Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Past Is Present

"the biding and dreamy and victorious dust"

We pulled the Tundra over today by a deserted beer warehouse outside Bozeman because a little dog was crying in her kennel in the back seat. We had a nice walk in a weedy patch by the parking lot and gave her a drink of water. I noticed this then because of the white regular structure of the rib bones. By the shape, I thought at once, rabbit! It is beautiful, I think.

One of the things I was going to do in my retirement was to read more of our great American writer, William Faulkner. So I thought I had better get started. I chose Absalom, Absalom, since it is one of the highly regarded ones that I had not read. And then I forgot I had it on my Kindle. So here I am in this motel, the last night out in the early evening, dogs asleep on the bed, I start to read . . .  page 1, the setting is in a venerable house. I flipped to the second Kindle page. Faulkner has jumped right in, as they say "in medias res" not bothering with paragraphs, either. This is the passage I want to share tonight:

"There was a wistaria vine blooming for the second time that summer on a wooden trellis before one window, into which sparrows came now and then in random gusts, making a dry vivid dusty sound before going away: and opposite Quentin, Miss Coldfield in the eternal black which she had worn for forty-three years now, whether for sister, father or nonhusband none knew, sitting so bolt upright in the straight hard chair that was so tall for her that her legs hung straight and rigid as if she had iron shinbones and ankles, clear of the floor with that air of impotent and static rage like children's feet, and talking in that grim haggard amazed voice until at last listening would renege and hearing-sense self-confound and the long-dead object of her impotent yet indomitable frustration would appear, as though by outraged recapitulation evoked, quiet inattentive and harmless. out of the biding and dreamy and victorious dust."

(from the beginning of William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom)

The version I have does spell wisteria like that. And so shall I, when I copy it. What I want you to remember is that the next time someone tells you: it is a mistake to use too many adjectives, or that you must always use commas in a certain way, or please make this paragraph into three paragraphs, each with a topic sentence (or some such) that this might not necessarily hold in all cases.

By the time the sparrows made a "dry vivid dusty sound" I was already captivated by this passage and, in a moment, read it aloud to S. That's three modifiers, no commas and absolute perfection. I will leave you to find all the other specific and word-rich places for yourselves. This is great, great writing. And now, goodnight.
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