from E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India

Aziz liked to hear his religion praised. It soothed the surface of his mind, and allowed beautiful images to form beneath. When the engineer’s noisy tirade was finished, he said. “That is exactly my own view.” He held up his hand, palm outward, his eyes began to glow, his heart to fill with tenderness. Issuing still farther from his quilt, he recited a poem by Ghalib. It had no connection with anything that had gone on before, but it came from his heart and spoke to theirs. They were overwhelmed by its pathos; pathos, they agreed, is the higher quality in art; a poem should touch the hearer with a sense of his own weakness, and should institute some comparison between mankind and flowers. The squalid bedroom grew quiet; the silly intrigues, the gossip, the shallow discontent were stilled, while words accepted as immortal filled the indifferent air. Not as a call to battle, but as a calm assurance came the feeling that India was one; Moslem; always had been; an assurance that lasted until they looked out of the door. Whatever Ghalib had felt, he had lived in India, and this consolidated it for them: he had gone with his tulips and roses, but tulips and roses do not go. And the sister kingdoms of the north–Arabia, Persia, Ferghana, Turkestan–stretched out their hand as he sang, sadly, because all beauty is sad, and greeted ridiculous Chandrapore, where every street and house was divided against itself, and told her that she was a continent and a unity.

Of the company, only Hamidullah had any comprehension of poetry. The minds of the others were inferior and rough. Yet they listened with pleasure, because literature had not been divorced from their civilization. The police inspector, for instance, did not feel Aziz had degraded himself by reciting, nor break into the cheery guffaw with which an Englishman averts the infection of beauty. He just sat with his mind empty, and when his thoughts, which were mainly ignoble, flowed back into it they had a pleasant freshness. The poem had done no “good” to anyone, but it was a passing reminder, a breath from the divine lips of beauty, a nightingale between two worlds of dust. Less explicit than the call to Krishna, it voiced Β our loneliness nevertheless, our isolation, our need for the Friend who never comes yet is not entirely disproved.

from Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Dennis hopped into the nearest available rabbit hole, which led down into a whole labyrinth of interconnected tunnels. These all brought him to rooms full of pain and humiliation: letters tucked inside books, chilly bedtimes, lies, tears and (towards the end) a long poem about loss that Edith had read out to him, naked, with no explanation for the poem or the nudity, while she wept. Time passed and all he did was smile at Barry blankly. This sort of thing had been happening to him since Edith had gone. Entire minutes could go by, in shops and pubs and work meetings, in which he seemed to lose track of himself. When he came back again, he frequently found that people had given up on him. Conversations had moved on, shopkeepers were serving somebody else. He was, he supposed, glad that his marriage was finally over, but he hadn’t managed to prepare himself for the shock of it, the sheer exhaustion.

from The Dancer Upstairs by Nicholas Shakespeare

There is no point trying to understand why people fall in love. My contact with Yolanda had been so snatched, yet the impact had been intense. I was forty-three years old, but I had lived only for a few days. Once you wake up like that, you don’t drop back into sleep. Not easily. Since Monday, when I had bumped into Yolanda in the Bullrich Arcade, I had hardly slept. My heart had become a vast and uncomfortable thing. It reared out of my chest, throwing back my head so I could breathe only with difficulty. As I pressed my forehead to the dark Perspex strip, I could no longer hide from myself the reason for these feelings, this behavior.

In the next few hours that remained until I saw her again, this is what I argued: I was in the saddle of a passion which could lead nowhere. I sifted Yolanda’s character for faults, fumbled with them to that narrow bar of light. She was immature, unpredictable. She had chubby cheeks, an unquenchable appetite for cakes, ugly feet. I pictured her in revolting positions. I summoned her feet and stamped their deformed features on her face, over her eyes. There! Could I find her attractive now? I did. I did! I was in pain. I was miserable. I was ashamed. I was thrilled. The smallest detail rang with her name, from the outline of the jacaranda to the pattern of specks on the Perspex.



from The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene: the fugitive whiskey priest gives his last mass in Mexico

A little group of Indians passed the gate: gnarled tiny creatures of the Stone Age: the men in short smocks walked with long poles, and the women with black plaits and knocked-about faces carried their babies on their backs. “The Indians have heard you are here,” Miss Lehr said. “They’ve walked fifty miles–I shouldn’t be surprised.”

They stopped at the gate and watched him: when he looked at them they went down on their knees and crossed themselves–the strange elaborate mosaic touching the nose and ears and chin. “My brother gets so angry,” Miss Lehr said, “if he sees somebody go on his knees to a priest–but I don’t see that it does any harm.”

Round the corner of the house the mules were stamping–the guide must have brought them out to give them their maize: they were slow feeders, you had to give them a long start. It was time to begin mass and be gone. He could smell the early morning–the world was still fresh and green, and in the village below the pastures a few dogs barked. The alarm clock tick-tocked in Miss Lehr’s hand. He said: “I must be going now.” He felt an odd reluctance to leave Miss Lehr and the house and the brother sleeping in the inside room. He was aware of a mixture of tenderness and dependence. When a man wakes after a dangerous operation he puts a special value upon the first face he sees as the anaesthetic wears away.

He had no vestments, but the Masses in this village were nearer to the old parish days than any he had known in the last eight years–there was no fear of interruption: no hurried taking of the sacraments as the police approached. There was even an altar stone brought from the locked church. But because it was so peaceful he was all the more aware of his own sin as he prepared to take the Elements–“Let not the participation of Thy Body, O Lord Jesus Christ, which I, though unworthy, presume to receive, turn to my judgment and condemnation.” A virtuous man can almost cease to believe in Hell: but he carried Hell about with him. Sometimes at night he dreamed of it. Domine, non sum dignus. . .domine, non sum dignus. . .Evil ran like malaria in his veins. He remembered a dream he had had of a big grassy arena lined with the statues of the saints–but the saints were alive, they turned their eyes this way and that, waiting for something. He waited, too, with an awful expectancy: bearded Peters and Pauls, with Bibles pressed to their breasts, watched some entrance behind his back he couldn’t see–it had the menace of a beast. Then a marimba began to play, tinkly and repetitive, a firework exploded, and Christ danced into the arena–danced and postured with a bleeding painted face, up and down, up and down, grimacing like a prostitute, smiling and suggestive. He woke with the sense of complete despair that a man might feel finding the only money he possessed was counterfeit.

“. . .and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Mass was over.