Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

The Peregrine
J.A. Baker

    In August 2004 while poking through the dusty shelves of a second hand bookstore (surely one of life's greatest pleasures) I came across a volume unfamiliar to me, as was the name of the author. The book dealt with the Peregrine Falcon and the price was reasonable, and in this manner I acquired it.
    Subsequent attempts to learn more about the author have turned up virtually nothing. He seems to have been a single-minded recluse, (although he dedicates the book to his wife), whose life became absorbed by the falcon, which he followed on his bicycle around his native county of Essex. I say reclusive for he never hints at friends or family and even the dedication to his wife is barren of emotion. It says simply, "To my wife;" not a name nor an expression of affection is included.
    What sets this book apart from all others that I have read is the unrivalled command of language. It could easily take its place among the greatest works of literature and not suffer by comparison. The sheer mastery of English, and an ability to use every phrase to its most magnificent advantage, is staggering. I have no hesitation in saying that this is the finest nature work of its kind that I have ever read. It stands alone at the highest pinnacle of excellence.
    This short dissertation is not intended to be a book review (indeed I would feel ill-equipped to write one), it is simply meant to express my admiration of the work and to try to convey the impact it has had on me. One must remember that this story has no plot. Every chapter is a continuation of the daily round of the peregrine but one cannot help but continue to read and experience regret when the book is finished.
    I am citing below some of the wonderful prose to be found, in no particular order. Indeed one might pick up the book and discover other pearls on every page.

    Wherever he goes this winter, I will follow him. I will share the fear, and the exaltation and the boredom, of the hunting life. I will follow him till my predatory human shape no longer darkens in terror the shaken kaleidoscope of colour that stains the deep fovea of his brilliant eye. My pagan head shall sink into the winter land, and there be purified.

    The sun bronzed the splendid stubble-coloured brown and yellow hawk, and gleamed his clenched feet to sudden gold.

    I remember those winter days, those frozen fields ablaze with warring is sad that it should be so no longer. The ancient eyries are dying.

    Morning was hooded and seeled with deep grey cloud and mist. (How wonderfully allegorical to the mantle of a captive falcon, hooded and seeled [its eyes sewn shut]).

    In ten seconds the hawk was down, and the whole splendid fabric, the arched reredos and immense fan-vaulting of his flight, was consumed and lost  in the fiery maelstrom of the sky.

    Evanescent as a flame, peregrines sear across the cold sky and are gone, leaving no sign in the blue haze above. But in the lower air a wake of birds tails back, and rises upward through the white helix of the gulls.

    We live, in these days in the open, the same ecstatic fearful life. We shun men. We hate their suddenly uplifted arms, the insanity of their flailing gestures, their erratic scissoring gait, their aimless stumbling ways, the tombstone whiteness of their faces.

    Snipe shuddering from the dykes. White glinting water welling in, mouthing the stones of the sea-wall. Moored boats pecking at the water. Dark red glasswort shining like drowned blood.

    These vivid images shrink into a rainbow of crushed colour, and set below the horizon of their memory. Other images arise, as yet like mirages distorted, to be made clear in the long whiteness of the continental coast, in far islands now in darkness, in cliffs and mountains sailing out from the night.

     Perhaps you too will share my enthusiasm for this passionate canonical prose. If you can find a copy of this book I can recommend no more worthy an addition to your bookshelf.

1 comment:

  1. This is quite lovely. I appreciate this kind of wonderful prose and I think your own words are not too bad either!