Saturday, February 28, 2009

Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way, 1920-21 Translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff & Terence Kilmartin Revised by D. J. Enright

"My mother spoke: "Oh, but then Mamma will be having trouble with her breathing again."

The doctor reassured her: "Oh, no! The effect of the oxygen will last a good while yet. We can begin again presently."

It seemed to me that he would not have said this of a dying woman, that if this good effect was going to last it meant that it was still possible to do something to keep her alive. The hiss of the oxygen ceased for a few moments. But the happy plaint of her breathing still poured forth, light, troubled, unfinished, ceaselessly recommencing. Now and then it seemed that all was over; her breath stopped, whether owing to one of those transpositions to another octave that occur in the respiration of a sleeper, or else from a natural intermittence, an effect of anaesthesia, the progress of asphyxia, some failure of the heart. The doctor stooped to feel my grandmother’s pulse, but already, as if a tributary had come to irrigate the dried-up river-bed, a new chant had taken up the interrupted phrase, which resumed in another key with the same inexhaustible momentum. Who knows whether, without my grandmother’s even being conscious of them, countless happy and tender memories compressed by suffering were not escaping from her now, like those lighter gases which had long been compress in the cylinders? It was as though everything that she had to tell us was pouring out, that it was us that she was addressing with this prolixity, this eagerness, this effusion. At the foot of the bed, convulsed by every gasp of this agony, not weeping but at moments drenched with tears, my mother stood with the unheeding desolation of a tree lashed by the rain and shaken by the wind. I was made to dry my eyes before I went up to kiss my grandmother."

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