Inspiration and Provocation
A good description lets you close your eyes and be there. They are as much poetry as prose. These are what make reading come alive for me.
The dirigible came down at a cargo depot at the south end of town, and Shevek set off into the streets of the biggest city in the world.
They were wide, clean streets. They were shadowless, for Abbenay lay less than thirty degrees north of the equator, and all the buildings were low, except the strong, spare towers of the wind turbines. The sun shone white in a hard, dark, blue-violet sky. The air was clear and clean, without smoke or moisture. There was a vividness to things, a hardness of edge and corner, a clarity. Everything stood out separate, itself.
The elements that made up Abbenay were the same as in any other Odonian community, repeated many times: workshops, factories, domiciles, dormitories, learning centers, meeting halls, distributories, depots, refectories. The bigger buildings were most often grouped around open squares, giving the city a basic cellular texture: it was one subcommunity or neighborhood after another. Heavy industry and food-processing plants tended to cluster on the city's outskirts, and the cellular pattern was repeated in that related industries often stood side by side on a certain square or street. The first such than Shevek walked through was a series of squares, the textile district, full of holum-fiber processing plants, spinning and weaving mills, dye factories, and cloth and clothing distributors; the center of each square was planted with a little forest of poles strung from top to bottom with banners and pennants of all the colors of the dyer's art, proudly proclaiming the local industry. Most of the city's buildings were pretty much alike, plain, soundly build of stone or cast foamstone. Some of them looked very large to Shevek's eyes, but they were almost all of one storey only, because of the frequency of earthquakes. For the same reason windows were small, and of a tough silicon plastic that did not shatter. They were small, but there were a lot of them, for there was no artificial lighting provided from an hour before sunrise to an hour after sunset. No heat was furnished when the outside temperature went above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. It was not that Abbenay was short of power, not with her wind turbines and the earth temparture-differential generators used for heating; but the principle of organic economy was too essential to the functioning of the society not to affect ethics and aesthetics profoundly. "Excess is excrement," Odo wrote in the Analogy. "Excrement retained in the body is poison."
Abbenay was poisonless: a bare city, bright, the colors light and hard, the air pure. It was quiet. You could see it all, laid out as plain as spilt salt.
Nothing was hidden.
The squares, the austere streets, the low buildings, the unwalled workyards, were charged with vitality and activity. As Shevek walked he was constantly aware of other people walking, working, talking, faces passing, voices calling, gossiping, singing, people alive, people doing things, people afoot. Workshops and factories fronted on squares or on their open yards, and their doors were open. He passed a glassworks, the workman dipping up a great molten blob as casually as a cook serves soup. Next to it was the busy yard where foamstone was cast for construction. The gang foreman, a big woman in a smock white with dust, was supervising the pouring of a cast with a loud and splendid flow of language. After that came a small wire factory, a district laundry, a luther's where musical instruments were made and repaired, the district small-goods distributory, a theater, a tile works. The activity going on in each place was fascinating, and mostly out in full view. Children were around, some involved in the work with the adults, some underfoot making mudpies, some busy with games in the street, one sitting perched up on the roof of the learning center with her nose deep in a book. The wiremaker had decorated the shopfront with patterns of vines worked in painted wire, cheerful and ornate. The blast of steam and conversation from the wide-open doors of the laundry was overwhelming. No doors were locked, few shut. There were no disguises and no advertisements. It was all there, all the work, all the life of the city, open to the eye and to the hand. And every now and then down Depot Street a thing came careering by clanging a bell, a vehicle crammed full of people and with people festooned on stanchions all over the outside, old women cursing heartily as it failed to slow down at their stop so they could scramble off, a little boy on a homemade tricycle pursuing it madly, electric sparks showering blue from the overhead wires at crossings: as if that quiet intense vitality of the streets built up every now and then to discharge point, and leapt the gap with a crash and a blue crackle and the smell of ozone. These were the Abbenay omnibuses, and as they passed one felt like cheering.
