Book//mark – A Voice Through a Cloud | Denton Welch, 1950


A Voice Through a Cloud | Denton Welch, 1950

Denton Welch, 1915-1948                       Denton Welch, A Voice Through a Cloud, 1950

“I thought of the many people who had said to me, ‘You’re young; you’ve got plenty
of time to recover.’ This seemed the coldest comfort, the grimmest fact of all.”

“I wrote about the night bird cries, the sea sounds and the lonely barking, and I liked what
I wrote in flashes; but something was wrong with it. There is always something wrong with
writing. So I tore the paper up at last, liking the untouched memory so much better, not
wanting it forced into the insincerity of words.”

“Long after my brother’s friends had gone, I left the strawberries
on my chest and watched them rising and falling gently.”

“I began to long, as I had before, for some special smell, some special music that would fill me,
lift me up and carry me away, float me off the rocks of my body and sweep me into some
wideness, some vast expanse of blue-grey nothingness.”

“And instead of being angry, I began to giggle at his absurdity, at the X-ray sisters cruelty,
and at my own helplessness. The three conditions moved together to make a fantastic picture
in my mind. It was as if some gigantic buffoonery had descended upon the whole earth.”

“My mood had changed so completely that I found it best to stop picking and to look over the
past with an animal indifference. Surely that was the way to look at things–to eat them up
with your eyes for what they were, then to pass on, but never to chain them together in a
silly pattern. The idea of a pattern was only satisfying if it was to be utterly unknowable
and mysterious to human beings.”

“It was always a relief and a pleasure to reach the end of the day, when I would go down to the
refectory, buy an enormous shortbread biscuit wrapped in silver paper, and sit eating it alone at
the far end of one of the long tables. I would have beside me a glass of very hot milky coffee
from which I took sips now and then. But there was sadness, too, in coming to this point in the
day, for it brought with it the realisation that another precious piece of my life had melted away;
and I had done nothing to catch it, to hold it, to know it. A wave of shame and guilt at my own
indolence would flood over me. I felt that somewhere inside me was so much power-if only I
could dig a channel down which it could pour.”

“I had come with such pain and labour to a place where emptiness had arrived before me.
I was too late, something black and hollow had overtaken me and wriggled through the door.”

(talking of the death of a young friend he had made) : “‘Everything spoilt and wasted,’ I thought;
‘the new teeth, the strong bones, the fresh scarlet blood and smooth skin, springing hair and
shining eye.'”

“But by the next day I had almost forgotten Ray’s death. Life seemed now nothing but a long reverie, made up of imaginings and memories of childhood. Over this sunken, buried life, the facts of every day rippled and tinkled like a shallow stream; and they seemed to move so rapidly that I had no time for reflection. I was only able to note them with a flickering interest; then they were gone, hidden and submerged by new happenings”

“I greedily embraced the never-ending sadness of human life. At that moment I wanted to be
overwhelmed by it. Nothing else but the sadness of destruction seemed real. I would sink
down, be its victim, fall asleep in it. How can I describe the deep vibrating pleasure I felt?
Perhaps it was a little like the moment just before a child bursts into tears. He knows he is
going to cry, he does nothing about it, he has no shame, he wants to be drowned, to be
swallowed up forever in his own unhappiness.”

“I had no pleasure in mystery and wanted everything in the clearest language. What was the man for? What was I for? Why were we being wasted? And why all around us the vast overwhelming waste of lamps, streets, trees, houses? Why was that great sea mouthing at the beach? Why was the land so passive and dumb?”

Denton Welch, A Voice Through a Cloud, 1950

A Voice Through a Cloud is an autobiographical novel by Denton Welch, who became a writer after a serious accident which had long-term effects on his health. The book describes his bicycle accident when he was an art student, and subsequent experiences in hospital wards and a nursing home. The book was almost complete when the writer died in December 1948 aged 33.
Denton Welch was anxious to complete the novel when his health, precarious since his accident, was worsening. As described in the foreword: “As late as the summer of 1948, long after most people in his condition would have adopted the life of a permanent invalid, his tremendous will-power enabled him to live normally and even strenuously during the increasingly short intervals between the crises of his illness…. Towards the end he could only work for three or four minutes at a time… Complication after complication set in…. Even then, he made colossal and nearly successful attempts to finish the book.”

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