“Monday or Tuesday” — Virginia Woolf

“Monday or Tuesday”

by

Virginia Woolf

Lazy and indifferent, shaking space easily from his wings, knowing his way, the heron passes over the church beneath the sky. White and distant, absorbed in itself, endlessly the sky covers and uncovers, moves and remains. A lake? Blot the shores of it out! A mountain? Oh, perfect-the sun gold on its slopes. Down that falls. Ferns then, or white feathers, for ever and ever-

Desiring truth, awaiting it, laboriously distilling a few words, for ever desiring-(a cry starts to the left, another to the right. Wheels strike divergently. Omnibuses conglomerate in conflict)-for ever desiring-(the clock asseverates with twelve distinct strokes that it is midday; light sheds gold scales; children swarm)-for ever desiring truth. Red is the dome; coins hang on the trees; smoke trails from the chimneys; bark, shout, cry “Iron for sale”-and truth?

Radiating to a point men’s feet and women’s feet, black or gold-encrusted-(This foggy weather-Sugar? No, thank you-The commonwealth of the future)-the firelight darting and making the room red, save for the black figures and their bright eyes, while outside a van discharges, Miss Thingummy drinks tea at her desk, and plate-glass preserves fur coats-

Flaunted, leaf-light, drifting at corners, blown across the wheels, silver-splashed, home or not home, gathered, scattered, squandered in separate scales, swept up, down, torn, sunk, assembled-and truth?

Now to recollect by the fireside on the white square of marble. From ivory depths words rising shed their blackness, blossom and penetrate. Fallen the book; in the flame, in the smoke, in the momentary sparks-or now voyaging, the marble square pendant, minarets beneath and the Indian seas, while space rushes blue and stars glint-truth? content with closeness?

Lazy and indifferent the heron returns; the sky veils her stars; then bares them.

“Good Old Neon” — David Foster Wallace

“Good Old Neon”

by

David Foster Wallace

My whole life I’ve been a fraud. I’m not exaggerating. Pretty much all I’ve ever done all the time is try to create a certain impression of me in other people. Mostly to be liked or admired. It’s a little more complicated than that, maybe. But when you come right down to it it’s to be liked, loved. Admired, approved of, applauded, whatever. You get the idea. I did well in school, but deep down the whole thing’s motive wasn’t to learn or improve myself but just to do well, to get good grades and make sports teams and perform well. To have a good transcript or varsity letters to show people. I didn’t enjoy it much because I was always scared I wouldn’t do well enough. The fear made me work really hard, so I’d always do well and end up getting what I wanted. But then, once I got the best grade or made All City or got Angela Mead to let me put my hand on her breast, I wouldn’t feel much of anything except maybe fear that I wouldn’t be able to get it again. The next time or next thing I wanted. I remember being down in the rec room in Angela Mead’s basement on the couch and having her let me get my hand up under her blouse and not even really feeling the soft aliveness or whatever of her breast because all I was doing was thinking, ‘Now I’m the guy that Mead let get to second with her.’ Later that seemed so sad. This was in middle school. She was a very big-hearted, quiet, self-contained, thoughtful girl — she’s a veterinarian now, with her own practice — and I never even really saw her, I couldn’t see anything except who I might be in her eyes, this cheerleader and probably number two or three among the most desirable girls in middle school that year. She was much more than that, she was beyond all that adolescent ranking and popularity crap, but I never really let her be or saw her as more, although I put up a very good front as somebody who could have deep conversations and really wanted to know and understand who she was inside. Continue reading ““Good Old Neon” — David Foster Wallace”

“Proof Positive” — Graham Greene

“Proof Positive”

by

Graham Greene

The tired voice went on. It seemed to surmount enormous obstacles to speech. The man’s sick, Colonel Crashaw thought, with pity and irritation. When a young man he had climbed in the Himalayas, and he remembered bow at great heights several breaths had to be taken for every step advanced. The five-foot-high platform in the Music Rooms of The Spa seemed to entail for the speaker some of the same effort, he should never have come out on such a raw afternoon, thought Colonel Crashaw, pouring out a glass of water and pushing it across the lecturer’s table. The rooms were badly heated, and yellow fingers of winter fog fell for cracks in the many windows. There was little doubt that the speaker had lost all touch with his audience. It was scattered in patches about the hall – elderly ladies who made no attempt to hide their cruel boredom, and a few men, with the appearance of retired officers, who put a show of attention.