Saio Pae had taken him "shopping" during his second week in A-Io. Though he did not consider cutting his hair - his hair, after all, was part of him - he wanted an Urrasti-style suit of clothes and a pair of shoes. He had no desire to look any more foreign than he could help looking. The simplicity of his old suit made it positively ostentatious, and his soft, crude desert boots appeared very odd indeed among the Ioti's fanciful footgear. So at his request Pae had taken him to Saemtenevia Prospect, the elegant retail street of Nio Esseia, to be fitted by a tailor and a shoemaker.
The whole experience had been so bewildering to him that he put it out of mind as soon as possible, but he had dreams about it for months afterwards, nightmares. Saemtenevia Prospect was two miles long, and it was a solid mass of people, traffic, and things: things to buy, things for sale. Coats, dresses, gowns, robes, trousers, breeches, shirts, blouses, hats, shoes, stockings, scarves, shawls, vests, capes, umbrellas, clothes to wear while sleeping, while swimming, while playing games, while at an afternoon party, while at an evening party, while at a party in the country, while traveling, while at the theater, while riding horses, gardening, receiving guests, boating, dining, hunting - all different, all in hundreds of different cuts, styles, colors, textures, materials. Perfumes, clocks, lamps, statutes, cosmetics, candles, pictures, cameras, games, vases, sofas, kettles, puzzles, pillows, dolls, colanders, hassocks, jewels, carpets, toothpicks, calendars, a baby's teething rattle of platinum with a handle of rock crystal, an electrical machine to sharpen pencils, a wristwatch with diamond numerals, figurines and souvenirs and kickshaws and mementos and gewgaws and bric-a-brac, everything either useless to begin with or ornamental so as to disguise its use; acres of luxuries, acres of excrement. In the first block Shevek had stopped to look at a shaggy, spotted coat, the central display in a glittering window of clothes and jewelry. "The coat costs 8,400 units?" he asked in disbelief, for he had recently read in a newspaper that a "living wage" was about 2,000 units a year. "Oh yes, that's real fur, quite rare now that the animals are protected," Pae had said. "Pretty thing, isn't it? Women love furs." And they went on. After one more block Shevek had felt utterly exhausted. He could not look any more. He wanted to hide his eyes.
Long, wide, and high, under an arch of glass, with the sun strong about us and stalls very tidy and full of good things, and voices coming happily from hundreds in a deep sighing sound that echoed in warmth, and a lovely smell made of many smells, of mint and cabbage and celery, and cured bacon and hams, and toffee and flannels and leather and cheeses, and parafin oil, and flowers.
There is gladdening to see many kinds of flowers in long lines, standing brave in buckets and boxes, with reds and yellows and blues and purples and whites with a slenderness of green in among them, and coming closer, to put the nose into a bucket full of red roses, cold with freshness to make the smell keener and so drive it deeper into the head, as with nails of honey.
O, there is lovely to feel a book, a good book, firm in the hand, for its fatness holds rich promise, and you are hot inside to think of good hours to come. ...
"Old books, again," she said. "And two out here to march up and down while you are rubbing your old nose up and down pages."
"Will you come? Say yes, Huw."
How to say no, when she was saying yes in that voice, would tax the will of a shift of prophets. No use to struggle for there was a laziness coming heavily upon me, and all I wanted to do was stretch my muscles and lie near her to breathe her scent, to be near her mouth, in reach of the softness of her.
"Yes," I said.
"O, Huw," she said, and put an arm slowly about my neck and pulled me down to kiss me, with strength that was savage, and sounds were in her throat, and round movements tormented her body, and the grip of her fingers left bruises for days to come. And I had a madness now within me that was of the mouth and the fingers and the middle. No man shall know what gods are working in him, then.
