A Certain Slant of Light
In third grade, when I couldn’t see the board, I got glasses. Suddenly every hair, every whisker on our cat shone. I spied dust on the chalkboard erasers. My mother developed wrinkles.
I needed a pair of eyes, properly adjusted. It was a quintessential transformation, but not permanent, only intermittent. Since then, I go through the days with adequate sight, until a certain slant brings me to a halt.
A few moments ago as I stood at the wide upstairs window onto our backyard, the sun caught fire in the yellowing maple. The yellow gained intensity from a feathery green pine behind it. Higher up, the naked branches of an elm scratched the pale sky. Two jays lighted there, wings ablaze with lapis lazuli.
A rare lucidity was being made plain.
I am in love with the arrangement of words, and their capacity to bring an imagined world to life, full of motion and clarity. The light falls on a scene, I watch transfixed. Beings flit about, gathering essentials.
Lately I’ve been listening to an exceptionally fine recording of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, translated by Constance Garnett. This is the third time I’ve enjoyed this very fine book, read by a woman who renders masculine voices brilliantly–from Karenin’s brusk, reserved suffering, to Vronsky’s rather slapdash encounters with life, to Levin’s self-critical, yet often ebullient love for what exists outside himself: people, dogs, the land. I suspect that Tolstoy’s women, despite being well differentiated, from shy Kitty to upright, long-suffering Dolly, to Anna herself, are displayed more fully in their actions than in their inner and outer voices.
Yet overall, Anna Karenina is the most illuminating, the most clearly realized piece of literature I’ve ever encountered. A clear, gentle light opens first this, then more of it, then slight actions, then emotions, strong or submerged, then encounters quiet yet building in intensity, until with a gentle turn of phrase, this scene, this revelation slows, the chapter ends and we begin again.
It is my kind of bliss. Not Shakespeare or Dylan Thomas with their pell-mell, inside-outside word play, not even Emily’s quiet exquisite knife-blade. But a world brought into the utmost, unfolding clarity. It makes me shiver and stand and stare, or close my eyes and listen to each breath, each scrape of the pen.