Colonel Crashaw, as president of the local Psychical Society, had received a note from the speaker a little more than a week before. Written by a hand which trembled with sickness, age or drunkenness, it asked urgently for a special meeting of the society. An extraordinary, a really impressive, experience was to be described while still fresh in the mind, thought what the experience had been was left vague. Colonel Crashaw would have hesitated to comply if the note had not been signed by a Major Philip Weaver, Indian Army, retired. One had to do what one could for a brother officer; the trembling of the hand must be either age or sickness.

It proved principally to be the latter when the two men met for the first time on the platform. Major Weaver was not more than sixty, tall, thin, and dark, with an ugly obstinate nose and, satire in his eye, the most unlikely person to experience anything unexplainable. What antagonised Crashaw most was that Weaver used scent; a white handkerchief which drooped from his breast pocket exhaled as rich and sweet an odour as a whole altar of lilies. Several ladies prinked their noses, and General Leadbitter asked loudly whether lie might smoke.

It was quite obvious that Weaver understood. He smiled provocatively and asked very slowly, “Would you mind not smoking? My throat has been bad for some time.” Crashaw murmured that it was terrible weather; influenza throats were common. The satirical eye came round to him and considered him thoughtfully, while Weaver said in a voice which carried halfway across the hall, “It’s cancer in my case.”

In the shocked vexed silence that followed the unnecessary intimacy he began to speak without waiting for any introduction from Crashaw. He seemed at first to be in a hurry. It was only later that the terrible impediments were placed in the way of his speech. He had a high voice, which sometimes broke into a squeal, and must have been peculiarly disagreeable on the parade ground. He paid a few compliments to the local society; his remarks were just sufficiently exaggerated to be irritating. He was glad, lie said, to give them the chance of hearing him; what he had to say might after their whole view of the relative values of matter and spirit.

Mystic stuff, thought Crashaw.

Weaver’s high voice began to shoot out hurried platitudes. The spirit, he said, was stronger than anyone realised; the physiological action of heart and brain and nerves were subordinate to the spirit. The spirit was everything. He said again, his voice squeaking up like bats into the ceiling, “The spirit is so much stronger than you think.” He put his hand across his throat and squinted sideways at the window-panes and the nuzzling fog, and upwards at the bare electric globe sizzling with heat and poor light in the dim afternoon. “It’s immortal,” he told them very seriously, and they shifted, restless, uncomfortable, and weary, in their chairs.

It was then that his voice grew tired and his speech impeded. The knowledge that he had entirely lost touch with his audience may have been the cause. An elderly lady at the back had taken her knitting from a bag, and her needles flashed along the walls when the light caught them, like a bright ironic spirit. Satire for a moment deserted Weaver’s eyes, and Crashaw saw the vacancy it left, as though the ball had turned to glass.

“This is important,” the lecturer cried to them. “I can tell you a story-” His audience’s attention was momentarily caught by this promise of something definite, but the stillness of the lady’s needles did not soothe him. He sneered at them all: “Signs and wonders,” he said.

Then he lost the thread of his speech altogether.

His hand passed to and fro across his throat and he quoted Shakespeare, and then St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. His speech, as it grew slower, seemed to lose all logical order, though now and then Crashaw was surprised by the shrewdness in the juxtaposition of two irrelevant ideas. It was like the conversation of an old man which flits from subject to subject, the thread a subconscious one. “When I was a Simla,” he said, bending his brows as though to avoid the sunflash on the barrack square, but perhaps the frost, the fog, the tarnished room broke his memories. He began to assure the wearied faces all over again that the spirit did not die when the body died, but that the body only moved at the spirit’s will. One had to be obstinate, to grapple…

Pathetic, Crashaw thought, the sick man’s clinging to his belief. It was as if life were an only son who was dying and with whom he wished to preserve some form of communication…

A note was passed to Crashaw from the audience. It came from a Dr. Brown, a small alert man in the third row; the society cherished him as a kind of pet sceptic. The note read: “Can’t you make him stop? The man’s obviously very ill. And what good is his talk, anyway?”

