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     A plaintive murmur rose in the night; a murmur saddening and startling, as if the great solitudes of surrounding woods had tried to whisper into his ear the wisdom of their immense and lofty indifference. Sounds hesitating and vague floated in the air round him, shaped themselves slowly into words; and at last flowed on gently in a murmuring stream of soft and monotonous sentences. He stirred like a man waking up and changed his position slightly. Arsat, motionless and shadowy, sitting with bowed head under the stars, was speaking in a low and dreamy tone. 

 The rhythm and sound of these sentences are remarkable. This really must be read out loud:

A plaintive murmur rose in the night;

a murmur saddening and startling,

as if the great solitudes of surrounding woods

had tried to whisper into his ear the wisdom

of their immense and lofty indifference.

Sounds hesitating and vague

floated in the air round him,

shaped themselves slowly into words;

and at last flowed on gently

in a murmuring stream of soft and monotonous sentences.

He stirred like a man waking up

and changed his position slightly.

Arsat, motionless and shadowy,

sitting with bowed head under the stars,

was speaking in a low and dreamy tone.

There is a deliberate repetition of s’s and m’s which imitate the “plaintive murmur” of the night. There is thrice used “murmur”. Arsat is both “motionless and shadowy”, gathering up the preceding sounds of the “murmuring stream of soft and monotonous sentences.” There is a contrasted “woods and wisdom”.

The sounds of the words are quite remarkable. The deliberate nature of the selection is seen in the use of the word “woods” to describe the jungle: it is not wrong, it is just not common. The sounds are “monotonous sentences.”

In following along with the perilous realm, Arsat is not merely motionless, he is a shadow himself. Indeed, he will be described as less than a whole man, below. He is under the stars and is in a dream world.

     ‘… for where can we lay down the heaviness of our trouble but in a friend’s heart? A man must speak of war and of love. You, Tuan, know what war is, and you have seen me in time of danger seek death as other men seek life! A writing may be lost; a lie may be written; but what the eye has seen is truth and remains in the mind!’ 

     ‘I remember,’ said the white man quietly. Arsat went on with mournful composure. 

     ‘Therefore I shall speak to you of love. Speak in the night. Speak before both night and love are gone – and the eye of day looks upon my sorrow and my shame; upon my blackened face; upon my burnt-up heart.’ 

 When Arsat begins to speak, his first words are of “heaviness”. Notice that this comes immediately after he is said to be motions, have a “bowed head”, his voice is “low”. The scene is of a man sinking.

The line, “A man must speak of war and of love” is marvelous. It is one of those majestic mottos that a contemporary writer could not voice without sounding hackneyed; but Conrad has carefully crafted a Byronic Hero: a man who struggles with some overwhelming, vaguely supernatural fate which has bowed him down. Since Arsat is already heroic, he can speak like this and not sound ironic.

The words “I remember” are the words of grace and friendship: he will enter Arsat’s world. But the white man has only shared in Arsat’s life of war. Now, Arsat is going to bring the white man into Arsat’s experience of love.

Notice that the story which he intends to tell is a story which must be told at night: It is a story which belongs to the dream world. When the sun comes and insists upon judgment, Arsat will have shame and a burnt up heart. The next section begins the story.

Conrad is one of the few writers who uses the second person narrative well. Done right, the technique creates a Shakespearean play-within-a-play dynamic. We are reading a story about hearing a story; there are levels of reality created by the story. I first enter into one world, created by Conrad for me. Then I enter into a second world created by a character created by Conrad.