the waxen odor of lilies

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kahroba

Senior Member
Persian
Dear guys
Please tell me the meaning of the following underlined phrase (the waxen odor of lilies in the parlor), taken from "Camera Eye (28), "1919", "USA", by John Dos Passos:

Quote
and He met me in the grey trainshed my eyes were stinging with vermillion bronze and chromegreen inks that oozed from the spinning April hills His moustaches were white She's gone Jack grief isnt a uniform and the in the parlor the waxen odor of lilies in the parlor (He and I we must bury the uniform of grief)
Unqote

It should be noted that there is no punctuation in Camera Eyes of Dos Passos. The wordings and everything in above quotation are exactly like the book, except for the words He and She which have been bolded by me.
Why no punctuation? Because you have no punctuation when you're recording something by a camera. Please remember the name of these sections are "Camera Eyes". It's just the same lots of places in Ulyssus of James Joyce.
Thanks in advance
 
  • Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Dear guys
    Please tell me the meaning of the following underlined phrase (the waxen odor of lilies in the parlor), taken from "Camera Eye (28), "1919", "USA", by John Dos Passos:

    Quote
    and He met me in the grey trainshed my eyes were stinging with vermillion bronze and chromegreen inks that oozed from the spinning April hills His moustaches were white She's gone Jack grief isnt a uniform and the in the parlor the waxen odor of lilies in the parlor (He and I we must bury the uniform of lilies)
    Unqote

    Thanks in advance
    Hi Karoba, Do you think you could please put in the punctuation? I'm sure it would help us help you.
     

    Randisi.

    Senior Member
    American English; USA
    Given that this is Dos Passos, there probably isn't any punctuation to provide.

    I'm no expert on flowers, but aren't lilies a symbol of mourning?

    If so, they would be in the parlor as a symbol of "her" death.

    I don't know what lilies smell like, but here they smell like wax. The wax odor could perhaps evoke the waxen look of a corpse.
     

    kahroba

    Senior Member
    Persian
    Dear Thomas Tompion

    As my dear Randisi has rightly noted and observed, and I have also explanied in my edit, Dos Passos uses no punctuation in his Camera Eyes. After all, it's something seen from a camera eye and there is no punctuation in cameras, is there?
     

    kahroba

    Senior Member
    Persian
    I don't know either what lilies smell like, but Dos Passos had mentioned somewhere in the first part of the trilogy about "calla lilies with the texture of ice-cream". Any link?
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    Karoba,

    Whether he used punctuation or not, this writer had a way with words!

    There are actual flowers called Wax Flowers. You can also create waxed flowers and preserve them by dipping them into wax.

    They harden and then you can keep them.

    For your purposes, I think the writer is using "waxen" here as an adjective to describe the hardened, wooden look of death. Lilies are associated as a death flower. The white ones resemble the lack of color - no red - just like a dead person's skin tone. It's colorless and "set" - hardened, if you will. (I'm talking light-skinned people here)

    Lilies don't actually smell like wax, but he used that interesting choice of words to create the scent of something no longer alive. And calla lilies come in many colors, including a black color. He chose to represent death this way, but using white.

    I think his use was brilliant! Just a stunning accomplishment.

    Thank you for posting this. I'm going to research this guy.

    AngelEyes
     

    kahroba

    Senior Member
    Persian
    Dear AngelEyes
    You're so rignt about Dos Passos. I think all Americans should read his Odyssus of "USA". It's magnificent. There are so many of these dancing plays with words. He invents them, combines them and creates new realm in the world of words.
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    Absolutely, I agree with you.

    Tell me, were they standing in the parlor when the flowers were mentioned?

    Of did he use the sense off smell to describe an object that he hadn't even seen yet?

    AngelEyes
     

    kahroba

    Senior Member
    Persian
    Dear AngelEyes
    The lilies are definitely in the parlor. Please see comments of Randisi above as for relation of color and wax and corps and death and lilies.

    Camera Eyes are autobiographies of Dos Passos himself (there are lots of articles about Dos Passos' Camera Eyes). This one relates to death of his mother and later his father. As you've noted there's no punctuation there (like camera) but there are some spaces I can not show in this thread (they are deleted authomatically). If you liked, you may give me your email so that I can send you a pdf file of this camera eye.
    FYI, bellglass in Dos Passos Camera Eyes means Harvard (he was there from 1911-1916), then he went to Spain to study architecture, then joined Ambulance Corps (with Hemingway and others)...
    I quote here some of this CE as much as WR rules allow:

    Quote from The Camera Eye (28)
    when the cable came that He was dead I walked through the streets full of fiveoclock Madrid seething with twilight in shivered cubes of aguardiente redwine gaslampgreen sunsetpink tileochre ---- eyes lips red cheeks brown pillar of the throat climbed on the night train at the Notre station without knowing why
    I'm so tired of violets
    Take them away
    the shattered iridescent bellglass...

    Cheers
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    I am going to my library today to get some of his books, so I thank you for exposing me to this writer.

    And I don't think I was clear in my question.

    Were they (the people) in the parlor when they made mention of the scent of waxed lilies?

    I mean were they standing there looking at the flowers and then using those descriptive words to create the mood? Or did Dos Passos go a step further and use the words to describe something that he (the character) had not even seen himself yet?

    The reason I ask is because it's unusual and a very sophisticated way (in comparison with today's writers) to build a scene with an economy of words, and also writing it in such a way that an unexpected sense (in this instance, smell) is activated to move the scene along.

    Well, maybe what makes it special - in my mind, at least - is the result he obtained with his choices. :)

    I was trying to gauge the strength of Dos Passos' exploration into technique.

    AngelEyes
     

    kahroba

    Senior Member
    Persian
    Dear AngelEyes
    No particular person is mentioned there, except young Dos Passos and his father (dots represent space) :
    when the telegram came that she was dying (the streetcarwheels screeched round the bellglass like all the pencils on all the slates in all the schools (have you ever never been able to sleep for a week in April?) and He met me in the grey trainshed .... His moustaches were white......She's gone Jack ..... grief isn't a uniform.... and the ... in the parlor.... the waxen odor of lilies in the parlor
    then the riversmell... the shimmering Potomac reaches .... April enough to shock the world
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    This man is a unique writer. He probably wouldn't be able to get published today because he's not like everyone else and similarity is revered; individuality is not.

    Thank you, Karoba. This discussion has been very enjoyable.


    AngelEyes
     
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