Crashaw turned his eyes sideways and upwards and felt his pity vanish al sight of the roving satirical eyes that gave the lie to the tongue, and al the smell, over-poweringly sweet, of the scent in which Weaver had steeped his handkerchief. The man was an “outsider”; he would look up his record in the old Army Lists when he got home.

“Proof positive,” Weaver was saying, sighing a shrill breath of exhaustion between the words. Crashaw laid his watch upon the table, but Weaver paid him no attention. He was supporting himself on the rim of the table with one hand. “I’ll give you,” he said, speaking with increasing difficulty, “proof pos….” His voice scraped into stillness, like a needle at a record’s end, but the quiet did not last. From an expressionless face, a sound which was more like a high mew than anything else, jerked the audience into attention. He followed it up, still without a trace of any emotion or understanding, with a succession of incomprehensible sounds, a low labial whispering, an odd jangling note, while his fingers lapped on the table. The sounds brought to mind innumerable seances, the bound medium, the tambourine shaken in mid-air, the whispered trivialities of loved ghosts in the darkness, the dinginess, the airless rooms.

Weaver sat down slowly in his chair and let his head fall backwards. An old lady began to cry nervously, and Dr. Brown scrambled on to the platform and bent over him. Colonel Crashaw saw the doctor’s hand tremble as he picked the handkerchief from the pocket and flung it away from him. Crashaw, aware of another and more unpleasant smell, heard Dr. Brown whisper: “Send them all away. He’s dead.”

He spoke with a distress unusual in a doctor accustomed to every kind of death. Crashaw, before he complied, glanced over Dr. Brown’s shoulder at the dead man. Major Weaver’s appearance disquieted him. In a long life he had seen many forms of death, men shot by their own hand, and men killed in the field, but never such a suggestion of mortality. The body might have been one fished from the sea a long while after death; the flesh of the face seemed as ready to fall as an over ripe fruit. So it was with no great shock of surprise that he heard Dr. Brown’s whispered statement: “The man must have been dead a week.”

What The Colonel thought of most was Weaver’s claim – “Proof positive” – proof, he had probably meant, that the spirit outlived the body, that it lasted eternity. But all he had certainly revealed was how, without the body’s aid, the spirit in seven days decayed into whispered nonsense.

“Jimmy Goggles the God” — H.G. Wells

“Jimmy Goggles the God”

by

H.G. Wells

“It isn’t every one who’s been a god,” said the sunburnt man. “But it’s happened to me. Among other things.”

I intimated my sense of his condescension.

“It don’t leave much for ambition, does it?” said the sunburnt man.

“I was one of those men who were saved from the Ocean Pioneer. Gummy! how time flies! It’s twenty years ago. I doubt if you’ll remember anything of the Ocean Pioneer?”

The name was familiar, and I tried to recall when and where I had read it. The Ocean Pioneer? “Something about gold dust,” I said vaguely, “but the precise—”

“That’s it,” he said. “In a beastly little channel she hadn’t no business in—dodging pirates. It was before they’d put the kybosh on that business. And there’d been volcanoes or something and all the rocks was wrong. There’s places about by Soona where you fair have to follow the rocks about to see where they’re going next. Down she went in twenty fathoms before you could have dealt for whist, with fifty thousand pounds worth of gold aboard, it was said, in one form or another.”

“Survivors?”

“Three.”

“I remember the case now,” I said. “There was something about salvage—”

But at the word salvage the sunburnt man exploded into language so extraordinarily horrible that I stopped aghast. He came down to more ordinary swearing, and pulled himself up abruptly. “Excuse me,” he said, “but—salvage!”

He leant over towards me. “I was in that job,” he said. “Tried to make myself a rich man, and got made a god instead. I’ve got my feelings—

“It ain’t all jam being a god,” said the sunburnt man, and for some time conversed by means of such pithy but unprogressive axioms. At last he took up his tale again.

