high weir

July 26, 2006

“A mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels . . .”

Filed under: Fatherhood — jstreed1476 @ 2:08 am

I’ve always liked Sir Thomas Browne, but somehow I overlooked Thomas Traherne until just recently. They wander the same orchard, it seems, but pull down different fruit. Here’s a taste of his recollection of wonder as a child:

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which should never be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things. . . . Eternity was manifest in the light of the day, and something infinite behind everything appeared, which talked with my expectation and moved my desire.

A good part of his Centuries of Meditation describes how his simple, childish wonder at the world became “eclipsed . . . by the customs and manners of men, which like contrary winds blew it out.” As the father of boy of six, I can see the shadow of that eclipse advance and reduce to the merely ordinary things Clay would have found amazements only a season ago. How strange and foolish that, watching him held fast by a spectacle of swirling tadpoles, I can’t help thinking that this instant, here, now, is the last time he’ll be so moved by something so small and simple. I’m usually on guard against that kind of sentimentality, but it slips through sometimes.

Perhaps it’s not an entirely bad tendency. Or perhaps it can be given a bit of perspective by Annie Dillard’s wry observation:

Young children have no sense of wonder. They bewilder well, but few things surprise them. All of it is new to young children, after all, and equally gratuitous. Their parents pause at the unnecessary beauty of an ice storm coating the trees; the children look for something to throw. The children who tape colorful fall laves to the schoolroom windows and walls are humoring the teacher.

Or perhaps a parent’s imagination works upon a child’s engagement of the world as a remedy and a preventative.

1 Comment »

  1. yes, growing children are a mixed bag. i look back at their pictures from 1-4 and think ‘they were so cute i could die!’ but, on the other hand, they weren’t as fun. and 7’s a great age with none of the problems of, say, 12, but 7 has plenty of annoying things, too…

    then again, maybe you’re not looking for philosophizing. ‘freshman psych rears its ugly head’ ;-)

    leave it to Annie to strip away all sentimentality (though her remembrances of ‘the boys’ effects on her from AAC, in not sentimental, at least invoke sentimentality in me…

    plus, your fixed font choice here is unsentimental.

    ok, i’m done ;-)

    great post.

    Comment by Sean — July 26, 2006 @ 1:11 pm

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