Saturday, May 16, 2020

"If only in one line of unwritten poetry" (Virginia Woolf, "The Waves")

On his way home from boarding school for the summer, Louis in Virginia Woolf's "The Waves" imagines resisting the transience of his individual life with poetry. Even just one unwritten line would position the passing moment in the grand sweep of history all the way back to Egypt. With poetry, he can imagine the Egyptian women who "carried red pitchers to the Nile"; if he could transform his train journey into a poem, then his experience "in a third-class railway carriage full of boys going home for the holidays" would also be part of that shared, imaginable history – one in which, apparently, the women work and the men go on journeys. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 May)


I should be transient as the shadow on the meadow, soon fading, soon darkening and dying there where it meets the wood, were it not that I coerce my brain to form in my forehead; I force myself to state, if only in one line of unwritten poetry, this moment; to mark this inch in the long, long history that began in Egypt, in the time of the Pharaohs, when women carried red pitchers to the Nile. I seem already to have lived many thousand years. But if I now shut my eyes, if I fail to realize the meeting-place of past and present, that I sit in a third-class railway carriage full of boys going home for the holidays, human history is defrauded of a moment's vision. (Virginia Woolf, "The Waves")

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