Comparative Literature

13 Jul

While working on a translation, I need to break off to mark some student work. The last piece of writing that I have been translating starts like this:

The boy approaches the house. A pathway of larches. Leaves. A necklace of tears.

The student piece seems to take up the theme:

If you came close to the black windows you felt that inside there was something unseen, watching you as you stumbled back up the cracked path. 

I see the two passages as sequential. The story that emerges belongs to both of them and neither of them, but only occurs because of the confluence in time of these two passages meeting in me. Perhaps this happens all the time, and we don’t notice, because we aren’t watching.

The days are beginning to fold into one another too, like freeze-framed wingbeats, on repeat. All those nights spent in railway stations return at once, a desperate collision of memories, a thousand forms of sadness. Seagulls scratch at the window, their coarse sounds intended to lure me out. I drink tea and tell myself I am bound to resort to this anecdotal life, this song and dance, this carnival, this lark. In the house in the story there is either a malevolent force or a hunchback. Take your pick. There are always trees near these places, though by no means always larches. They presage some kind of flow between nature and the occupancy of the house. An ancient tree, its roots no doubt ploughing through the soil like subterranean antennae towards the house and its foundations, intent on burrowing beneath the building’s skin. The tree and the house enter a symbiotic relationship, though it is the tree that has made the first move.

On my desk, two pencils lie on a yellow notebook, facing north-west. If I follow the direction of their points for two hundred miles I will find the house and the tree. An exercise for a desperate man. Outside, I can sense the movement in the street without hearing anything or even looking; the day begins, as always, with a slow intrusion of medical light, rustling sounds behind a curtain, the opening of a door, or a book.

One Response to “Comparative Literature”

  1. Lynne Rees July 13, 2011 at 19:29 #

    This is beautiful, Richard. Beautiful in the way that the imagery holds me, not just enabling me to experience your writing but transporting me into a kind of timelessness where houses, trees, paths and darkness carry so many ideas.

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