Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 1, chapter 7 – “On the Marsh”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 1, chapter 7 – “On the Marsh”)

When we last left our story, Peter and Beverly had just met, and fallen instantly in love (or, as I think happened, discovered a love that they’d had all along).  We open this new chapter with a brief discussion of the now-frozen Hudson River, and we join Peter, who’s riding the white horse on that river to the Bayonne Marsh.

The horse has no fear of falling through the ice, and Peter uses the ever-present (and roaring) Cloud Wall to keep himself oriented until he reaches the Marsh, where he’s met by the Baymen (who pop up silently, armed with spears, to greet him.

The Bayman who originally found Peter, Humpstone John, has some words for Peter, about the horse.  He explains that the horse’s name is Athansor, and that Athansor is the subject of one of the traditional songs of the Baymen, ten songs that are taught, one per decade, to each Bayman.  The first song, taught at age thirteen:

has to do with the just shape of the world.  It is nature’s song, and is about water, air, fire and things like that..

The second song, John explains, is the song of women.  The third one, is the song of Athansor.  It’s no surprise that all the Baymen are amazed at the horse’s presence, although they refuse to tell Peter anything.  He’s left to ponder matters, and he’s not sure he believes in the sort of transcendent justice that the Baymen seem to be expecting:

He doubted that he would have a hint of any greater purpose, and did not ever expect to see the one instant of unambiguous justice that legend said would make the cloud wall gold.

He continues to lose himself in thought and memory, eventually coming back to Beverly.  He recalls what happened after their initial meeting (he can remember everything except the color of Beverly’s eyes), and he carries on a conversation with his image of Mootfowl:

How could he explain this to Mootfowl, who was always present, in the air, as if Peter Lake lived in a painting and Mootfowl were a figure in a painting within the painting.

I think this is probably a lot more literal than figurative; I think that in a very real sense, Mootfowl is present for Peter, and he’s a very generous judge:

Mootfowl seemed amused, which surprised Peter Lake, who had thought he was guilty of a great transgression.  But the laughter and color in the bright window at the periphery of his vision suggested that this was not so.

It’s definitely not so, and we’ll see that play out especially int he next chapter.  Perhaps a sign of that is the way he finally, and overwhelmingly, remembers the color of her eyes:

And then he was suddenly overwhelmed.  It was as if a thousand bolts of lightning had converged to lift him.  All he could see was blue, electric blue, wet shining warm blue, blue with no end, everywhere, blue that glowed and made him cry out blue, blue, her eyes were blue.

I note especially the “wet, shining blue’ because that’s almost precisely the way Helprin describes the color of Peter Lake’s father’s eyes.  I doubt very much if that’s a coincidence.

Now that we know Peter’s state of mind, we’re all set for him to meet Beverly’s family, when we move on to the next chapter…


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