Monday, December 19, 2005

A remoter charm

The Romantic poet William Wordsworth wrote this of his youth:
     ...the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.

As I enjoy what might be the last months of deep darkness here on the island, there is a tendency to abandon myself, with the poet, to the sheer sensations of the starry sky, to lie on the terrace at night and sate an appetite for beauty that needs no charm unborrowed from the eye. But mind keeps intruding. Sensation becomes, inevitably, perception. It is impossible to unlearn all that I have learned in a lifetime of learning: The various sizes and temperatures of the stars, the nature of those colossal celestial furnaces powered by fusion, their distribution in three dimensions, the enveloping nebulas revealed by telescopes, the abyss of galaxies that reaches back to the beginning of space and time. Perhaps only a child can view a universe unalloyed with all that thought supplies. There are times, of course, when one wishes one could turn off the mind and surrender oneself to the pure gush and rush of sensation. But a life cannot be unlived, nor science foresworn. The desire for unadulterated sensation passes, and the adult perceiver revels in a universe that far outshines the mere downpour of photons on the retina of the eye.