One of the most evocative and dreamlike pieces of short poetic prose, Michael J. Arlen’s Passage to Ararat has lingered in my mind ever since I first read its exquisitely rendered lines. On its surface, a simple recounting of a journey by boat toward the Biblical mountain where Noah’s ark legendarily came to rest. But layer by layer, Arlen’s sparse yet vivid language reveals itself to be a profound meditation on faith, life’s impermanence, and the profound imprint of loss.

The opening passages immediately transport the reader, painting a hypnotic, almost hallucinatory picture of the ark’s ancient voyage as seen through a drifting scrim of time:

“At the end of six months the waters began to go down…and the ark came to rest that same year in the seventeenth day of the seventh month, upon the mountains of Ararat. The corpse of a gull was observed by one of the watchers, caught on the roof grill, revolving slowly as the ark weather-vaned on the increasing wind.”

These visceral lines establish a haunting, dreamlike tone that the rest of the passage drifts within. We understand the narrator as possibly unreliable, a witness straining to perceive fragmented visions of this journey between sea and sacred summit.

As the voyage continues, the imagery becomes almost hallucinatory, oscillating between the brutal starkness of nature and visions of lush Edenic beauty:

“Immense clouds of pollinating creatures, mindless, without substance, drift across a frozen lake…only to force the seeding of new forms upon the water’s living grave…Over and through the waste of heavy waters, rushes and reeds part with a whispered ceremony of invited embrace.”

Here Arlen seems to submerge us in the cyclical rhythms of life, death, and regeneration. Amid evocative natural scenes coexist motifs of faith, ritual, and the pangs of human longing. The voyage toward Ararat becomes an archetypal human journey, alight with mystery, brimming with pain and fragile grace.

Ultimately, Arlen leaves us with a hauntingly bittersweet closing image as anchor is finally dropped:

“…on a shore that consumed its own serene perspectives in eternity, where vestiges of desire, implacable illusion, surrendered their pulsing embrace to the whirling agony of rocks and trees, the yield of gravity, the seasons, the relentless monotony of light.”

As a whole, Passage to Ararat emerges as a powerful, almost incantatory fusing of the ancient with the modern. The spare, imagistic language contains deep multitudes – grim yet luminous visions reverberating with life’s grandeur, impermanence, and humanity’s persistent searching for meaning amid it all. A true tour de force of evocative, poetic prose.