"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lines I Wished I’d Written: In New York City, from Paul’s Case by Willa Cather

I’ve never read anything by Willa Cather that I didn’t think was fantastic.  This is from a short story called “Paul’s Case” about a high school aged boy from Pittsburg, who, troubled, bored, and in desire for an exciting life, runs away to New York City.  I’m going to provide my analysis of the story as soon as I catch up with a few other things.  If you want to read the story ahead of my analysis, you can read it here at Literature Network.  This excerpt is from a carriage ride through New York City during a snowstorm.   

When he went downstairs Paul took a carriage and drove up Fifth Avenue toward the Park. The snow had somewhat abated; carriages and tradesmen's wagons were hurrying soundlessly to and fro in the winter twilight; boys in woolen mufflers were shoveling off the doorsteps; the avenue stages made fine spots of color against the white street. Here and there on the corners were stands, with whole flower gardens blooming under glass cases, against the sides of which the snowflakes stuck and melted; violets, roses, carnations, lilies of the valley--somehow vastly more lovely and alluring that they blossomed thus unnaturally in the snow. The Park itself was a wonderful stage winterpiece. 

When he returned, the pause of the twilight had ceased and the tune of the streets had changed. The snow was falling faster, lights streamed from the hotels that reared their dozen stories fearlessly up into the storm, defying the raging Atlantic winds. A long, black stream of carriages poured down the avenue, intersected here and there by other streams, tending horizontally. There were a score of cabs about the entrance of his hotel, and his driver had to wait. Boys in livery were running in and out of the awning stretched across the sidewalk, up and down the red velvet carpet laid from the door to the street. Above, about, within it all was the rumble and roar, the hurry and toss of thousands of human beings as hot for pleasure as himself, and on every side of him towered the glaring affirmation of the omnipotence of wealth. 

The boy set his teeth and drew his shoulders together in a spasm of realization; the plot of all dramas, the text of all romances, the nerve-stuff of all sensations was whirling about him like the snowflakes. He burnt like a faggot in a tempest. 

When Paul went down to dinner the music of the orchestra came floating up the elevator shaft to greet him. His head whirled as he stepped into the thronged corridor, and he sank back into one of the chairs against the wall to get his breath. The lights, the chatter, the perfumes, the bewildering medley of color--he had, for a moment, the feeling of not being able to stand it. But only for a moment; these were his own people, he told himself. He went slowly about the corridors, through the writing rooms, smoking rooms, reception rooms, as though he were exploring the chambers of an enchanted palace, built and peopled for him alone. 

When he reached the dining room he sat down at a table near a window. The flowers, the white linen, the many-colored wineglasses, the gay toilettes of the women, the low popping of corks, the undulating repetitions of the Blue Danube from the orchestra, all flooded Paul's dream with bewildering radiance. When the roseate tinge of his champagne was added--that cold, precious, bubbling stuff that creamed and foamed in his glass-- Paul wondered that there were honest men in the world at all. This was what all the world was fighting for, he reflected; this was what all the struggle was about. He doubted the reality of his past. Had he ever known a place called Cordelia Street, a place where fagged-looking businessmen got on the early car; mere rivets in a machine they seemed to Paul,--sickening men, with combings of children's hair always hanging to their coats, and the smell of cooking in their clothes. Cordelia Street--Ah, that belonged to another time and country; had he not always been thus, had he not sat here night after night, from as far back as he could remember, looking pensively over just such shimmering textures and slowly twirling the stem of a glass like this one between his thumb and middle finger? He rather thought he had.
 

The “Cordelia Street” mentioned in the last paragraph is his home street back in Pittsburg.  Isn’t that just beautifully set and detailed.  The story is worth reading.
 
 

1 comment:

  1. ((( Lines I Wished I’d Written)))

    He rather thought he had Left faggots in tempest but then nothing seemed to go Right for him and so just thanked his lucky star that he Left before he was again invited to that anema smoking reception room where daughty nice became reality of the past sending him Right to mentality hell....

    Hey I just wrote that line Manny! (lol)

    God Bless

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