Sometimes I think reading Dillard is like entering a word-painting. We come up so close to its elements that we get a rare experience of a particular aspect of their nature; but larger, more general or panoramic visions of the space are often sacrificed for this effect. (It is as if Dillard leaves it to the reader to piece together or add up the details of her experiences to construct the larger scene.) However,when she does pull back to create a word-painting scene she demonstrates some of the basic ways in which space and motion can be produced by this technique.

In her word-painting of the "most beautiful day of the year," Dillard creates the sense of space by describing the scene directionally. First, the sky in the east lies as a "dead stratus black flecked with low white clouds" and from the west, we can see the light that cuts shapes out in the landscape. Dillard creates a momentum of motion in this space, by a rapid repetition of the eastward orientation each detail in the scene, that culminates in a sensation of being drawn away:

Clouds slide east as if pulled from the horizon, like a tablecloth whipped off a table. The hemlocks by the barbed wire fence are flinging themselves east as though their backs would break. Purple shadows are racing east; the wind makes me face east, and again I feel the dizzying, drawn sensation I felt when the creek bank reeled. (10)

In a similar manner, Ruskin creates a directional space in his word-painting that begins with the distant view of the Mediterranean. He moves the eye laterally from the south to the north. Unlike Dillard's passage, Ruskin's explicitly involves the reader as a participant in this space with phrases such as, "raise ourselves," "as we stoop nearer to them" and "let us pass farther north." The reader's involvement in Dillard word-painting remains implicit.

Ruskin also moves the reader through this passage to create the sense of movement, as he does in the Covent Garden passage; but he does not rely solely on the movement of the human subject in his word-painting. As we move from the south to the north, the land becomes increasingly active: the southern regions sleep peacefully in wash of light, while to the north, the earth "heave[s]" and splinters, and "the north wind bites" as the "contending tide" pulses forward.

We can see Dillard attributing a capacity for action and motion to what could be otherwise seen as inanimate land in some of her word-paintings in a manner comparable to what Ruskin has done above:

Downstream the live water before me stills, dies suddenly as if extinguished, and vanishes around a bend shaded summer and winter by overarching tulips, locusts, and Osage orange. Everywhere I look are creekside trees whose ascending boles against water and grass accent the vertical thrust of the land in this spot. The creek rests the eye...the two steep banks vault from the creek like wings. Not even the sycamore's crown can peek over the land in any direction. (86).

As Landow puts it, the writers have "transform[ed] static visual elements into kinetic ones" to produce the effect of movement.

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Last modified 1993