The Rider and the Writer in the Ring of Time:
Thus, having called attention to his responsibilities as essayist, White invites the reader to observe and Judge his own performance as well as that of the Russ girl he has set out to describe. Style–of rider, of writer–has become the subject of the essay. The bond between the two performers is reinforced by the parallel structures in the opening sentence of the fourth paragraph: The ten-minute ride the girl took achieved–as far as I was concerned, who wasn’t looking for it, and quite unbeknownst to her, who wasn’t even striving for it–the thing that is sought by performers everywhere.
Then, relying heavily on participial phrases and absolutes to convey the action, White proceeds in the rest of the paragraph to describe the girl’s reference. With an amateur’s eye (“a few knee-stands–or whatever they are called”), he focuses more on the girl’s quickness and confidence and grace than on her athletic prowess. After all, “[h]err brief tour,” like an essayist’s, perhaps, “included only elementary postures and tricks. ” What White appears to admire most, in fact, is the efficient way she repairs her broken strap while continuing on course.
Such delight in the eloquent response to a mishap is a familiar note in White’s work, as in the young boy’s cheerful report of the trait’s “great–big–BUMP! ” in “The World of Tomorrow’ (One Man’s Meat 63). The “clownish significance” of the girl’s mid-routine repair appears to correspond to White’s view of the essayist, whose “escape from discipline is only a partial escape: the essay, although a relaxed form, imposes its own disciplines, raises its own problems” (Essays viii).
And the spirit of the paragraph itself, like that of the circus, is “Jocund, yet charming,” with its balanced phrases and clauses, its now-familiar sound effects, and its casual extension of the light metaphor–“improving a shining ten minutes. ” The fifth paragraph is marked by a haft in tone–more serious now–and a corresponding elevation of style. It opens with besieges: “The richness of the scene was in its plainness, its natural condition .. .. ” (Such a paradoxical observation is reminiscent of White’s comment in The Elements: “to achieve style, begin by affecting none” .
And the sentence continues with a euphonious itemization: “of horse, of ring, of girl, even to the girl’s bare feet that gripped the bare back of her proud and ridiculous mount. ” Then, with growing intensity, correlative clauses are augmented with discoed and trillion: The enchantment grew not out of anything that happened or was performed but out of something that seemed to go round and around and around with the girl, attending her, a steady gleam in the shape of a circle–a ring of ambition, of happiness, of youth.
Extending this asymmetric pattern, White builds the paragraph to a climax through collisions and schism’s as he looks to the future: In a week or two, all would be changed, all (or almost all) lost: the girl would wear makeup, the horse would wear gold, the ring would be painted, the bark would be clean for the feet of the horse, the rill’s feet would be clean for the slippers that she’d wear. And finally, perhaps recalling his responsibility to preserve “unexpected items of … enchantment,” he cries out (cacophonies and pixies): “All, all would be lost. ” In admiring the balance achieved by the rider (“the positive pleasures of equilibrium under difficulties”), the narrator is himself unbalanced by a painful vision of mutability. Briefly, at the opening of the sixth paragraph, he attempts a reunion with the crowd (“As I watched with the others … W), but finds there neither comfort nor escape. He then makes an n the hideous old building seemed to take the shape of a circle, conforming to the course of the horse. The approaches here is not Just musical ornamentation (as he observes in The Elements, “Style has no such separate entity’) but a sort of aural metaphor–the conforming sounds articulating his vision. Likewise, the polystyrene of the next sentence creates the circle he describes: [Ethel time itself began running in circles, and so the beginning was where the end was, and the two were the same, and one thing ran into the next and time went round and around and got nowhere.
White’s sense of time’s circularity and his illusory identification with the girl are as intense and complete as the sensation of timelessness and the imagined transposition of father and son that he dramatists in “Once More to the Lake. ” Here, however, the experience is momentary, less whimsical, more fearful from the start. Though he has shared the girl’s perspective, in a dizzying instant almost become her, he still maintains a sharp image of her aging and changing.
In particular, he imagines her “in the center of the ring, on foot, wearing a conical hat”–thus echoing is descriptions in the first paragraph of the middle-aged woman (whom he presumes is the girl’s mother), “caught in the treadmill of an afternoon. ” In this fashion, therefore, the essay itself becomes circular, with images recalled and moods recreated. With mixed tenderness and envy, White defines the girl’s illusion: “[S]he believes she can go once round the ring, make one complete circuit, and at the end be exactly the same age as at the start. The commemoration in this sentence and the assonated in the next contribute to the gentle, almost reverential tone as the writer asses from protest to acceptance. Emotionally and rhetorically, he has mended a broken strap in mid-performance. The paragraph concludes on a whimsical note, as time is personified and the writer rejoins the crowd: “And then I slipped back into my trance, and time was circular again–time, pausing quietly with the rest of us, so as not to disturb the balance of a performer”–of a rider, of a writer.
Softly the essay seems to be gliding to a close. Short, simple sentences mark the girl’s departure: her “disappearance through the door” apparently signaling the end of this enchantment. In the final paragraph, the writer–admitting that he has failed in his effort “to describe what is indescribable”–concludes his own performance. He apologizes, adopts a mock heroic stance, and compares himself to an acrobat, who also “must occasionally try a stunt that is too much for him. ” But he is not quite finished.
In the long penultimate sentence, heightened by anaphora and trillion and pairings, echoing with circus images and alight with metaphors, he makes a last gallant effort to describe the indescribable: Under the bright lights of the finished show, a reformer need only reflect the electric candle power that is directed upon him; but in the dark and dirty old training rings and in the makeshift cages, whatever light is generated, whatever excitement, whatever beauty, must come from original sources– from internal fires of professional hunger and delight, from the exuberance and gravity of youth.
Likewise, as White has demonstrated throughout his essay, it is the romantic duty of the writer to find inspiration within so that he may create and not just copy. And what he creates must exist in the style of his performance as well as in he materials of his act. “Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life,” White once observed in an interview; “they inform and shape life” (Pollution and Crotchet 79).