Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Aesthetic Experience

Photo by Tiburcio Gabilondo

The face of the water, in time,became a wonderful book--a book that was a dead language to theuneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve,delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it utteredthem with a voice………In truth, the passengerwho could not read this book saw nothing but all manner of prettypictures in it painted by the sun and shaded by the clouds,whereas to the trained eye these were not pictures at all,but the grimmest and most dead-earnest of reading-matter.
Now when I had mastered the language of this water….I had made a valuable acquisition.But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could neverbe restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetryhad gone out of the majestic river! I still keep in mind a certainwonderful sunset which I witnessed when steam boating was new to me.A broad expanse of the river was turned to blood; in the middle distancethe red hue brightened into gold, through which a solitary log came floating,black and conspicuous; in one place a long, slanting mark lay sparkling uponthe water; in another the surface was broken by boiling, tumbling rings,that were as many-tinted as an opal; where the ruddy flush was faintest,was a smooth spot that was covered with graceful circles and radiating lines,ever so delicately traced; the shore on our left was densely wooded,and the sombre shadow that fell from this forest was broken in one placeby a long, ruffled trail that shone like silver; and high above the forestwall a clean-stemmed dead tree waved a single leafy bough that glowedlike a flame in the unobstructed splendour that was flowing from the sun.There were graceful curves, reflected images, woody heights, soft distances;and over the whole scene, far and near, the dissolving lights driftedsteadily, enriching it, every passing moment, with new marvels of colouring.

I stood like one bewitched. I drank it in, in a speechless rapture.The world was new to me, and I had never seen anything like this at home.But as I have said, a day came when I began to cease from noting the gloriesand the charms which the moon and the sun and the twilight wrought uponthe river's face; another day came when I ceased altogether to note them.Then, if that sunset scene had been repeated, I should have looked uponit without rapture, and should have commented upon it, inwardly, afterthis fashion: This sun means that we are going to have wind to-morrow;that floating log means that the river is rising, small thanks to it;that slanting mark on the water refers to a bluff reef which is goingto kill somebody's steamboat one of these nights, if it keeps on stretchingout like that; those tumbling 'boils' show a dissolving bar and a changingchannel there; the lines and circles in the slick water over yonderare a warning that that troublesome place is shoaling up dangerously;that silver streak in the shadow of the forest is the 'break' from a new snag,and he has located himself in the very best place he could have foundto fish for steamboats; that tall dead tree, with a single living branch,is not going to last long, and then how is a body ever going to get throughthis blind place at night without the friendly old landmark.

No, the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river.

From Life on the Mississippi
Mark Twain (1883)


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Andrea said...


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