Category Archives: quotes

They were melting under the influence.

“A thread of sweet sound was spun into the night.” Rose and Richard Quin attend a party at which he charms the hostess in many ways, not least by playing his flute in the summer-house.

“Above us the sweet hollow voice rose and fell, doubled back on itself and glided forward, ubiquitous, tracing a pattern among the stars and another within us, behind our breast-bones,” and Rose finds herself thinking about the boy standing next to her, that if he wished she would marry him, though she had planned up to this point never to marry. “There was no need for an exceptional destiny.”

“My brother’s music was proclaiming that there would be a huge vacuum in the universe, a hole that would swallow all, if we did not fill it with something that the notes defined with a clarity forbidden to words.”

But then she begins to listen to Richard Quin, “with the special knowledge that came of being his sister, and I was astonished by the simplicity of the strangers. They were melting under the influence of a tenderness which they believed to be in his performance, but was not there. They were inventing it because they needed it. The music promised sweetness which was for himself alone. He ached with a desire to be in another place than this, where he would find that sweetness. If he felt concern whether they found this same delight for themselves, it left no trace in the sounds he made. And he felt no such concern; from this and that, over the years, I knew he did not.

“There was this excuse for his indifference, he had already discharged whatever debt he owed to them. He could speak of what they desired and they could not. Without him they would have been voiceless. With him their need pierced the night like the reply to the ray of a star.

“Yet surely that was not quite right, surely one never discharges one’s full debt to other people. But again that cannot be true, if the payment one makes is large enough. I could not work it out.”

-Rebecca West, This Real Night

I wished one could live slowly.

This Real Night“The day was so delightful that I wished one could live slowly as one can play music slowly…. It was warm as high summer, and bars of sunshine lay honey-coloured across the floor, the air above them shimmering with motes; and bees droned about a purple branch of viburnum in a vase on the mantelpiece. We four girls were bathed in a sense of leisure we had never enjoyed before and were never to enjoy again, for we were going to leave school at the end of term, and we had passed all the examinations which were to give us the run of the adult world. We were as happy as escaped prisoners, for we had all hated being children.”

-Rebecca West, from the first page of This Real Night

Light itself was permanently stained.

When in the novel The Fountain Overflows Rose Aubrey accompanies her father to the House of Commons to persuade a particular MP to help his current cause, we find out just how wily a politician he is. We also get a glimpse of the glory of the architecture:

“…I looked down for the first time on Westminster Hall. We had entered a Victorian building and had come on Shakespeare. The stone chamber was splendid like blank verse, the golden angels who held up the roof matched the poetry of earth with heavenly hymns, great embodiments of the passions had gone out a minute before, trailing their gold and crimson cloaks on the staircase that leads up the wall and into the end of the play.”

… and of the drabness of the age, mused upon while waiting in the Central Lobby:

“It was like sitting in the midst of a tureen full of gravy soup. I was growing up at the end of an age which, partly by necessity and partly by choice, was very brown. In the towns chimneys poured out smoke from open fires and kitchen ranges, and light itself was permanently stained; and town-dwellers, who then so largely set the way of thinking, romanticized the obscurity to which they grew accustomed. Such sights as a narrow shaft of light struggling over a broad dark passage aroused none of the impatience we would feel today, but rather a sense that here was something as acceptable as a succession of major chords or a properly scanned line of verse.

“The House of Commons was a supreme effort of brownness. I can remember looking at one such needle-broad shaft of sunlight that afternoon, struggling through an interior brown in itself, what with brown wood, brown paint, and brown upholstery, and made more brown because the struggling rays of defeated natural light were supplemented by the molasses of shaded gaslight.”

The Central Lobby no longer lit by gas.

Originally I had planned for the photo just above to end my post, but then I saw Susan Branch’s recent exploration with lovely illustrations of BROWN. I am drawn to Rebecca West’s descriptions as an intimate peek into another time and place, but not having lived through that dimness to see the brightening of it, Susan’s take on Brown is closer to my own!

Die before you die.

The day after I wrote about feeling my mortality, I was prompted to think more on the subject, first by Father Stephen Freeman, in an article about hospitals vs. hospice, and the importance of visiting the sick. When he was chaplain on a hospice team:

“It was the first time I ever saw a doctor listening carefully to nurses and chaplains. There was nothing ‘active’ that could be done other than providing comfort and support. The team stood in awe before the reality of dying, inevitably sharing the knowledge that what a patient was facing would be our own lot in time.”

For several years I’ve had more of that awareness myself, that every moment I go on living it is only because of God’s will and sustaining power. This understanding was only heightened when I was weak and sick, and not distracted by all the “active” things of my typical days, and could be in awe of the fact of existence.

This morning, I have a further reminder of death, and the scripture that tells us, “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints.” A woman about my age fell asleep in death this week and I will be helping to prepare her body for burial in just a couple of hours. We will pray and anoint her with oil and commend her to Christ, before she is moved to the church for her funeral. It is always a holy thing to join with a sister at this stage in her “journey to the kingdom.”

In the short movie linked below, the musings of a 97-year-old philosopher as he calmly and “philosophically” considers his own death show a sensibility much more deeply human and nuanced than what he wrote in his book on the subject when he was younger. Though he feels that he lost half of himself when his wife of 70 years died, at the same time he doesn’t want to die; he has just started noticing the beauty of trees the way he never did before. The intellectual history of his own mind tells him that “there is no point” to life, so it doesn’t make sense to him, he calls it foolish, that he should mind saying good-bye. But he does mind.

Maybe it was the death of his wife that shook up his life so that now he calls death “the one thing central to my existence.” And he doesn’t have it figured out. Though now he likely knows more than he did then, because he has actually crossed that river; the movie was made by his grandson in his memory. There is a short article with a little more information at The Atlantic.

Father Stephen: “The monastic tradition of the Church has the notion that we should always keep death before our eyes. In a culture where sickness and death are hidden from view, such a notion can seem morbid and wrongly formulated. St. Paul said of himself, ‘I die daily’ (1Cor. 15:31).

“More completely, he said, ‘I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20).

“These are not morbid notions, but remembrances of the truth. If you lived on the edge of a cliff, only disaster could come from forgetting that fact. We remember the truth of our existence (including its end) so that our life might be shaped by the conscious remembrance of the name of God. When we pray, ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,’ we proclaim the futility and emptiness of our self-existence, while more profoundly proclaiming the goodness and kindness of God in Christ who, in us, tramples down death by death.

“There is a monastic saying in Orthodoxy: ‘If you die before you die, then you won’t have to die when you die.'”