a place from which they need never have returned

“But of all the birds resting in the trees along the Tiber at the end of October, none was half the flier, half the sounder, half the whistler, or half the darter of the swallow.  The swallows flew in great circles, picking up speed, and rising like leaves in a whirlwind.  The ascended like madness, climbing up and up, until they flew among the higher and thicker clouds, in a soft and rosy walls of which they would disappear and from which they suddenly burst in surprise.  Though you could barely see them—at those altitudes they were only spots  and flecks that vanished as readily as they came into view, as if they were merely the coloration of the sky—it was very clear that in the high altitudes they encountered something of extraordinary beauty and import, which is why they strained so hard to rise and stayed so long.

Coursing from cloud to cloud, in roseate light, they had escaped, they knew the pure and abstract and were freed from everything saved light, force, and proportion.  The waves of air high above the clouds were more hypnotic than waves in the sea.  The light was a burst of pink and gold, and the color of the sky ran from China blue to the pale white that held the sun.

And yet, though they were taken by the wind, and flew like golden confetti in the clouds, and might have stayed, they descended, they came down, they whistled like rockets as they fell toward the ground.  They chose to return, as if they had no choice, and what struck Alessandro above all was the consummate and decisive beauty of their fall.  It was not a hopeless fall, for as they shot downward they fought the air, and, ascending momentarily with great strain, they sailed off to left or right, and circled about on the plateau they had marked, before another dizzying drop, another spreading of wings, and another partial ascension.

They seemed to fly faster than the imagination could imagine.  They turned with breathtaking force.  They made perfect curves.  The air sang with their passage.

And when they were finished, these small birds that had been flecks of gold airborne on light and wind in a place from which they need never have returned, they settled gently in the dark spaces among the branches, and here, at the end, they sang a simple and beautiful song.” — Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War

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