every day fleecy clouds crossed the sky, occasionally covering the sun

It’s snowing this morning – a wild gnat-like frenzy – without enough substance even to reach the ground. Like my thoughts many days, refusing to find purchase.

Here’s a passage that I can’t get out of my mind: (from War and Peace, the Peavear/Volokhonsky translation)

From Smolensk the troops continued to retreat. The enemy followed after them. On the tenth of August, the regiment under Prince Andrei’s command was going down the high road past the avenue that led to Bald Hills.

The heat and draught had lasted for more than three weeks. Every day fleecy clouds crossed the sky, occasionally covering the sun; but towards evening it cleared up again, and the sun set in a reddish-brown murk. Only the heavy dews at night refreshed the earth. The standing wheat was scorched and spilled its grain. The swamps dried up. The cattle lowed from hunger, finding no food in the sun-parched meadows. It was cool only at night and in the woods, while the dew lasted. But on the road, on the high road along which the troops were marching, there was not that coolness even at night and in the woods. There was no dew to be seen on the sandy dust of the road, churned up more than half a foot deep. As soon as dawn broke, movement began. Baggage trains and artillery went noiselessly, sunk to the ankles in the soft, suffocating hot dust that did not cool down overnight. Part of this dust was kneaded by feet and wheels, the rest rose and hung in a cloud over the troops, filling the eyes, hair, ears, nostrils, and, above all, the lungs of the men and animals moving along this road. The higher the sun rose, the higher rose the cloud of dust, and through this fine, hot dust one could look with the naked eye at the sun, not covered by clouds. The sun looked like a large crimson ball. There was no wind, and the men suffocated in this unstirring atmosphere. They walked on, tying hankerchiefs over their noses and mouths. When they came to a village, they all rushed to the wells. They fought over the water and drank it down to the mud.

I’ve been trying to tease out what it is about this passage that obsesses me. The word murk. The steady march of facts, of one-syllable words, the almost-complete absense of compound sentences or opinions, the andante tempo of the passage, marching as the troops would march through the sentient world. Here, here, here. The sun, the dust, the cows. They fought over the water and drank it down to the mud. 



About Carolyn Ogburn

Writer, hiker, activist and gadfly. #Binder Writes @NumeroCinq555 / Blogs @pshares MFA @VCFA
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One Response to every day fleecy clouds crossed the sky, occasionally covering the sun

  1. Linda Wells says:

    Thanks for this post. It reminds me that W&P is on my to-read list this year. I’ve never read it. I wonder how many translations there are, and which is best?

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