I have Walked the Deserts with Aurens

Jun 13 2012

One advantage of a client with stringent child care requirements: she leaves at 4:30pm, so we’re done, thank you.

I drove from the client site back to my hotel along highways that have become familiar over the past few days. I wonder how comfortable I’ll be driving around foreign cities a few months from now when I’ll be doing this alone.

The weather certainly won’t be this fine: 70 degrees Fahrenheit, a sky almost cloud-free, with an occasional sighing breeze. I found a local restaurant that had 1) good food, 2) reasonable prices, and 3) outdoor seating. I planted myself in a chair, ordered a chicken sandwich, and pulled out my Kindle, breathing a little fast in anticipation. I was near the end of T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Lawrence and a camelThis is part of the Classic Literature Project I mentioned early this morning. And by ”near the end” I mean “within 50 pages,” as the paperback edition has over 500 pages. The size is due to its history: this is the first version of the memoir Lawrence assembled from his journals and notes. After reviewing it and thinking further, he pared and re-wrote it into The Revolt in the Desert, which has greater punch and less subtlety. Revolt feels like an action movie; Seven Pillars feels like a war, with all its triumphs, frustrations, squabbling, self-doubts, tragedies, ironies, and fortune.

Lawrence’s sharp, beautiful prose lifts his account from recollection into true literature. I found myself re-reading passages not from confusion, but to appreciate the beauty and economy of his composition. A representative sample follows:

We started on one of those clean dawns which woke up the senses with the sun, while the intellect, tired after the thinking of the night, was yet abed. For an hour or two on such a morning the sounds, scents and colours of the world struck man individually and directly, not filtered through or made typical by thought; they seemed to exist sufficiently by themselves, and the lack of design and of carefulness in creation no longer irritated.

Here are the final words of the book, other than his summarized epilogue:

I made to Allenby the last (and also I think the first) request I ever made him for myself–leave to go away. For a while he would not have it; but I reasoned, reminding him of his year-old promise, and pointing out how much easier the New Law would be if my spur were absent from the people. In the end he agreed; and then at once I knew how much I was sorry.

May I someday write like that.

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