02 July 2009

Vitriolic, arsenical green

I'm only 8 pages into it, but I need to recommend that everyone go read the first 4 or 5 pages of Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. Those few pages contain some of the most beautiful writing I've ever come across. Brace yourself for some coarse language (racial epithets), but the one example that really stood out was in the first paragraph. The context: talking about being hypnotized by the road and then driving off it:
Then a nigger chopping cotton a mile away, he'll look up and see the little column of black smoke standing up above the vitriolic, arsenical green of the cotton rows, and up against the violent, metallic, throbbing blue of the sky.
Warren was the United States' first Poet Laureate, so it's no surprise that he can write with such vivid imagery. But it still caught me off guard. I've read some good books lately, but nothing that grabs the imagination and the mental ear quite like this. You can write a good story, and you can write well. I can't judge the story yet, but Warren already has the writing well part solidified in the first page.

It really reminds you that writing is an art, and at times it can be just as arresting as gazing upon Church's Niagra at the Corcoran, or hearing the slow movement of Debussy's string quartet. Hopefully I'll come across more of this as I write the blog, but it seems fitting that I should come across such a fine example of the way in which writing can be the most vivid of arts just as I begin to collect in writing my thoughts on writing.

I will keep updating as I keep reading. And certainly there will be some discussion of The Three Musketeers soon.

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