kindness of strangers

Hazzard lights

Hazzard lights
Written by Cathoel Jorss,

This morning I woke late and slowly and heavy and smiling, blindly at everything, the sun and the distant trains, heavy with the discovery unflowering in me: my heart is full of love. Heavy with love, impersonal love that is personal, dripping from me, in me, through me. Love is like honey through a window, as the great songwriter once said. Out of bed I took up my book, working slowly, carefully through the last pages of Shirley Hazzard’s impeccable novel The Transit of Venus. I’ve read it twice before and only now realise why, early in the second chapter, it forewarns so confidently and lightly:

“In fact Edmund Tice would take his own life before attaining the peak of his achievement. But that would occur in a northern city, and not for many years.”

I always wondered, why would he kill himself? When he has devoted his life to one woman and finally, by the end, she realises him. Thinking about the delicacy and quiet triumph in the description of their long, dry, separated love I glance across my desk with its starburst of opened notebooks. A prong of a specific tree given to me for meaning lies dying inaudibly in its glass vessel. It shades a shallow basket filled with candles and pens. I go back to the book, pick it up in my hands like an album carried from a wreckage in a world now lost and gone, by fire, by water, by the toil of time which places everything behind us like a mirror. Her work is so perfect. “‘I work. I think of you. These are not alternating propositions – I think of you always. Since writing you last, I’ve been to a show of drawings by Leonardo, a one-man industrial revolution.”

Irreplaceable Shirley Hazzard, alone in her room, writing from a kind of understanding few can be bothered to share. I hear the ardour of her disciplined quietude beating behind the pages: “She would be better off in a home. Christian said this to Caro, who replied, “She has a home. You mean an institution.'” Like Jane Austen’s I ration her few novels, unable but afraid to wear them thin. Getting up out of the sunshine I say almost inaudibly to my companion, spilling the steaming cup of tea, If I could write like this I would never do anything else. Thinking of writing about her work I am “A big woman in violet [who] leaned against the mantel, empurpling the view.” These thoughts pass through me like tiny fishes, transparent in sunlight, as deep in love the echoed longing might come that If I could be beautiful like you, it doesn’t matter, I read. The one line that seemed to stand out as just the width of one hair too much reveals itself again, and the reason I noticed it: it is the plaintive and the realest, lovingest cry of this whole story, of this life: “You will discover I am not an unimportant person.” No wonder she insisted. Finally I understand – a little more, from these few greatest works that will each be found to contain many books like the Bible (“the library”). I think that the elegance at the very end is more sharply elegiac than I realised. I discover that I paid insufficient attention to the last two or three lines. Beforehand as he is watching her go there are people grappling for their status and their airbearable possessions. And “The passengers passed through the disembodied doorway, one by one. There was a woman in pink linen: ‘Does this machine spoil pearls?'” They are “claiming, clutching, harbouring.” The man who tried to make her see, an ophthalmologist, climbs aboard without recognising her. Everything deep, light, ironic and sweet. The love that is wisdom, the wisdom of love comes and takes a seat quietly, far back in the aircraft. Then:

“The roar could be seen, reverberating on blue overalls, surging into the spruces. Within the cabin, nothing could be heard. Only, as the plane rose from the ground, a long hiss of air – like the intake of humanity’s breath when a work of ages shrivels in an instant; or the great gasp of hull and ocean as a ship goes down.”

3 comments on “Hazzard lights

  1. Yes I love that one. Hazzard & Rumi would understand each other as few others, I feel.

    Cathoel Jorss July 4, 2014 at 11:23 am
  2. Thankyou you Cathoel, Alison and i (I’m pretty sure) both ‘did’ The Transit of Venus at uni, possibly together in one of our Women’s Lit classes. Books like this led me to make a New Years Resolution to read only female authors for a year. I did that and it changed my perspective on writing and reading forever. I would encourage everyone to set a similar challenge. And it has to be for at least 6 months. I will revisit The Transit Of Venus when I get my head out of a long crime series i’m rereading (oh trashy genre fiction!), so thank you again!

    jennifer jackman July 4, 2014 at 3:40 pm

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