For more than three decades, Wayne Fields has been an academic, a professor of English at Washington University. He does not write academic prose, not even in his most footnoted work. Immune to cant and jargon, Fields writes nimble, lyrical sentences, no less philosophical or provocative for being lucid and musical. Images, drawn from nature but far more than natural, glide through his prose and tell their own stories: "Wheat, at once water and fire, rippled before a west wind, but the trees, already in leaf this far south, did not move and stood a dark host on the distant hills." His book-length work, including an autobiographical meditation (What the River Knows
), a collection of short fiction (The Past Leads a Life of Its Own
) and a scholarly treatise on presidential rhetoric (Union of Words
) share what Yeats called "a lonely impulse of delight": a visceral pleasure in the power of language and ideas -- to make readers see, question and deeply consider what it means to be alive.