Atomi (1.4.59-69)

MERCUTIO     Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut,

                        Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,

                        Time out a’mind the fairies’ coachmakers:

                        Her waggon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs,

                        The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,

                        Her traces of the smallest spider web,

                        Her collars of the moonshine’s wat’ry beams,

                        Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,

                        Her waggoner a small grey-coated gnat,

                        Not half so big as a round little worm

                        Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid. (1.4.59-69)

Back it clicks into focus: the chariot made of a hazel-nut can almost be pictured, its precise contours, its size and scale – but it’s immediately kicked away into the more fanciful realm of the joiner squirrel or old grub (never mind that a squirrel, just, has the sort of little hands that might conceivably fashion a fairy coach out of a hazel-nut shell – but does the grub even have hands? although it might be able to bore through like a worm…) And the relative solidity, the roundness of the nut is replaced by thin, insubstantial things: the spokes of the wheels made out of the legs of spiders; a glittering cover made from grasshopper wings; the traces or reins controlling those still-unspecified atomi of cobwebs (and not just any old cobwebs, the smallest spider web) and – at the very limits of sight and substance – moonshine, gossamer, and the bone (crickets do not have bones) of a cricket. And, just when we’ve imagined – and mentally dressed – the (small) gnat, we have to rescale, so that the (small) gnat is not half so big as a round little worm – of unspecified size – of the kind apparently thought to breed in the fingers of idle young women. Yucky. And there’s the body, specifically the finger, again, as we strain to see, touch, grasp, imagine.

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