Thursday, May 31

The Luxuriance of Language

Last night I decided to reward myself for my hard work and finished assignments with a night off.  One of the simple pleasures I indulged in was taking a book in with me for a hot bath.  Because my collection of Sherlock Holmes stories is much too heavy to take into the bath (it's like a brick), I toyed with the idea of taking my much perused collection of English Romantic Poetry in, but wasn't sure whether Keats was quite the person I had in mind to share my evening with.  But it's so nice to be in a hot bath and just indulge in the beauty of language, and so I decided on The Streets of Crocodiles.  It seems every time I open that book, I am immediately lost in words, lost in images that I don't expect, atmospheres exotic and luxurious.  Bruno Schulz manipulates his vocabulary so cleverly and emotionally to bring out the beauty of every phrase until it feels like your own language has become strange and wonderful to you.  Here is an excerpt about a young boy's garden.  
The whole of this jungle was soaked in the gentle air and filled with blue breezes.  When you lay in the grass you were under the azure map of clouds and sailing continents, you inhaled the whole geography of the sky.  From that communion with the air, the leaves and blades became covered with delicate hair, with a soft layer of down, a rough bristle of hooks made, it seemed to grasp and hold the waves of oxygen.  That delicate and whitish layer related the vegetation to the atmosphere, gave it the silvery grayish tint of the air, of shadowy silences between two glimpses of the sun.  And one of the plants, yellow, inflated with air, its pale stems full of milky juice, brought forth from its empty shoots only pure air, pure down in the shape of fluffy dandelion balls scattered by the wind to dissolve noiselessly into the blue silence. 

The garden was vast with a number of extensions, and had various zones and climates.  From one side it was open to the sky and air, and there it offered the softest, most delicate bed of fluffy green.  But where the ground extended into a low-lying isthmus and dropped into the shadow of the back wall of a deserted soda factory, it became grimmer, overgrown and wild with neglect, untidy, fierce with thistles, bristling with nettles, covered with a rash of weeds, until, at the very end between the walls, in an open rectangular bay, it lost all moderation and became insane.  There, it was an orchard no more, but a paroxysm or madness, an outbreak of fury, of cynical shamelessness and lust.  There, bestially liberated, giving full rein to their passion ruled the empty, overgrown, cabbage heads of burs - enormous witches, shedding their voluminous skirts in broad daylight, throwing them down, one by one, until their swollen, rustling, hole-riddled rags buried the whole quarrelsome bastard breed under their crazy expanse.  And still the skirts swelled and pushed, piling up one on top of another, spreading and growing all the time - a mass of tinny leaves reaching up to the low eaves of a shed.  
The Streets of Crocodiles.  "Pan".  By Bruno Schulz, first published 1977.

I adore the passion and ferocity of these words, tangling up weeds and wrecking havoc in the nature in your imagination so that things you thought were ordinary are incredible as if brand new.

Is it not one of the most luxurious indulgences known to man, to revel in the beauty of these words?

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