Saturday, August 12, 2017

On the upper sea

Hodd by Adam Thorpe (Jonathan Cape, 2009) begins (after Introduction and Translator’s preface) ...

The seas are folded over us, above our heads, the lower sea becoming the upper sea and yet still blue when not girt with sea mist, which is grey and melancholy. Some men when they look up see birds, but I see only a kind of fish, sometimes in great shoals. These fish are beaked and feathered, as we all know, and return to dry land to nest in trees, shrubs, meadow grass or crops, rocks or walls, or even under our own thatch, where the nestlings make a great beseeching noise that might keep us from sleep.

Only birds pass from the sky’s air to its water without harm, for they have the property, like the fish of the lower sea, of breathing underwater. And I have seen with my own eyes a cormorant swimming under the water of the lower sea, and a myriad of gannets plunging into its waves at a good distance from its cliffs. Likewise do birds plunge into and out of the blue of the upper sea without harm. If men sail far enough, namely a sufficient number of leagues beyond the horizon, they unwittingly pass over our heads, yet too high up to discern us or the dark of our forests through the blue of the waters of the upper sea.

It has been recounted to me that mariners have lost knives overboard and that these same knives have been found caught in trees, or that they plunge through a [thatched] roof to stand upright and trembling in a table, to the surprise of those eating. And fish sometimes fall (as we know) from the sky, like arrow-struck birds, but with no visible wound.

I myself once found a piece of cork ballast in the middle of a field, very far from the sea. I looked up and saw a dark cloud in the shape of a ship, as if I was perceiving it from underneath. In former ages perhaps men knew of such things, having greater clarity and knowledge, since it is well known that we have declined in wisdom, and are running further and further into ignorance as the world approaches its end in the manner that St Paul foretold. I myself have heard the faint echo of infernal torments discernible on the wind, as these come closer and closer towards us, heralded by the blast of trumpets.


If I had happened not to have met with the outlaw called Robert Hod, so many years ago that none are still living from that time but myself, I would be less tormented in my spirit; for quite apart from the other matters it was Hodde who put strange ideas and questionings into my head. ...