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Describing the Indescribable

August 3rd, 2013 | Posted by Veronica Louis in Authors | Writing

by Veronica Louis

The  Little Prince Illustration

Image: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

There are times when I’m upset, I turn to writing to break down my emotions into words, transcribing sentiments into strings of letters and spaces. Perhaps that is why the word indescribable has always intrigued me, because by definition it’s something that cannot be described. Essentially, using the word indescribable to describe anything is a paradox.

I believe that there are no limitations to manipulating words to express unique or “indescribable” sentiments. Just like the rapid brush strokes on canvas can capture motion and the photographic composition can reflect nuances of light, writing can depict the depth of one’s soul.

Perhaps that is why the classics stay alive, and comfort us like dear old friends, long after their authors have left our realm. A good book can never die because a good book captures the essence of life.

Masters of Description

Here are a few passages from some of my favorite books whose authors always managed to describe the indescribable.

 

Pride and Prejudice Book CoverPride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Elizabeth’s spirits soon rising to playfulness again, she wanted Mr. Darcy to account for his having ever fallen in love with her. “How could you begin?” said she. “I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?”

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

 

Anne of Green Gables Book CoverAnne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Anne went and attended to the dishcloth. Then she returned to Marilla and fastened imploring eyes of the latter’s face. “Well,” said Marilla, unable to find any excuse for deferring her explanation longer, “I suppose I might as well tell you. Matthew and I have decided to keep you—that is, if you will try to be a good little girl and show yourself grateful. Why, child, whatever is the matter?”

“I’m crying,” said Anne in a tone of bewilderment. “I can’t think why. I’m glad as glad can be. Oh, GLAD doesn’t seem the right word at all. I was glad about the White Way and the cherry blossoms—but this! Oh, it’s something more than glad. I’m so happy. I’ll try to be so good. It will be uphill work, I expect, for Mrs. Thomas often told me I was desperately wicked. However, I’ll do my very best. But can you tell me why I’m crying?”

 

The Count of Monte Cristo Book CoverThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

“Why, you poor short-sighted simpleton, can you not guess who this Noirtier was, whose very name he was so careful to keep concealed? Noirtier was his father.”

Had a thunderbolt fallen at the feet of Dantes, or hell opened its yawning gulf before him, he could not have been more completely transfixed with horror than he was at the sound of these unexpected words. Starting up, he clasped his hands around his head as though to prevent his very brain from bursting, and exclaimed, “His father! his father!”

 

The Little Prince Book CoverThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“Oh, no!” I cried. “No, no, no! I don’t believe anything. I answered you with the first thing that came into my head. Don’t you see — I am very busy with matters of consequence!”

He stared at me, thunderstruck.

“Matters of consequence!”

He looked at me there, with my hammer in my hand, my fingers black with engine-grease, bending down over an object which seemed to him extremely ugly…

“You talk just like the grown-ups!”

That made me a little ashamed. But he went on, relentlessly:

“You mix everything up together… You confuse everything…”

He was really very angry. He tossed his golden curls in the breeze.

“I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man — he is a mushroom!”

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