“There was me,” said the sunburnt man, “and a seaman named Jacobs, and Always, the mate of the Ocean Pioneer. And him it was that set the whole thing going. I remember him now, when we was in the jolly-boat, suggesting it all to our minds just by one sentence. He was a wonderful hand at suggesting things. ‘There was forty thousand pounds,’ he said, ‘on that ship, and it’s for me to say just where she went down.’ It didn’t need much brains to tumble to that. And he was the leader from the first to the last. He got hold of the Sanderses and their brig; they were brothers, and the brig was the Pride of Banya, and he it was bought the diving-dress—a second-hand one with a compressed air apparatus instead of pumping. He’d have done the diving too, if it hadn’t made him sick going down. And the salvage people were mucking about with a chart he’d cooked up, as solemn as could be, at Starr Race, a hundred and twenty miles away. Continue reading ““Jimmy Goggles the God” — H.G. Wells”

“Rooms” — Gertrude Stein

“Rooms”

by Gertrude Stein

Act so that there is no use in a centre. A wide action is not a width. A preparation is given to the ones preparing. They do not eat who mention silver and sweet. There was an occupation.

A whole centre and a border make hanging a way of dressing. This which is not why there is a voice is the remains of an offering. There was no rental.

So the tune which is there has a little piece to play, and the exercise is all there is of a fast. The tender and true that makes no width to hew is the time that there is question to adopt.

To begin the placing there is no wagon. There is no change lighter. It was done. And then the spreading, that was not accomplishing that needed standing and yet the time was not so difficult as they were not all in place. They had no change. They were not respected. They were that, they did it so much in the matter and this showed that that settlement was not condensed. It was spread there. Any change was in the ends of the centre. A heap was heavy. There was no change.

Burnt and behind and lifting a temporary stone and lifting more than a drawer.

The instance of there being more is an instance of more. The shadow is not shining in the way there is a black line. The truth has come. There is a disturbance. Trusting to a baker’s boy meant that there would be very much exchanging and anyway what is the use of a covering to a door. There is a use, they are double.

If the centre has the place then there is distribution. That is natural. There is a contradiction and naturally returning there comes to be both sides and the centre. That can be seen from the description.

The author of all that is in there behind the door and that is entering in the morning. Explaining darkening and expecting relating is all of a piece. The stove is bigger. It was of a shape that made no audience bigger if the opening is assumed why should there not be kneeling. Any force which is bestowed on a floor shows rubbing. This is so nice and sweet and yet there comes the change, there comes the time to press more air. This does not mean the same as disappearance.

Continue reading ““Rooms” — Gertrude Stein”

“The Index” — J.G. Ballard

“The Index”

by J.G. Ballard

EDITOR’S NOTE. From abundant internal evidence it seems clear that the text printed below is the index to the unpublished and perhaps suppressed autobiography of a man who may well have been one of the most remarkable figures of the twentieth century. Yet of his existence nothing is publicly known, although his life and work appear to have exerted a profound influence on the events of the past fifty years. Physician and philosopher, man of action and patron of the arts, sometime claimant to the English throne and founder of a new religion, Henry Rhodes Hamilton was evidently the intimate of the greatest men and women of our age. After World War II he founded a new movement of spiritual regener­ation, but private scandal and public concern at his grow­ing megalomania, culminating in his proclamation of himself as a new divinity, seem to have led to his down­fall. Incarcerated within an unspecified government insti­tution, he presumably spent his last years writing his autobiography of which this index is the only surviving fragment.

A substantial mystery still remains. Is it conceivable that all traces of his activities could be erased from our records of the period? Is the suppressed autobiography itself a disguised roman à clef, in which the fictional hero exposes the secret identities of his historical contempo­raries? And what is the true role of the indexer himself, clearly a close friend of the writer, who first suggested that he embark on his autobiography? This ambiguous and shadowy figure has taken the unusual step of index­ing himself into his own index. Perhaps the entire compi­lation is nothing more than a figment of the over­wrought imagination of some deranged lexicographer. Alternatively, the index may be wholly genuine, and the only glimpse we have into a world hidden from us by a gigantic conspiracy, of which Henry Rhodes Hamilton is the greatest victim.

