Friday, May 02, 2008

When the poet writes a novel

From Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men.

"No," he said, and it was another voice, quiet and easy and coming slow and from a distance, "I'm not here to ask for anything today. I'm taking the day off, and I've come home. A man goes away from home, and it is in him to do it. He lies in strange beds in the dark, and the wind is different in the trees; he walks in the street, and there are the faces in front of his eyes, but there are no names for the faces. The voices he hears are not the voices he carried away in his ears a long time back when he went away. The voices he hears are loud. They are so loud he does not hear for a long time at a stretch those voices he carried away in his ears, but there comes a minute when it is quiet and he can hear those voices he carried away in his ears a long time back. He can make out what they say, and they say, 'Come back.' They say, 'Come back, boy.' So he comes back."

I've been trying to tell people what I love about the writing in All the King's Men, and I generally descend into hand gestures and gibberish. But here's a sample from my ongoing transcription of the novel. Read it aloud, thoughfully. Listen to the rhythm; notice the repetitions. Notice that it's a muscular prose -- by which I mean that it carries information, not just feeling, and the feeling is in the information.

It is also tough-sounding -- which is in the sounds. It has Ks and Ds and not a lot of Ss and Ns.

I can't imagine it being written by some 22-year-old in love with her own voice (of whom I frequently am first, without the excuse of being 22 years old). It's the sound of a man's voice (the first-person protagonist is a man). A woman's voice could be as strong, but it would be different, I think.

Anyway, enjoy.

No comments: