Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Inspiration of the Muses

The following is from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. I just enjoyed it so much, I thought I'd share it. This is around p. 22, before any of the graphic slaughter occurs. This is set at an immigrant Lithuanian wedding in 1906. I assume my immigrant forefathers celebrated St. Patrick's Day; I'll use it for other immigrants. It occurs to me this is roughly the same time Grandpa Sullivan's family came over.

The little person who leads the trio is an inspired man. His fiddle is out of tune, and there is no rosin on his bow, but still he is an inspired man - the hands of the Muses have been laid upon him. He plays like one possessed by a demon, of a whole hoard of demons. You can feel them in the air round about him, capering frenetically; with their invisible feet they set the pace, and the hair of the leader of the orchestra rises on end, and his eyeballs start from their sockets, as he toils to keep up with them.

[Tamoszius] has taught himself to play the violin by practicing all night, after working all day on the killing-floor. ... He is only about five feet high, but even so, these trousers are about eight inches short of the ground. You wonder where he can have gotten them -- or rather you would wonder, if the excitement of being in his presence left you time to think of such things.

For he is in a inspired man. Every inch of him is inspired -- you might almost say inspired separately. He stamps with his feet, he tosses his head, he sways and swings to and fro; he has a wizened-up little face, irresistibly comical; and, when he executes a turn or a flourish, his brows knit and his lips work and his eyelids wink -- the very ends of his necktie bristle out. And every now and then he turns upon his companions, nodding, signaling, beckoning frantically -- with every inch of him appealing, imploring, in behalf of the muses and their call.

For they are hardly worth of Tamoszius, the other two members of the orchestra. The second violin is a Slovak, a tall, gaunt man with black-rimmed spectacles and the mute and patient look of an over-driven mule; he responds to the whip but feebly, and then always falls back into his old rut. The third man is very fat, with a round, red, sentimental nose, and he plays with his eyes turned up to the sky and a look of infinite yearning. He is playing a bass part upon his 'cello, and so the excitement is nothing to him; no matter what happens in the treble, it is his task to saw out one long-drawn and lugubrious note after another, from four o'clock in the afternoon until nearly the same hour next morning, for his third of the total income of one dollar per hour.

Before the feast has been five minutes underway, Tamoszius has risen in his excitement; a minute or two more and you see that he is beginning to edge over toward the tables. His nostrils are dilated and his breath comes fast -- his demons are driving him. ...

Now he is in his glory, dominating the scene. Some of the people are eating, some are laughing and talking -- but you will make a great mistake if you think there is one of them who does not hear him. His notes are never true, and his fiddle buzzes on the low ones and squeaks and scratches on the high; but these things they heed no more than they heed the dirt and noise and squalor about them -- it is out of this material that they have to build their lives, and with it that they have to utter their souls. And this is their utterance: merry and boisterous, or mournful and wailing, or passionate and rebellious, this music is their music, music of home. It stretches out its arms to them, they have only to give themselves up.

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