Patrick O'Brian writes sea stories — the "Aubrey and Maturin" series — that at times rise far above the ordinary in their artistry. Chapter Ten of Post Captain, as Stephen Maturin prepares himself for a tragic yet apparently inescapable duel with his best friend, includes a striking Zen moment:

The evening, as he rode back, was a sweet as an early autumn evening could be, still, intensely humid, a royal blue sea on the right hand, pure dunes on the left, and a benign warmth rising from the ground. The mild horse, a good-natured creature, had a comfortable walk; it knew its way, but it seemed to be in no hurry to reach its stable — indeed, it paused from time to time to take leaves from a shrub that he could not identify; and Stephen sank into an agreeable langour, almost separated from his body: a pair of eyes, no more, floating above the white road, looking from left to right. 'There are days — good evening to you, sir' — a parson went by, walking with his cat, the smoke from his pipe keeping him company as he walked — 'there are days,' he reflected, 'when one sees as though one had been blind the rest of one's life. Such clarity — perfection in everything, not merely in the extraordinary. One lives in the very present moment; lives intently. There is no urge to be doing: being is the highest good. However,' he said, guiding the horse left-handed into the dunes, 'doing of some kind there must be.' He slid from the saddle and said to the horse, 'Now how can I be sure of your company, my dear?' The horse gazed at him with glistening, intelligent eyes, and brought its ears to bear. 'Yes, yes, you are an honest fellow, no doubt. But you may not like the bangs; and I may be longer than you choose to wait. Come, let me hobble you with this small convenient strap. How little I know about dunes,' he said, pacing out his distance and placing a folded handkerchief at the proper height on a sandy slope. 'A most curious study — a flora and a fauna entirely of its own, no doubt.' He spread his coat to preserve the pistols from the sand and loaded them carefully. 'What one is bound to do, one usually does with little acknowledged feeling; a vague desperation, no more,' he said, taking up his stance. Yet as he did so his face assumed a cold, dangerous aspect and his body moved with the easy precision of a machine. The sand spat up from the edge of the handkerchief; the smoke lay hardly stirring; the horse was little affected by the noise, but it watched idly for the first dozen shots or so.

(cf. MasterAndCommander (4 Mar 2005), PostCaptain (12 Oct 2006), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicLanguage - TopicLife - 2006-12-15

(correlates: PostCaptain, TouchdownToRevelation, OnTheShore, ...)