A

Acapulco, 143

Acton, Harold, 142–7, 213

Alcazar, Siege of, 221–5

Alimony, HRH pays, 172, 247, 367, 453

Anaxagoras, 35, 67, 69–78, 481

Apollinaire, 98

Arden, Elizabeth, 189, 194, 376–84

Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, The (Stein), 112

Avignon, birthplace of HRH, 9–13; childhood holidays, 27; research at Pasteur Institute of Ophthalmology, 101; attempts to restore anti-Papacy, 420–35

B

Bal Musette, Paris, 98

Balliol College, Oxford, 69–75, 231

Beach, Sylvia, 94–7

Berenson, Bernard, conversations with HRH, 134; offer of adoption, 145; loan of Dürer etching, 146; law-suits against HRH, 173–85

Bergman, Ingrid, 197, 134, 267

Biarritz, 123

Blixen, Karen von (Isak Dinesen), letters to HRH, declines marriage proposal, 197

Byron, Lord, 28, 76, 98, 543 Continue reading ““The Index” — J.G. Ballard”

“Concerning the Bodyguard” — Donald Barthelme

“Concerning the Bodyguard” by Donald Bartheleme

Does the bodyguard scream at the woman who irons his shirts? Who has inflicted a brown burn on his yellow shirt purchased expensively from Yves St. Laurent? A great brown burn just over the heart?

Does the bodyguard’s principal make conversation with the bodyguard, as they wait for the light to change, in the dull gray Citroën? With the second bodyguard, who is driving? What is the tone? Does the bodyguard’s principal comment on the brown young women who flock along the boulevard? On the young men? On the traffic? Has the bodyguard ever enjoyed a serious political discussion with his principal?

Is the bodyguard frightened by the initials D.I.T.?

Is the bodyguard frightened by the initials C.N.D.?

Will the bodyguard be relieved, today, in time to see the film he has in mind – Emmanuelle Around the World? If the bodyguard is relieved in time to see Emmanuelle Around the World, will there be a queue for tickets? Will there be students in the queue?

Is the bodyguard frightened by the slogan Remember 17 June? Is the bodyguard frightened by black spray paint, tall letters ghostly at the edges, on this wall, on this wall? At what level of education did the bodyguard leave school?

Is the bodyguard sufficiently well-paid? Is he paid as well as a machinist? As well as a foreman? As well as an army sergeant? As well as a lieutenant? Is the Citroën armored? Is the Mercedes armored? What is the best speed of the Mercedes? Can it equal that of a BMW? A BMW motorcycle? Several BMW motorcycles?

Does the bodyguard gauge the importance of his principal in terms of the number of bodyguards he requires? Should there not be other cars leading and following his principals car, these also filled with bodyguards? Are there sometimes such additional precautions, and does the bodyguard, at these times, feel himself part of an ocean of bodyguards? Is he exalted at these times? Does he wish for even more bodyguards, possibly flanking cars to the right and left and a point car far, far ahead?

After leaving technical school, in what sort of enterprises did the bodyguard engage before accepting his present post? Has he ever been in jail? For what sort of offense? Has the bodyguard acquired a fondness for his principal? Is there mutual respect? Is there mutual contempt? When his principal takes tea, is the bodyguard offered tea? Beer? Who pays?

Can the bodyguard adduce instances of professional success?

Had he a previous client?

Is there a new bodyguard in the group of bodyguards? Why? Continue reading ““Concerning the Bodyguard” — Donald Barthelme”

“The Bookkeeper’s Wife” — Willa Cather

“The Bookkeeper’s Wife” by Willa Cather

Nobody but the janitor was stirring about the offices of the Remsen Paper Company, and still Percy Bixby sat at his desk, crouched on his high stool and staring out at the tops of the tall buildings flushed with the winter sunset, at the hundreds of windows, so many rectangles of white electric light, flashing against the broad waves of violet that ebbed across the sky. His ledgers were all in their places, his desk was in order, his office coat on its peg, and yet Percy’s smooth, thin face wore the look of anxiety and strain which usually meant that he was behind in his work. He was trying to persuade himself to accept a loan from the company without the company’s knowledge. As a matter of fact, he had already accepted it. His books were fixed, the money, in a black-leather bill-book, was already inside his waistcoat pocket.

