Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pale Horse, Pale Rider

Whenever I go back to a memorable piece of writing I am interested in something new, often depending on what I've learned and experienced since the previous reading. This time, when I returned to Katherine Anne Porter's "Pale Horse, Pale Rider," I was struck by her portrayal of two young people in love:

. . . they put off as long as they could the end of their moment together, and kept up as well as they could their small talk that flew back and forth over little grooves worn in the thin upper surface of the brain, things you could say and hear clink reassuringly at once without disturbing the radiance which played and darted about the simple and lovely miracle of being two persons named Adam and and Miranda, twenty-four years old each, alive and on the earth at the same moment.

Porter's description of male beauty benefits from restraint: "He [Adam] was tall and heavily muscled in the shoulders, narrow in the waist and flanks." Like the poet Cavafy, Porter is tender and exact. Miranda contemplates Adam: "His eyes were pale tan with orange flecks in them, and his hair was the color of a haystack when you turn the weathered top back to the clear straw beneath."

In contrast, her view of the Liberty Bond salesman is full of contempt. She nails him:

He was an ordinary man past middle life, with a neat little melon buttoned into his trousers and waistcoat, an opinionated tight mouth, a face and figure in which nothing could be read save the inept sensual record of fifty years.

Here is a figure untouched by Eros. With Eros comes beauty, delicacy, grace. With Eros also comes death. I was younger when I first read it, younger and more interested in death. Now it's young love and male beauty that entrances me.

You must read this story.


  1. Yes, Mim, it is a dance of Eros and Thanatos. I remembering sobbing over it when I was younger. I wonder what would move me now. Thanks for reminding me to go look for it.

  2. I hope you will let me know, Vespersparrow.


  3. I couldn't help thinking that it would be a nice challenge to write the story where the ordinary man with his neat little melon turned out to be the object of love and desire and the beautiful one turned out to have feet of clay. But the "opinionated tight mouth" would be a problem. And one might discover in oneself a strange attraction to clay feet.

  4. Hello, dear Signs:
    A challenge is right. How generously-minded you are. In the story, the man with ordinary looks also has pedestrian ideas, etc. So we'd have to do a lot of changing in recasting the story.

    We do tend to give beauty to young heros and lovers.