December 17, 2011

A glimpse of the beginnings

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, November/December 2011

I’d choose to live in very early childhood, just at the beginning of discernment. There’s no time there, beyond the eternal rhythm set by meals at the breast and the oblivion of sleep, which comes as gently and immediately as the closing of an eye; there’s no place there, beyond one patch of sunlit grass, one fold of blanket, and the whole enormous world laid out for exploring.

In this time and place, poets tell us, dreams and waking are the same; we move easily from one to the other. We may still keep, as Wordsworth supposed, intimations of some ante-natal life, and know why we home like bees towards the song of a bird or the sparkle of sunbeams on water. With our small hands, we believe that everything can be grasped; with our small, soft mouths we try to eat it all, assuming everything we find will be sweet and rich as milk.

No one makes demands on us, and the world revolves effortlessly round no one but ourselves. Our griefs are soothed and forgotten almost before the tears fall. We are carried if we want to be, in hugging arms, but we can pull ourselves up, reach things, and creep away from where we’re put: every day more confident, stronger, keener-eyed. Slowly, like a shell, the world opens and light floods in. Any day now, we’ll stand to meet it.

Everything is new, unnamed, important, and belongs to us. A stone is new, and a blade of grass. We see their potential as unlimited, like our own. We make time for it. A puddle astonishes us. A piece of paper, blown by the wind, becomes a playmate, and the night-time tree a ragged monster. Coleridge once took his crying baby son out of the house to show him the moon; the moon silenced him, shining on his tears. It is good to be silenced by beauty. Too briefly we stay there. But infancy makes of everywhere the best time and the best place.

Ann Wroe is the obituaries editor of The Economist and author of "Orpheus: The Song of Life" and "Being Shelley: The Poet's Search for Himself".

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