon.

I feel like Dillard's work, and this book in particular, is to writing what impressionism is to painting. I don't always get it, but I love it. I wish I could write like her.

She lost me at points, but blew me away at others. Not a long enough book to get bogged down in either. Must be I am trying to sell my favorite authors tonight, but I feel like this one would be a decent taste of Dillard for those who can't quite get into her otherwise: s
Feb 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
In brief, this book is one case where I'd urge readers of this review to go find more interesting reviews of it to read, I imagine this one has spawned passionate comments from thousands of readers and writers. The beginning two sentences read like a revelation:

"Every day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time. I worship each god, I praise each day splintered down and wrapped in time like a husk, a husk of many colors spreading, at dawn fast over the mountains split."

I w
May 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Inspired reading for my upcoming trip to the Oregon coast. Written during Dillard's stay on an island in Puget Sound, this short collection covers familiar territory: faith, nature, mystery. But also anger, injustice, and our collective obsession with The West.

"When I first came here I faced east and watched the mountains...since they are, incredibly, east, I must be no place at all. But the sun rose over the snowfields and woke me where I lay, and I rose and cast a shadow over someplace, and t
Sep 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: tbr-challenge
I am not religious, but I think people who are must find a great deal of comfort in this book. Dillard rages and then raves about god - his beauty and creations, his pain and his suffering - and most of all, asks why. I can only imagine that the religious, experiencing a loss, would find peace in the many feelings one has about religion and faith during pain and misery.

I already know the world is a fucked-up place with no good reasons to answer the why.

That said, and ignoring my slight confusi
Catherine Blass
Nov 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
A friend of mine loaned me this little book, saying that it is her favorite book in the world and that she's read it many times. I was a bit skeptical, but took it anyway because I respect her taste in many things, but especially literature.

Dillard's writing is absolutely breathtaking--I can think of no other word for it. She addresses some of the most painful human questions in the most beautiful way. After I return this book to my friend, I plan to buy my own copy, give it to friends, and read
May 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I'm happy reading Annie Dillard just for the words most of the time, but this book asks difficult questions about pain and about the presence of God in the world. It's probably her least focused book (other than Pilgrim At Tinker Creek), not surprising since it's only her second, but it got down inside me somehow and I haven't been the same since. ...more
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Annie Dillard (born April 30, 1945) is an American author, best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction. She has published works of poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir. Her 1974 work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Dillard taught for 21 years in the English department of Wesleyan Unive ...more

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“We sleep to time's hurdy-gurdy; we wake, if ever we wake, to the silence of God. And then, when we wake to the deep shores of time uncreated, then when the dazzling dark breaks over the far slopes of time, then it's time to toss things, like our reason, and our will; then it's time to break our necks for home.
There are no events but thoughts and the heart's hard turning, the heart's slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times.”
“There are no events but thoughts and the heart's hard turning, the heart's slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times.” 44 likes
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