He had still time to change his mind, to rectify the false figures in his ledger, and to tell Stella Brown that they couldn’t possibly get married next month. There he always halted in his reasoning, and went back to the beginning.

The Remsen Paper Company was a very wealthy concern, with easy, old-fashioned working methods. They did a longtime credit business with safe customers, who never thought of paying up very close on their large indebtedness. From the payments on these large accounts Percy had taken a hundred dollars here and two hundred there until he had made up the thousand he needed. So long as he stayed by the books himself and attended to the mail-orders he couldn’t possibly be found out. He could move these little shortages about from account to account indefinitely. He could have all the time he needed to pay back the deficit, and more time than he needed. Continue reading ““The Bookkeeper’s Wife” — Willa Cather”

“The Coffee-House of Surat” — Leo Tolstoy

“THE COFFEE-HOUSE OF SURAT” by Leo Tolstoy

(After Bernardin de Saint-Pierre)

In the town of Surat, in India, was a coffee-house where many travellers and foreigners from all parts of the world met and conversed.

One day a learned Persian theologian visited this coffee-house. He was a man who had spent his life studying the nature of the Deity, and reading and writing books upon the subject. He had thought, read, and written so much about God, that eventually he lost his wits, became quite confused, and ceased even to believe in the existence of a God. The Shah, hearing of this, had banished him from Persia.

After having argued all his life about the First Cause, this unfortunate theologian had ended by quite perplexing himself, and instead of understanding that he had lost his own reason, he began to think that there was no higher Reason controlling the universe.

This man had an African slave who followed him everywhere. When the theologian entered the coffee-house, the slave remained outside, near the door, sitting on a stone in the glare of the sun, and driving away the flies that buzzed around him. The Persian having settled down on a divan in the coffee-house, ordered himself a cup of opium. When he had drunk it and the opium had begun to quicken the workings of his brain, he addressed his slave through the open door:

“Tell me, wretched slave,” said he, “do you think there is a God, or not?”

“Of course there is,” said the slave, and immediately drew from under his girdle a small idol of wood.

“There,” said he, “that is the God who has guarded me from the day of my birth. Every one in our country worships the fetish tree, from the wood of which this God was made.”

This conversation between the theologian and his slave was listened to with surprise by the other guests in the coffee-house. They were astonished at the master’s question, and yet more so at the slave’s reply.

One of them, a Brahmin, on hearing the words spoken by the slave, turned to him and said:

“Miserable fool! Is it possible you believe that God can be carried under a man’s girdle? There is one God—Brahma, and he is greater than the whole world, for he created it. Brahma is the One, the mighty God, and in His honour are built the temples on the Ganges’ banks, where his true priests, the Brahmins, worship him. They know the true God, and none but they. A thousand score of years have passed, and yet through revolution after revolution these priests have held their sway, because Brahma, the one true God, has protected them.” Continue reading ““The Coffee-House of Surat” — Leo Tolstoy”

“Silence–A Fable” — Edgar Allan Poe

“Silence–A Fable” by Edgar Allan Poe

ALCMAN. The mountain pinnacles slumber; valleys, crags and
     caves are silent.

“LISTEN to me,” said the Demon as he placed his hand upon my head. “The region of which I speak is a dreary region in Libya, by the borders of the river Zaire. And there is no quiet there, nor silence.

“The waters of the river have a saffron and sickly hue; and they flow not onwards to the sea, but palpitate forever and forever beneath the red eye of the sun with a tumultuous and convulsive motion. For many miles on either side of the river’s oozy bed is a pale desert of gigantic water-lilies. They sigh one unto the other in that solitude, and stretch towards the heaven their long and ghastly necks, and nod to and fro their everlasting heads. And there is an indistinct murmur which cometh out from among them like the rushing of subterrene water. And they sigh one unto the other.

