Ten of the best: fogs

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Dickens’s opening is the foggiest in all fiction and, before we meet any characters, we follow the fog through London. “Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds”. Fog takes us all the way to the High Court of Chancery, “the very heart of the fog”.

“The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” by TS Eliot

The point about a London fog in coal-fired days was its colour. “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes / The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes / Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening”. In the opening of Eliot’s 1917 dramatic monologue, the fog is an animal that curls itself around the poem.

“Sheep in Fog” by Sylvia Plath

“The hills step off into whiteness. / People or stars / Regard me sadly, I disappoint them”. Only Plath could transform a foggy encounter with sheep on a Devon hillside into a revelation of psychosis. Perception is both muffled and intensified, and the poet is on the edge of “a heaven / Starless and fatherless, a dark water”.

“The Night Piece” by Thom Gunn

The poet walks home at night through thickening fog. A final chiasmus exchanges consciousness for unconsciousness. “Here are the last few streets to climb, / Galleries, run through veins of time, / Almost familiar where I creep / Toward sleep like fog, through fog like sleep.”

Treasure Island by Robert Louis ­Stevenson

“About three o’clock of a bitter, foggy, frosty afternoon, I was standing at the door for a moment . . . when I saw someone drawing slowly near along the road.” Why is the tapping of Blind Pugh’s cane so unnerving? Because he comes through the fog, and our senses, like those of Jim Hawkins, are heightened. Fog shrouds the Admiral Benbow inn as the bad men gather.

“Fog” by Amy Clampitt

Somewhere by the Atlantic, fog swallows the world in Clampitt’s poem, “the islands’ spruce-tips / drunk up like milk in the / universal emulsion”. Shrouding some things makes others more distinct: “the nodding / campanula of bell buoys; / the ticking, linear / filigree of bird voices”.

“The Moose” by Elizabeth Bishop

Fog creeps in to many of Bishop’s maritime poems. Here she sits in a bus as “the fog, / shifting, salty, thin, / comes closing in”. It clings and condenses, “Its cold, round crystals / form and slide and settle / in the white hens’ feathers, / in gray glazed cabbages”. And suddenly a moose steps in front of the bus.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Conan Doyle’s fog is part stage effect, part elemental malignity: “Fog-wreaths came crawling round both corners of the house and rolled slowly into one dense bank”. When the dreadful hound appears, it does so, of course, “from the shadows of the fog”.

The Fog by James Herbert

Herbert’s shocker features a kind of fog unknown even on Dartmoor. Released after an earthquake, it drives all those it swathes to violent and beastly actions. And the fog is growing all the time.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Marlowe and some mad pilgrims travel up-river in search of Kurtz and, as they get beyond the reach of colonialism, they see something strange. “When the sun rose there was a white fog, very warm and clammy, and more blinding than the night. It did not shift or drive; it was just there, standing all round you like something solid”. From its heart they hear a cry “of infinite desolation”. They are entering another world.


Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/feb/27/john-mullan-ten-best-fogs