Saturday, June 30, 2007

3 Books

A couple of posts back I talked about getting lost in a good book. That's almost happening for me with John Crowley's Little, Big. This book captures a sensation I associate with childhood especially. Everything seems mysterious and strange. Important forces are at play around you, larger by far than you. Larger than your Mom and Dad. Larger than anything. They--these "forces"--are most certainly there, but little do you understand them. It is both scary (at times) and beautiful. And the thing is, you feel this sensation, this attitude, slipping away as you grow older, and it seems a great loss. There was a time in my life that I was so aware of that "loss," that difficult-to-explain absence or fading that comes with the approach of adulthood, that I in my innocence thought it was the key to understanding life.

Well, do you know what I mean? I think in literature Thornton Wilder's Our Town and Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine captured all this better than anything else. I read both of those again and again, in those years when the colors seemed to be fading out of life. Indeed, these books seemed so attuned to the truth I was experiencing, I practically considered them holy writ. Later, reading the romantic poets, Wordsworth's Prelude ("shades of the prison house descend around the growing boy"--something like that) and especially William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, these great writers only seemed to confirm my own lofty (as I had come to consider it) understanding.

Of course, what I have discovered "in the course of time" is that I had not come to the fundamental thing when I came to this understanding of life as loss and decline. Indeed, I had only scratched the surface of understanding. It was a childish conceit, the symptom of a narrow perspective. Not without it's portion of truth, but this truth is not understood apart from its context. "Unless a seed falls to the earth and dies. . . ."

Hmmm, I wonder how much I still don't know.


Anonymous said...

good post.

Leopold said...

Dad, this from "Invisible Cities" by Italo Calvino:

"...He was thinking of all these things when he desired a city. Isodora, therefor, is the city of his dreams: with one difference. The dreamed-of city contained him as a young man; he arrives in Isodora in his old age. In the square there is a wall. In the square there is a wall where the old men sit and watch the young go by; he is seated in a row with them. Desires are already memories."

This is not to say that you're old or anything, but I like that last line quite a bit. The book is a series of descriptions of different cities that Marco Polo gives to Kublai Khan. All these cities are under Kublai's empire, but he is coming to realize that, well:

"It is a desperate moment when we discover that this empire, which had seemed to us the sum of all wonders, is an endless, formless ruin, that corruption's gangrene has spread too far to be healed by our scepter, that the triumph over enemy sovereigns has made us heirs to their long undoing. Only in Marco Polo's account was Kublai Khan able to discern, through the walls and towers destined to crumble, the tracery of a pattern so subtle it could escape the termite's gnawing."

So poetry lets us understand this pattern that is still not lost, and likely never will be, and it does so even as it speaks about profound loss and decay, of things that never can return, of that we never had in the first place.

Bob said...

Wow, that is a great insight. The decay is a reality, but also "pattern so subtle it could escape the termite's gnawing."

That translates very well into the Christian understanding, btw, of the eikon (image) of God in which every human being is made. Sometimes, mostly, all we ever see is the obvious brokenness of the image. Maybe we ought to be looking for the subtle pattern of God's image.

Thanks for the quotes. As always, you get me thinking!