Rosemary Sutcliff attracts several appreciative posts on Jeff’s Secondat blog. He recently posted on the You Write tab on this blog about ” one of the many facets of her writing that appeals to me”. (Dear Reader – do please post there your responses to and stories about Rosemary).
She’s such a great story-teller that I sometimes find myself racing through her descriptions of the natural environment to get to the next development of plot. I think she put some of her best descriptive images closest to unfolding plot climaxes. Your eye catches the fine phrases and, if you’re like me, this puts you in a quandary, whether to move swiftly on or linger over the marvelous images. Here are some of the phrases I’ve most enjoyed (usually on my second or third reading of the books in which they occur):
— a brief wing of sunlight brushed along the flank of the little glen
— a dark soughing of the wind across the dead heather
— the green rooty smell of things growing, and the air full of the lonely bubbling mating-call of curlew
— the first pollen scattered from the whippy sprays so that they rode through a sudden golden mist
— Snow was still spitting down the wind as they rode out, but the sky was less full than yesterday; and presently as they rode, the low dawn showed a bar of cold daffodil yellow through a break in the cloud-room far down to the south-east.
— A puddling of snow still lingered in the hollows; and far off, the higher hills of the Frontier Country were still maned and crested with white; but nearer moors showed the sodden darkness of last year’s heather, and the wind that always harped along the Wall had gone round to the West, and the green plover were calling.
— He saw the hearth-smoke rising blue against the tawny flank of the mountain beyond, and a few people moving about the kale plots and the cattle-byres. The track swung right hand, towards the village, skirting a small village, an orchard cradled in the loop of the river, the apples ripe on the dripping branches of the little half-wild trees.
This last one describes an art and by extension the culture of a people:
— “Look now at this shield-boss. See the bulging curves that flow from each other as water flows from water and wind from wind, as the stars turn in the heavens and blown sand drifts into dunes. These are the curves of life; and the man who traced them had in him knowledge of things that your people have lost the key to – if they ever had it.”