There's something melancholy about sitting by an open window late at night, writing, listening to a train whistle on the edge of town. I often hear them in the hours after midnight. When I see them during the day they're always full of gravel. There are big strip mines in the desert west of the city, beyond the river, which is perennially dry. Lately a forest of wind generators has cropped up on the desolate hills where once a mad Frenchman lorded it over the native tribes, back when this was part of Spain. It's strange, how the same people who decry strip mining seemingly don't mind filling the earth with these symbols of progress which, once the subsidies stop coming in, will surely be allowed to fall to pieces. As long as it isn't within sight of Aspen or Park City, I suppose.
But I digress. I was writing about the sad sound of the train, which I can still hear humming up at the north end of town. I have the window open, and the lace curtains keep blowing against me. It rained earlier and the air is cool now.
There's a scene at the end of David Lean's Doctor Zhivago that often comes to my mind. It's the one where Yuri is staying with Lara and her daughter at Varykino, which has stood long empty, sealed off by the government, surrounded by vast empty fields of snow, encased in ice. At one point Lara wakes up, hears the wolves howling. "This is an awful time to be alive," she says. "No," Yuri replies, with warmth and certainty. And it's there that he writes his greatest poetry.
I've never read the book. But for me the meaning of the film is that life must go on—will go on—no matter what happens in the world. Poets will keep straining for beauty. If the world hinders them, well, they'll do it in spite of the world. The more harried and oppressed they are, the more pure and refined will be the fruits of their hearts and minds.
I hear another train whistle.