Mark Twain on Huck Finn's river
''The river is within us.'' T.S. Eliot's observation is likely to be cited more than once as ''The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'' reaches its 100th anniversary next year. Here is a sample of that Huck Finn narrative style which survived criticism and censorship to give Mark Twain's Mississippi tale a classic reputation for lending the novel a colloquial American voice.
We would watch the lonesomeness of the river, and kind of lazy along, and by and by lazy off to sleep. Wake up by and by, and look to see what done it, and maybe see a steamboat coughing along up-stream, so far off towards the other side you couldn't tell nothing about her only whether she was a stern-wheel or side-wheel; then for about an hour there wouldn't be nothing to hear nor nothing to see - just solid lonesomeness. Next you'd see a raft sliding by, away off yonder, and maybe a galoot on it chopping, because they're most always doing it on a raft; you'd see the ax flash and come down - you don't hear nothing; you see that ax go up again, and by the time it's above the man's head then you hear the k'chunk! - it had took all that time to come over the water. . . .
Sometimes we'd have that whole river all to ourselves for the longest time. Yonder was the banks and the islands, across the water; and maybe a spark - which was a candle in a cabin window; and sometimes on the water you could see a spark or two - on a raft or a scow, you know; and maybe you could hear a fiddle or a song coming over from one of them crafts.
It's lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many. Jim said the moon could 'a laid them; well, that looked kind of reasonable, so I didn't say nothing against it, because I've seen a frog lay most as many, so of course it could be done. We used to watch the stars that fell, too, and see them streak down. Jim allowed they'd got spoiled and was hove out of the nest.
Once or twice of a night we would see a steamboat slipping along in the dark, and now and then she would belch a whole world of sparks up out of her chimbleys , and they would rain down in the river and look awful pretty; then she would turn a corner and her lights would wink out and her powwow shut off and leave the river still again; and by and by her waves would get to us, a long time after she was gone, and joggle the raft a bit, and after that you wouldn't hear nothing for you couldn't tell how long, except maybe frogs or something.
After midnight the people on shore went to bed, and then for two or three hours the shores was black - no more sparks in the cabin windows. These sparks was our clock - the first one that showed again meant morning was coming, so we hunted a place to hide and tie up right away.