The mouth reaches for newer fruit that seems to be near, but never to be tasted. The fingers are intent on searchngs to soft places, but the senses are too far from their tips and impatient of their fumblings. And at the middle where the arrow steel is forged, there is a ruination of heat that seems to know, within itself, that coolness will come only in the hotter blood of woman. There is itch to find the pool, twistings to be free to search, momental miracles of rich anointments, sweet splendours of immersion, and an urgency of writhings to be nearer, and deeper, and closer. In that kissing of the bloods there is a crowding of sense, when breathing is forgotten, muscle turns to stone, and the spinal branch bends in the bowman's hand as the singing string is pulled to speed the arrow.
And in its flight it reaches to a rarer height than can be found in earth. An anthem rages as a storm, with chanting in poetries that never knew a tongue, and loud, strange music, and crackling fires of primal colours burst behind the sight-blind eyes and myriads of blazing moons rise up to spin for ages in a new-born golden universe of frankincense and myrrh.
Then the tight-drawn branch is weak, for the string has sung its song, and breath comes back to empty lungs and a trembling to the limbs. Your eyes see plainly. The trees are green, just the same as they were. No change has come. No bolts of fire. No angels with a flaming sword. Yet this it was that left the Garden to weeds. I had eaten of the Tree. Eve was still warm under me.
The Palace of Erhenrang on Gethen
The Palace of Erhenrang is an inner city, a walled wilderness of palaces, towers, gardens, courtyards, cloisters, roofed bridgeways, roofless tunnel-walks, small forests and dungeon-keeps, the product of centuries of paranoia on a grand scale. Over it all rise the grim, red elaborate walls of the Royal House, which though in perpetual use is inhabited by no one beside the king himself. Everyone else, servants, staff, lords, ministers, parliamentarians, guards or whatever, sleeps in another palace or fort or keep or barracks or house inside the walls. Estraven's house, sign of the king's high favor, was the Corner Red Dwelling, built 440 years ago for Harmes, beloved kemmering of Emran III, whose beauty is still celebrated, and who was abducted, mutilated, and rendered imbecile by hirelings of the Innerland Faction. Emran III died forty years after, still wreaking vengeance on his unhappy country: Emran the Illfated. The tragedy is so old that its horror has leached away and only a certain air of faithlessness and melancholy clings to the stones and shadows of the house. The garden was small and walled; serem-trees leaned over a rocky pool. In dim shafts of light from the windows of the house I saw snowflakes and threadlike white sporecases of the trees falling softly together onto the dark water.
The Kargav Mountains of Gethen
Climbing the Kargav...we got our first full view of the range from a foothill summit. We saw Kostor, which is four miles high, from foot to crest; the huge slant of its western slope hid the peaks north of it, some of which go up to thirty thousand feet. South from Kostor one peak after another stood out white against a colorless sky; I counted thirteen, the last an undefined glimmer in the mist of distance in the south.
At sunset we saw a tiny string of dots creeping through a huge white shadow seven thousand feet below: a landboat caravan that had left Erhenrang a day ahead of us. Late the next day we had got down there and were creeping along that same snow-slope, very softly, not sneezing, lest we bring down the avalanche. From there we saw for a while, away below and beyond us eastward, vague vast lands blurred with clouds and shadows of clouds and streaked with silver of rivers, the Plains of Rer.
Beautiful is the voice rising to the quiet of night
So Wyn went to the harp, and Ceridwen to the piano, and my mother and father sat in their chairs on each side of the fire, and we all had places about them.
And we sang.
Then the neighbors began to come in, front and back, and then Ivor and Bron came in, with cheers from everybody, and Owen trying to squeeze the life from her, and Gwilym looking in Ivor's pockets for his baton, and shouting from all for him to conduct us.
By that time it was so hot and so close together that there was no room for Wyn to play, so outside we all went, into the street, with chairs and stools.
A fine night it was, with the moon pulling silver skirts behind her to brush the top of the mountains, and the wind humble to have our voices and saying only a little bit himself to show he had one still, and the Valley waiting quietly for us to fill it with song.
