Thursday, October 6, 2016

from Giuseppe di Lampedusa's The Leopard (trans. Archibald Colquhoun)

The journey had lasted more than three days and been quite appalling. The roads, the famous Sicilian roads, . . . were no more than tracks, all ruts and dust. The first night at Marineo, at the home of a notary and friend, had been more or less bearable, but the second at a little inn at Prizzi had been torture, with three of them to a bed, besieged by repellent local fauna. The third was at Bisacquino; no bugs there but to make up for that the Prince had found thirteen flies in his glass of granita, while a strong smell of excrement drifted in from the street and the privy next door, and all of this had caused him most unpleasant dreams; waking at very early dawn amid all that sweat and stink he had found himself comparing this ghastly journey with his own life, which at first moved over smiling level ground, then clambered up rocky mountains, slid over threatening passes, to emerge eventually into a landscape of interminable undulations, all the same colour, all bare as despair. These early morning fantasies were the very worst that could happen to a man of middle age; and although the Prince knew that they would vanish with the day's activities he suffered acutely all the same, as he was used enough to them by now to realise that deep inside him they left a sediment of sorrow which, accumulating day by day, would in the end be the real cause of his death.

* * *

What amazes me, as a writer, about this passage is how the sentence style and language control shift from beginning to end, so that, within a very brief frame, the author moves from a grumpy traveler's anecdote to a metaphysical disquisition on death. What amazes me, as a reader, is exactly the same thing: and this, I think, is the miracle of the art. Lampedusa's sentence transformation has created my emotional transformation.

To me, this writer-reader relationship is so clear and powerful. It's also my drug: why I go back to books, and back again, and back again. But then I step into the world, where so many people who want to be writers--even very bright ones, even very published ones--have never considered the idea that great writing might itself be the great mentor.

So I want to beg you, friends: Read. And love what you read. And examine what you love. And puzzle over what you examine. And cry over the puzzle. And love what you cry over. And read what you love.

1 comment:

David (n of 49) said...