“But there is a boundary to their realm—the boundary of the dark, horrible, lofty forest. There, like the waves about the Hebrides, the low underwood is agitated continually. But there is no wind throughout the heaven. And the tall primeval trees rock eternally hither and thither with a crashing and mighty sound. And from their high summits, one by one, drop everlasting dews. And at the roots strange poisonous flowers lie writhing in perturbed slumber. And overhead, with a rustling and loud noise, the gray clouds rush westwardly forever, until they roll, a cataract, over the fiery wall of the horizon. But there is no wind throughout the heaven. And by the shores of the river Zaire there is neither quiet nor silence.

“It was night, and the rain fell; and falling, it was rain, but, having fallen, it was blood. And I stood in the morass among the tall and the rain fell upon my head—and the lilies sighed one unto the other in the solemnity of their desolation.

“And, all at once, the moon arose through the thin ghastly mist, and was crimson in color. And mine eyes fell upon a huge gray rock which stood by the shore of the river, and was lighted by the light of the moon. And the rock was gray, and ghastly, and tall,—and the rock was gray. Upon its front were characters engraven in the stone; and I walked through the morass of water-lilies, until I came close unto the shore, that I might read the characters upon the stone. But I could not decypher them. And I was going back into the morass, when the moon shone with a fuller red, and I turned and looked again upon the rock, and upon the characters;—and the characters were DESOLATION.

“And I looked upwards, and there stood a man upon the summit of the rock; and I hid myself among the water-lilies that I might discover the actions of the man. And the man was tall and stately in form, and was wrapped up from his shoulders to his feet in the toga of old Rome. And the outlines of his figure were indistinct—but his features were the features of a deity; for the mantle of the night, and of the mist, and of the moon, and of the dew, had left uncovered the features of his face. And his brow was lofty with thought, and his eye wild with care; and, in the few furrows upon his cheek I read the fables of sorrow, and weariness, and disgust with mankind, and a longing after solitude.

“And the man sat upon the rock, and leaned his head upon his hand, and looked out upon the desolation. He looked down into the low unquiet shrubbery, and up into the tall primeval trees, and up higher at the rustling heaven, and into the crimson moon. And I lay close within shelter of the lilies, and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude;—but the night waned, and he sat upon the rock.

“And the man turned his attention from the heaven, and looked out upon the dreary river Zaire, and upon the yellow ghastly waters, and upon the pale legions of the water-lilies. And the man listened to the sighs of the water-lilies, and to the murmur that came up from among them. And I lay close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude;—but the night waned and he sat upon the rock.

“Then I went down into the recesses of the morass, and waded afar in among the wilderness of the lilies, and called unto the hippopotami which dwelt among the fens in the recesses of the morass. And the hippopotami heard my call, and came, with the behemoth, unto the foot of the rock, and roared loudly and fearfully beneath the moon. And I lay close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude;—but the night waned and he sat upon the rock.

“Then I cursed the elements with the curse of tumult; and a frightful tempest gathered in the heaven where, before, there had been no wind. And the heaven became livid with the violence of the tempest—and the rain beat upon the head of the man—and the floods of the river came down—and the river was tormented into foam—and the water-lilies shrieked within their beds—and the forest crumbled before the wind—and the thunder rolled—and the lightning fell—and the rock rocked to its foundation. And I lay close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude;—but the night waned and he sat upon the rock.

“Then I grew angry and cursed, with the curse of silence, the river, and the lilies, and the wind, and the forest, and the heaven, and the thunder, and the sighs of the water-lilies. And they became accursed, and were still. And the moon ceased to totter up its pathway to heaven—and the thunder died away—and the lightning did not flash—and the clouds hung motionless—and the waters sunk to their level and remained—and the trees ceased to rock—and the water-lilies sighed no more—and the murmur was heard no longer from among them, nor any shadow of sound throughout the vast illimitable desert. And I looked upon the characters of the rock, and they were changed;—and the characters were SILENCE.

“And mine eyes fell upon the countenance of the man, and his countenance was wan with terror. And, hurriedly, he raised his head from his hand, and stood forth upon the rock and listened. But there was no voice throughout the vast illimitable desert, and the characters upon the rock were SILENCE. And the man shuddered, and turned his face away, and fled afar off, in haste, so that I beheld him no more.”