Fill it we did, for hours, sitting in the street, with all the windows open and people leaning out to sing, and Ivor conducting from the top of a chair in the middle of the Hill. Sometimes you would see a few women go into the house, and a couple of minutes later come out with bread and cheese and cake. But the singing never stopped, end one, start another, till Wyn was coming to have blisters on the fingers from pulling the strings, and Davy took her from the stool and sat with his arm about her on our window sill, with her head on his shoulder and his coat on her knees.
Beautiful is the voice rising to the quiet of night. Nobody, now, to cough, or rattle paper, or come in late and make the noise of the devil with a chair or a dropped umbrella, and put heavy feet on loose boards.
Quietness, and blueness, and faces in white light where the moon smiles upon them, and darkness that moves where she does not. And in quiet, O, hear the sweet, the gentle voice, those pretty sounds of many tones that live in the shivering strings of the harp. Wait now, for the slow pluck of deep chords, and feel them filling your heart and bring yourself to be ready against the coming of the swift, strong mounting, chanting melody that brings fire to the blood, and a command to raise up the voice that shall not be denied, and sing, hearing about you the sharp edge of clean notes struck in that moment when fingers touched the single string and the baton arm flew down.
Hear you, then, the voice of your brothers and sisters, deep as the seas, as timeless, as restless, and as fierce. Tenors spear the clouds with blades that had their keenness from the silversmiths of heaven. Baritones pour gold, and royal contralto mounts to reach the lowest note of garlanded soprano. And under all, basso profundo bends his mighty back to carry all wherever melody shall take them. Sing, then, Son of Man, and know that in your voice Almighty God may find His dearest pleasure.
Frodo looked up and caught his breath. They were standing in an open space. To the left stood a great mound, covered with a sward of grass as green as Spring-time in the Elder days. Upon it, as a double crown, grew two circles of trees: the outer had bark of snowy white, and were leafless but beautiful in their shapely nakedness; the inner were mallorn-trees of great height, still arrayed in pale gold. High amid the branches of a towering tree that stood in the centre of all there gleamed a white flet. At the feet of the trees, and all about the green hillsides they grass was studded with small golden flowers shaped like stars. Among them, nodding on slender stalks, were other flowers, white and palest green: they glimmered as a mist amid the rich hue of the grass. Over all the sky was blue, and the sun of afternoon gloawed upon the hill and cast long green shadows beneath the trees.
'Behold! You are come to Cerin Amroth,' said Haldir. 'For this is the heart of the ancient realm as it was long ago, and here is the mound of Amroth, where in happier days his high house was built. Here ever bloom the winter flowers in the unfading grass: the yellow elanor, and the pale niphredil. Here we will stay awhile, and come to the city of the Galadrim at dusk.
The Pillars of the Kings
Before the travellers lay a wide ravine, with great rocky sides to which clung, upon shelves and in narrow crevices, a few thrawn trees. The channel grew narrower and the River swifter. Now they were speeding along with little hope of stopping or turning, whatever they might meet ahead. Over them was a lange of pale-blue sky, around them the dark overshadowed River, and before them black, shutting out the sun, the hills of Emyn Muil, in which no opening could be seen.
Frodo peering forward saw in the distance two great rocks approaching: like great pinnacles or pillars of stone they seems. Tall and sheer and ominous they stood upon either side of the stream. A narrow gap appeared between them, and the River swept the boats toward it.
'Behold the Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings!' cried Aragorn...
As Frodo was borne towards them the great pillars rose like towers to meet him. Giants they seemed to him, vast grey figures silent but threatening. Then he saw that they were indeed shaped and fashioned: the craft and power of old had wrought upon them, and still they preserved through the suns and rains of forgotten years the mighty liknesses in which they had been hewn. Upon great pedestals founded in the deep waters stood two great kings of stone: still with blurred eyes and crannied brows they frowned upon the North. The left hand of each was raised palm outwards in gesture of warning; in each right hand was an axe; upon each head there was a crumbling helm and crown. Great power and majesty they still wore, the silent wardens of a long-vanished kingdom. Awe and fear fell upon Frodeo, and he cowered down, shutting his eyes and not daring to look up as the boat drew near. Even Boromir bowed his head as the boats whirled by, frail and fleeting as little leaves, under the shadow of the sentinels of Númenor. So they passed the dark chasm of the Gates...
