A.S. Byatt: Differences In Air

29 August 2018



I cannot describe the air to you. It is like no other air. Our language was not designed to distinguish differences in air; it runs the risk of a meaningless lyricism or inexact metaphors—so I will not write of it in terms of wine or crystal, though both those things came into my mind. I have breathed the air of Mont Blanc—a chill light clean air that comes off the remote glaciers and has the purity of those snows, touched with the resin of pine and the hay of the high meadows. Thin air, as Shakespeare said, the air of vanishing things and refinements beyond apprehension by our senses. This Yorkshire air, the moorland air, that is, has no such glassy chill—it is all alive, on the move, like the waters that thread their way through the heath, as it does with them. It is visible air—you see it run in rivers and lines over the shoulders of bald stones—you see it rise in aery fountains and tremble over the heath when it is hot. And the scent of it—sharp, unforgettable—clean rain tossed and the ghost of ancient woodsmoke—and the cold clearness of brook water—and something fine and subtle all of its own—oh, I cannot describe this air, it expands a man’s mind in his head, I do believe, and gives him extra senses he knows nothing of, before coming on these heights and ranges…
A.S. Byatt, Possession

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