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As a fire burns with a murmur of flames, with the intermittent crack of exploding knots in the logs and the falling and settling of coal, so on the forest floor the hours of dusky light consumed away with rustlings, patterings, sighing and dying of breeze, scuttlings of rodents, snakes, lizards and now and then the padding of some larger animal on the move.

This is a quotation from Shardik by Richard Adams.

I don't exactly understand what clause so on the forest floor relates to? Does the fire burn on the forest floor (then I don't understand the so and the comma here) or the hours of dusky light are on the forest floor (seems most probable to me, but I don't understand an aim of so)? Or may be falling and settling of coal on the forest floor, then again why are there the comma and so? And another thing I don't understand here is the grammatical role of consumed away. It looks like past participle here but where is a verb in this clause then? If it's just past indefinite, then what exactly it consumed away?

  • fire : burns with noises :: hours of dusky light : consumes away with noises. As x...so y. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 9 '16 at 11:54
  • Both "burns" and "consumed away" are used intransitively here. Neither has a direct object. As the fire burns with a murmur...so the hours of dusky light consumed away with rustlings... – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 9 '16 at 11:55
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    The intransitive use of "consumed away" seems forced and contrived. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 9 '16 at 12:00
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    @TRomano I think it's an obsolete use rather than a contrived one; Adams occasionally revives Elizabethan diction. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 9 '16 at 12:57
  • @StoneyB Ah, sorry, was reading too quickly ... That's definitely a bit, erm , obolete! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Apr 9 '16 at 20:08
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The word as here means in the way that. The word so means in the same way. Authors use this to show some sort of similarity or connection between two clauses. In modern English we usually add some extra words. Instead of just saying "As X, so Y" we usually say "Just as X, so too Y":

  • Just as animals need oxygen to breathe, so too plants need carbon dioxide.

This sentence means:

  • In the same way that animals need oxygen to breathe, plants need carbon dioxide.

The sentence is saying that the two situations are similar. Oxygen in necessary for animals and carbon dioxide is necessary for plants. We could just say:

  • As animals need oxygen to breathe, so plants need carbon dioxide.

In the Original Poster's sentence, the author Richard Adams is saying that there were lots of different small noises coming from the fire and also coming from the forest floor. (The sounds of wood crackling in a fire is quite similar to twigs being trodden on or leaves rustling as animals move through them). Ignoring the details, the sentence means something like:

  • In the same way that [there were many different types of small, interesting noises from the fire], in that same way [there were many different types of small, interesting noises coming from the forest floor].

Or to make it simpler:

  • Just as the fire made small noises, so too did the forest floor.

The author also makes us think of another similarity too. The orange light of the fire, and the orange light of the evening when the sun sets.

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The sentence as a whole (which I find awkward and unclear) is framed with the correlatives "As ..., so ... "

The author is metaphorically comparing the light of flames consuming the logs with noises and movement with the light of day being "consumed" (I suppose that that's what "consumed away" is meant to mean) with noises and movement.

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    The author is also presenting a "Homeric simile" in order to imitate epic poetry and seem more literary. – Rob_Ster Apr 9 '16 at 13:59

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