'Fear not!' [Aragorn] said. 'Long have I desired to look upon the likenesses of Isildur and Anárion, my sires of old. Under their shadow Elessar, the Elfstone son of Arathorn of the House of Valandil Isildur's son, heir of Elendil, has nought to dread!'
Far above the rot and vapours of the world the Sun was riding high and golden now in a serene country with floors of dazzling foam, but only a passing ghost of her could they see below, bleared, pale, giving no colour and no warmth.
Henneth Annûn - Window of the Sunset
Then came the voice of Faramir close behind. 'Let them see!' he said. The scarves were removed and their hoods drawn back, and they blinked and gasped.
They stood on a wet floor of polished stone, the doorstep, as it were, of a rough-hewn gate of rock opening dark behind them. But in front a thin veil of water was hung, so near that Frodo could have put an outstreched arm into it. It faced westward. The level shafts of the setting sun behind beat upon it, and the red light was broken into many flickering beams of ever-changing colour. It was as if they stood at the window of some elven-tower, curtained with threaded jewels of silver and gold, and ruby, sapphire and amethyst, all kindled with an unconsuming fire.
[Sam] saw two dark figures, Frodo and a man, framed against the archway, which was now filled with a pale white light. He hurried after them, past rows of men sleeping on mattresses along the wall. As he went by the cave-mouth he saw that the Curtain was now become a dazzling veil of silk and pearls and silver thread: melting icicles of moonlight...
At last they came out of the stony darkness and looked about. They were on a wide flat rock without rail or parapet. At their right, eastwards, the torrent fell, splashing over many terraces, and then, pouring down a steep race, it filled a smooth-hewn channel with a dark force of water flecked with foam, and curling and rushing almost at their feet it plunged sheer over the edge that yawned upon their left. A man stood there, near the brink, silent, gazing down.
Frodo turned to watch the sleek necks of the water as they curved and dived. Then he lifted his eyes and gazed far away. The world was quiet and cold, as if dawn were near. Far off in the West the full moon was sinking, round and white. Pale mists shimmered in the great vale below: a wide gulf of silver fume, beneath which rolled the cool night-waters of the Anduin. A black darkness loomed beyond, and in it glinted, here and there, cold, sharp, remote, white as the teeth of ghosts, the peaks of Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains of the Realm of Gondor, tipped with everlasting snow.
Very late at night, Shevek was in the Davenant's garden. The lights were out, there, and it was illuminated only by starlight. The air was quite cold. A night-blooming flower from some unimaginable world had opened among the dark leaves and was sending out its perfume with patient, unavailing sweetness to attract some unimaginable moth trillions of miles away, in a garden on a world circling another star. The sunlights differ, but there is only one darkness. Shevek stood at the high, cleared view port, looking at the night side of Anarres, a dark curve across half the stars.
Rodarred, the old capital of Avan Province, was a pointed city: a forest of pines, and above the spires of the pines, an airier forest of towers. The streets were dark and narrow, mossy, often misty, under the trees. Only from the seven bridges across the river could one look up and see the tops of the towers. Some of them were hundreds of feet tall, others were mere shoots, like ordinary houses gone to seed. Some were of stone, others of porcelain, mosaic, sheets of colored glass, sheathings of copper, tin, or gold, ornate beyond belief, delicate, glittering. In these hallucinatory and charming streets the Urrasti Council of World Governments had had its seat for the three hundred years of its existence. Many embassies and consulates to the CWG and to A-Io also clustered in Rodarred, only an hour's ride from Nio Esseia and the national seat of government.