Whatever one may think about Thomas Wolfe’s overall quality as a writer, his descriptive ability is extraordinary. This depiction of the wicked Judge Rumford Bland from his novel You Can’t Go Home Again is chilling, vivid–a word painting if I’ve ever seen one. I give the passage here in its versified form, as found in A Stone, A Leaf, A Door.
But he was stained with evil.
There was something genuinely old and corrupt
At the sources of his life and spirit.
It had got into his blood,
His bone, his flesh.
It was palpable in the touch
Of his thin, frail hand when he greeted you,
It was present in the deadly weariness
Of his tone of voice,
In the dead-white texture
Of his emaciated face,
In his lank and lusterless auburn hair,
And, most of all,
In his sunken mouth,
Around which there hovered constantly
The ghost of a smile.
It could only be called the ghost of a smile,
And yet, really, it was no smile at all.
It was, if anything, only a shadow
At the corners of the mouth.
When one looked closely,
It was gone.
But one knew
That it was always there–
Lewd, evil, mocking,
And suggesting a limitless vitality
Akin to the humor of death,
Which welled up from some secret spring
In his dark soul.