What are some good phrases or items that can be used to describe a setting that is unfriendly, cold and empty?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When I read your question and the excellent answer by wordprof, I was reminded of Robert Browniing's well-known poem, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came." In the following stanzas he describes a really awful landscape.


So, on I went. I think I never saw
Such starved ignoble nature; nothing throve:
For flowers---as well expect a cedar grove!
But cockle, spurge, according to their law
Might propagate their kind, with none to awe,
You'd think; a burr had been a treasure-trove.


No! penury, inertness and grimace,
In some strange sort, were the land's portion. ``See
``Or shut your eyes,'' said nature peevishly,
``It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:
``'Tis the Last judgment's fire must cure this place,
``Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free.''


If there pushed any ragged thistle-stalk
Above its mates, the head was chopped; the bents
Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
In the dock's harsh swarth leaves, bruised as to baulk
All hope of greenness?'tis a brute must walk
Pashing their life out, with a brute's intents.


As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
In leprosy; thin dry blades pricked the mud
Which underneath looked kneaded up with blood.
One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare,
Stood stupefied, however he came there:
Thrust out past service from the devil's stud!

wordprof eNotes educator| Certified Educator
You could stress the absence of life, growth, or movement, by analogies rather than just adjectives: a barren landscape, blighted and sterile, devoid of movement, frozen in stillness, the very sign of time waiting, where cavernous silence gives no clue that Life has even begun yet, in a world absent of even the hope of warmth, no place for even a wind to nest, bone-naked, where the sun has no chance of welcome, the kind of barrenness that witnesses to nothingness, where existence cannot claim victory over the void, chilly beyond season, as though the universe had exhausted its energy, giving up on making somthing of it all, nothing to sort out, a giant shrugging of the shoulders, if sound could go here to die, nothing would awaken to hear the death throttle, a place of bitter giving up. The term "paysage moralise" applies here -- a landscape that reflects the meanness, cruelty, indifference, of a character's heart. "He was like a ..."