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The Narrative Image

This is the second most popular type of image with writers, giving their readers the facts of what happened or perhaps is happening at the time of writing. This may be done in words that are more or less direct, as we can witness in this excerpt about a working day:

                    The clocked-in hours have ticked to a close
                    and we’ve streamed out, dunking our cards
                    in the machine, to the works buses,
                    lit up the longest cigarette of the day.

You see – more or less straight description until we get to the cigarette. As from here, the whole day unfolds: past, present and future.

It is narrative because it catches the moment of the day when one breathes deep and enjoys the cigarette to the full. In spite of being a non-smoker, I could certainly visualize the pleasurable moment of freedom that longest cigarette of the day signifies.

How about this by George Mackay Brown:


                    The horse at the shore
                    Casks of red apples, skull, a barrel of rum.

                    The horse in the field
                    Plough, ploughman, gulls, a furrow, a cornstalk.

                    The horse in the peat-bog
                    Twelve baskets of dark fire

                    The horse at the pier
                    Letters, bread, paraffin, one passenger, papers

                    The horse at the show
                    Ribbons, raffia, high bright hooves

                    The horse in the meadow
                    A stallion, a red wind, between the hills

                    A horse at the burn
                    Quenching a long flame in the throat.

You’d say… descriptive, but how much more concrete would you expect these images to portray the actions in the particular circumstances? At the same time, feel how each description runs beyond itself so that it becomes narrative not just of moments, but of days and whole lives.

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