Friday, August 21, 2015

Her headlong haste

Descriptive of the miseries of War; from a Poem called "The Emigrants," printed in 1793.

TO a wild mountain, whose bare summit hides
Its broken eminence in clouds; whose steeps
Are dark with woods: where the receding rocks
Are worn with torrents of dissolving snow;
A wretched woman, pale and breathless, flies,
And, gazing round her, listens to the sound
Of hostile footsteps:--No! they die away--
Nor noise remains, but of the cataract,
Or surly breeze of night, that mutters low
Among the thickets, where she trembling seeks
A temporary shelter--Clasping close
To her quick throbbing heart her sleeping child,
All she could rescue of the innocent group
That yesterday surrounded her--Escaped
Almost by miracle!--Fear, frantic Fear,
Wing'd her weak feet; yet, half repenting now
Her headlong haste, she wishes she had staid
To die with those affrighted Fancy paints
The lawless soldiers' victims--Hark! again
The driving tempest bears the cry of Death;
And with deep, sudden thunder, the dread sound
Of cannon vibrates on the tremulous earth;
While, bursting in the air, the murderous bomb
Glares o'er her mansion--Where the splinters fall
Like scatter'd comets, its destructive path
Is mark'd by wreaths of flame!--Then, overwhelm'd
Beneath accumulated horror, sinks
The desolate mourner!
The feudal chief, whose gothic battlements
Frown on the plain beneath, returning home
From distant lands, alone, and in disguise,
Gains at the fall of night his castle walls,
But, at the silent gate no porter sits
To wait his lord's admittance!--In the courts
All is drear stillness!--Guessing but too well
The fatal truth, he shudders as he goes
Through the mute hall; where, by the blunted light
That the dim moon through painted casement lends,
He sees that devastation has been there;
Then, while each hideous image to his mind
Rises terrific, o'er a bleeding corse
Stumbling he falls; another intercepts
His staggering feet--All, all who used to
With joy to meet him, all his family
Lie murder'd in his way!--And the day dawns
On a wild raving maniac, whom a fate
So sudden and calamitous has robb'd
Of reason; and who round his vacant walls
Screams unregarded, and reproaches Heaven!
"blunted light" is very good. This is from the collected works of Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806), courtesy of Umbagollah, to whom I say thanks. Great stuff from Smith, of whom I had never heard until this Wednesday. The prefaces Smith wrote to the various editions of her collected works are all worth reading, too.


  1. Interesting. And so with "blunted light" the 18th c. poet anticipates developments in physics?
    Hey, my mind works in the oddest of ways when I am shown interesting tropes.
    Have a beautiful, nicely lighted day.

  2. speaking of devastation through blunted light, looking out the window it appears as if the planet is burning up. lots of forest fires here, with smoke clouding every view.

    1. Yeah, but the morning light was pretty, all red gold.

  3. i see by your reading list that you're enjoying armchair mountaineering via the works of lionel terray. they were recommended to me many years ago by a mountain climber friend. excellent and exciting is my memory of them. also, accounts of adventures in the alps by gaston rebuffat, terray's climbing partner, are very good. it was a long time ago, but i remember gripping the arms of my chair convulsively from time to time while reading them.

    1. The Terray is great stuff. At home I am surrounded by mountaineering literature. Last December I met Reinhold Messner, who complained that Americans only read his adventure narratives, and ignored his more "philosophical" books. The winter before that (I think) we had dinner with Tom Hornbein, the first climber to summit Everest by the west ridge. He's about 85 now, I think. I have a bunch of Antarctic and Arctic adventure narratives to read soon.

  4. i'm impressed! reinhold m. is the most amazing human! climbing everest without O2 as well as all the other peaks in the himalayas. i read somewhere he might have suffered a bit of mental incapacity as a result. how did he seem? i never climbed very much; the last i did was st. helens before it blew up, but i still walk when i can... i remember looking down at the bottom of the mountain between my legs as i front pointed up toward the top. i read the book about the west ridge; don't remember if hornbein wrote it or not, though... do you have a copy of "the white spider"? and Do try rebuffat! he's quite poetic in his scenery descriptions. titles like "sunlight and shadow", et al.

    1. Climbing with crampons, that's much higher-level than anything I've ever done. I did a lot of what they now call scrambling when I was younger, in the Rockies. When I was living in Denver, a couple of friends and I scaled the faces of a couple of bank buildings, late at night, stupid and illegal but fun. Ah, youth.

      Messner seems no more crackpotted than any other Himalayan climber; I think they are all mad in one way or another. Messner has a strong (some might say difficult) personality, and people like to blame his idiosyncrasies on oxygen deprivation but I think there's no good science to back that up. Before he climbed Everest without supplemental oxygen, he flew in planes above the peaks and had his physical/mental capacities measured by physicians who told him that they saw no danger. And stuff. A great many climbers are just as arrogant as Messner. But only Reinhold Messner is Reinhold Messner, the king of the mountains.

      If you read Everest: the West Ridge, you've read Tom Hornbein's book. The latest edition has a series of forewords, well worth reading in chronological order to see how Hornbein's thinking about the expedition has changed over the decades.

      I haven't read The White Spider but since I'm reading Terray's account of his Eiger climb, I might see about it. If I remember, I'll look for something by Rebuffat, thanks!

  5. i recollect being tempted by a few buildings in my salad days, but my wiser self rejected the idea. maybe i shouldn't have listened to him. or it. yes, that was the book. profoundly interesting it was, as i remember...