Saturday, August 6, 2011

Evocative Writing


While I'm loathe to bump my favourite history professor off the front page of my blog, I think he's being relaced by something of similar interest - although of an entirely different genre.

Excerpt from Emma Tennant’s The Bad Sister (in Travesties, Faber and Faber, London, 1995), page 95–7.

I was in a forest, which was dappled with light and shade, so much so that the proportions of darkness and light seemed exactly right: small clouds raced over the portions of the sky that were visible, exactly corresponding with the delicious patches of shade on the ground under the trees; pale gold and green grass was as light as wheat in the sunlight, and cushions and banks of moss as deep green as if they had been saturated with water from an underground spring. Birds were flying about in the forest. They were black and bright blue and their song was harsh. Where they flew the forest changed, into a blue metal forest, without the light and the shade. In those parts of the forest where they flew I could see wolves, and sometimes movement like a figure in the trees. In that part of the forest the trees were as straight as metal, and without shadow. The wolves never stopped pacing, under a sun unfiltered by leaves.

Where I was, however, seemed to me the most beautiful place I had ever seen The black and blue birds never flew into the part of the forest where I was standing – they stopped short, always, on the other side of a small round clearing, a kind of fairy ring, some distance away. There was a stream a few feet in front of me, and it too was dappled evenly, like tortoiseshell. White flowers – Solomon’s Seal and Star of Bethlehem – grew under the light, graceful trees, which had bark spotted and light as a leopard’s back.

I sat down by the stream and picked some of the white, bloodless flowers. I felt balanced, contained by the shade as if this place, this forest, was the most perfect combination of the world’s beauties, at the same time bright and obscure, warm and cold, concrete and hallucinatory, like the forest on the other side of the clearing, the hard minerals at the core of the world, and the hunger and evil walking the streets. The word was all around me in its unchangeable balance. I looked down at my body, and saw how the chameleon dappling moved to accommodate the white flowers I held against my dress, and the dark shadow made by my head tilting down. The light and shade flowed endlessly, like film, the essence of illusion positive and negative light.

When I looked up again I looked directly and the clearing. There was something there. The sun and the leaves had become agitated in their patterns on the ground. The symmetry of the carpet was disturbed. And the walls of the clearing, the silver birches tainted with gold, knobbles protruding on the bark like bruises on the moving, swaying trunks, seemed to have closed ranks behind the clearing, to be shutting out the hard forest beyond. I rose and walked slowly to towards the clearing.

The figure in the middle of the ring was hard to see, for the light and the goldness and the darkness played over him continually. He seemed to be wearing a coat made of shadow and light, of reflected leaves and pinstripe of bark, a patchwork of sylvan colours. His head, blindingly clear at one moment in the flashes from the sun, would vanish, and the change again. He was tall, but only as tall as the bolt of the sun that fell over him - when the leaves overhead rustled and changed he disintegrated into an autumnal chaos before reassembling in the mossy ring.

I walked up to the edge of the circle. A thin haze of light like a mesh wall kept me from going any further. I saw him as he stood before me, as he melted into striped and filmy air and came back into split second focus. He was extraordinarily like me. I felt that sense of recognition and disbelief which jars at the sight of an unexpected mirror: the thing before you that is too familiar and too strange. But I knew him. I reached out my hand, and the light and shadow fell evenly on my arm making gold bars on the dusky, dim skin. He smiled: I saw him clearly then. But before I could speak a wind that soughed like an evening wind came down over the trees around us. The branches were tossed as if a hand had come up from below and squeezed them into a broom to scour the sky. They sighed and rattled, and as they divided, the evenness of the light and shadow was gone, and he disappeared. He might have flown up one of the shafts of white air in the parted trees. Or he might have gone into the ground like a fox. The light in the ring was flat and tired – round a tree stump there was a slight enhancement from the dying goldness of the day, and a sense of shadow on the moss. I went to sit there, I was disconsolate.

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