A Quotation from Malcolm Lowry’s Under The Volcano

The below is a fiercely bipolar piece of magnificent prose, something that needs to and deserves to live forever online.


She had reached the limit of the clearing, where the path divided in two.  She hesitated.  Pointing to the left, as it were straight on, another aged arrow on a tree repeated : a la Cascada.  But a similar arrow on another tree pointed away from the stream down a path to her right: a Parian.  She chose the main path, and the jungle returned, its damp earthy leguminous smell rising about her with the night.

The noise of the approaching falls was like the awakening voices of five thousand bobolinks in an Ohio savannah.  Toward it the torrent raced furiously, fed from above, where, down the left bank, transformed abruptly into a great wall of vegetation, water was spouting into the stream through thickets festooned with convolvuli on a higher level than the topmost trees of the jungle.  And it was as though one’s spirit too were being swept on by the swift current with the uprooted trees and smashed bushes in debacle towards that final drop.

She came to the little cantina El Petate.  It stood, at a short distance from the clamourous falls, its lighted windows friendly against the twilight, and was at  present occupied, she saw, by only the barman and two Mexicans, shepherds or quince farmers, deep in conversation, and leaning against the bar.–Their mouths opened and shut soundlessly, their brown hands traced patterns in the air, courteously.

The El Petate, which from where she stood resembled a sort of complicated postage stamp, surcharged on its outside walls with its inevitable advertisements for Moctezuma, Criollo, Cafeaspirina, mentholatum–no se rasque las picaduras de los insectos!–

In the smashing din she waited outside…  Startled, she took a step backwards.  She had stumbled over a wooden structure close to the Petate that seemed to spring at her.  It was a wooden cage, she saw by the light from the windows, in which crouched a large bird.

It was a small eagle she had startled, and which was now shivering in the damp and dark of its prison.  The cage was set between the cantina and a low thick tree, really two trees embracing one another:  an amate and a sabino.  The breeze blew spray in her face.  The falls sounded.  The intertwined roots of the two tree lovers flowed over the ground towards the stream, ecstatically seeking it, though they didn’t really need it; the roots might as well have stayed where they were, for all around them nature was out-doing itself in extravagant fructification.  In the taller trees beyond there was a cracking, a rebellious tearing, and a rattling, as of cordage; boughs like booms swung darkly and stiffly about her, broad leaves unfurled.  There was a sense of black conspiracy, like ships in harbour before a storm, among these trees, suddenly through which, far up in the mountains, lightening flew, and the light in the cantina flickered off, then on again, then off.  No thunder followed.  The storm was a distance away once more.  Yvonne waited in nervous apprehension:  the lights came on.  There the bird was still, a long-winged dark furious shape, a little world of fierce despairs and dreams, and memories of floating high above Popocatepetl, mile on mile, to drop through the wilderness and alight, watching, in the timberline ghosts of ravaged mountain trees.  With hurried quivering hands Yvonne began to unfasten the cage.  The bird fluttered out of it and alighted at her feet, hesitated, took flight to the roof of El Petate, then abruptly flew off through the dusk, not to the nearest tree, as might have been supposed, but up…she was right, it knew it was free…up soaring, with a sudden cleaving of pinions into the deep dark blue pure sky above, in which at that moment appeared one star.  No compunction touched Yvonne.  She felt only an inexplicable secret triumph and relief:  no one would ever know she had done this; and then, stealing over her, the sense of utter heartbreak and loss.

                                                           Malcolm Lowry

                                   Under the Volcano, 1941-1947

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