Now there are fine tales in the volumes of the Magi—in the iron-bound, melancholy volumes of the Magi. Therein, I say, are glorious histories of the Heaven, and of the Earth, and of the mighty sea—and of the Genii that over-ruled the sea, and the earth, and the lofty heaven. There was much lore too in the sayings which were said by the Sybils; and holy, holy things were heard of old by the dim leaves that trembled around Dodona—but, as Allah liveth, that fable which the Demon told me as he sat by my side in the shadow of the tomb, I hold to be the most wonderful of all! And as the Demon made an end of his story, he fell back within the cavity of the tomb and laughed. And I could not laugh with the Demon, and he cursed me because I could not laugh. And the lynx which dwelleth forever in the tomb, came out therefrom, and lay down at the feet of the Demon, and looked at him steadily in the face.

 

“Soliloquy on a Park Bench” — Conrad Aiken

“Soliloquy on a Park Bench” by Conrad Aiken

The model for the afternoon hour was an Italian boy–about her own age, she thought. His face had a heavy beauty, sombre as that of the sleeping Medusa, particularly in profile; seen fully, it was a little stupid. But his torso was what most delighted her, and this she drew with careful strong strokes, luxuriating in a new sense of precision. Her pleasure in this was exquisite, was prolonged. “Extraordinary!” she murmured, and found herself oddly frowning at the dark beauty of the skin, the well-muscled shoulders, and arched ribs, in the April sunlight that slanted from the half. shaded window. She was sorry when the hour was over. Miss N, thrusting off her apron, paused beside her and asked if she were going “down town.” She repressed a shade of annoyance–though she liked Miss N–and replied vaguely that she “had some things to do.” This was not true, and she felt a slight contrition when she saw that Miss N was unconvinced and a little hurt. However! . . . She put on her hat and escaped into the soft afternoon.

The parkway invited her–it was vague, it was hazily green with new leaves and buds, the muddy river gleamed sleepily here and there as it curved among flat gardens and under small stone arches, and the drowsy quackings and laconic comments of waterfowls seemed only to add to the immense and melancholy stillness. She caressed affectionately, with a fugitive hand, as she walked, the low stone wall that led to a ridiculously conceited little bridge. She slid two fingers over the white flank of a birch. Further on, she touched her palm, and scratched it, against a barberry frond, on which two elfin red-peppers still hung. . . . Why had she rebuffed Miss N? . . . Well, really, one wanted, sometimes, to be alone. Particularly when one was–what? . . . Her eyes wandered from the word, she paused to watch a duck stand on his head in the still water, and then walked on absorbed. The benches here were too crowded. A nursemaid scolded a child, lifting an angry round eye from her knitting. A small boy was digging in the gravel with a bit of broken glass, murmuring “It’s like this–it’s like this.” A bored perfumed lady waited patiently for her Pomeranian; which suddenly twinkled after her as if on wire springs. . . . The bells in St Matthew’s Church began striking five, and it seemed to her that the slow deep tones hung afterwards among the trees and over the water like a mist. White and purple crocuses were sunning themselves in a corner by a wall–absurd! She felt suddenly like laughing at everything, and then, just as suddenly, for no reason, felt unhappy, as if she had a bird shut ,in her heart who wanted to escape. She found a deserted bench and sat down, at the end nearest the water. Grackles made scraping sounds in the maple tree over her head–scolding at sparrows. Cruel birds, grackles! . . . Who was it that had told her of seeing a grackle pursue a sparrow tirelessly till he had worn it out, and then stab it to death on the ground? . . . How horrible, and in April . . . There was a grackle now. He walked awkwardly by the water’s edge–a bedraggled fellow, getting on in years; but what a beautiful iridescence on his black feathers! . . . It was Fred Thomas who had told her. He always came out to smoke his pipe here after lunch. A curious, a nice thing for a man to do, an unexpected concession–as if the grackle should pause and admire a crocus! She laughed to herself, and half shut her eyes to make a picture of the water, with a round cold cloud in it, and part of the stone arch of a bridge. Continue reading ““Soliloquy on a Park Bench” — Conrad Aiken”

Poe Illustration (“Murders in the Rue Morgue”) — Fritz Eichenberg

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