Category Archives: Djuna Barnes

The dim church and the odor of incense seemed to him to be quite wonderful, a sort of darkened sachet for pain. Here one shook out the garments of sin and if they could not be cleansed at least they could be perfumed. He’d heard that chorus girls did something like this – used cologne water when they hadn’t time for the next curtain.
The high ceiling looked like an inverted mold to Skirl, a place where formless, terrible and ugly things were made beautiful. He crossed himself thinking about this and his trouble, looking around a little furtively with his yellow eyes set in pale form wrinkles, like new flowers.
He could see the altar far away at the end of his supplication, its two incense burners sending up slow thin threads of scented smoke on either side of the scarlet figure of the priest.
Skirl Pavel looked into this distance, thinking how much this altar resembled a dressing table – a dressing table for the soul – and that scarlet priest like a lovely red autumn leaf blown up against that polished thing of wood, with its great open Bible. He moved like a leaf too, here, there, as if he were trying to play a song and couldn’t find the tune.

— Djuna Barnes, ‘Renunciation’


‘Can’t you be quiet now?’ the doctor said. He had come in late one afternoon to find Nora writing a letter. ‘Can’t you be done now, can’t you give up? Now be still, now that you know what the world is about, knowing it’s about nothing?’

— Djuna Barnes, Nightwood


An image is a stop the mind makes between uncertainties.

— Djuna Barnes, Nightwood

The dog

Robin now headed up into Nora’s part of the country. She circled closer and closer. Sometimes she slept in the woods; the silence that she had caused by her coming was broken again by insect and bird flowing back over her intrusion, which was forgotten in her fixed stillness, obliterating her as a drop of water is made anonymous by the pond into which it has fallen. Sometimes she slept on a bench in the decaying chapel (she brought some of her things there), but she never went further. One night she woke up to the barking, far off, of Nora’s dog. As she had frightened the woods into silence by her breathing, the barking of the dog brought her up, rigid and still.
   Half an acre away, Nora, sitting by a kerosene lamp, raised her head. The dog was running about the house; she heard him first on one side, then the other; he whined as he ran; barking and whining she heard him farther and farther away. Nora bent forward, listening; she began to shiver. After a moment she got up, unlocking the doors and windows. Then she sat down, her hands on her knees, but she couldn’t wait. She went out. The night was well advanced. She could see nothing. She began walking toward the hill. She no longer heard the dog, but she kept on. A level above her she heard things rustling in the grass, the briars made her stumble, but she did not call.
   At the top of the hill she could see, rising faintly against the sky, the weather-beaten white of the chapel; a light ran the length of the door. She began to run, cursing and crying, and blindly, without warning, plunged into the jamb of the chapel door.
   On a contrived altar, before a Madonna, two candles were burning. Their light fell across the floor and the dusty benches. Before the image lay flowers and toys. Standing before them in her boy’s trousers was Robin. Her pose, startled and broken, was caught at the point where her hand had reached almost to her shoulder, and at the moment Nora’s body struck the wood, Robin began going down, down, her hair swinging, her arms out. The dog stood rearing back, his forelegs slanting, his paws trembling under the trembling of his rump, his hackle standing, his mouth open, the tongue slung sideways over his sharp teeth, whining and waiting. And down she went until her head swung against his, on all fours now, dragging her knees. The veins stood out in her neck, under her ears, swelled in her arms, and wide and throbbing, rose up on her hands as she moved forward.
   The dog, quivering in every muscle, sprang back, his tongue a stiff curving terror in his mouth; moved backward, back, as she came on, whimpering too, coming forward, her head turned completely sideways, grinning and whimpering. Backed into the farthest corner, the dog reared as if to avoid something that troubled him to such agony that he seemed to be rising from the floor; then he stopped, clawing sideways at the wall, his forepaws lifted and sliding. Then head down, dragging her forelocks in the dust, she struck against his side. He let loose one howl of misery and bit at her, dashing about her, barking, and as he sprang on either side of her he always kept his head toward her, dashing his rump now this side, now that, of the wall.
   Then she began to bark also, crawling after him — barking in a fit of laughter, obscene and touching. Crouching, the dog began to run with her, head-on with her head, as if to circumvent her; soft and slow his feet went padding. He ran this way and that, low down in his throat crying, and she grinning and crying with him; crying in shorter and shorter spaces, moving head to head, until she gave up, lying out, her hands beside her, her face turned and weeping; and the dog too gave up then, and lay down, his eyes bloodshot, his head flat along her knees.

— Djuna Barnes, Nightwood