Monday, June 12, 2006

Hearing the galaxies

In her wonderful autobiography, the beloved Mississippi writer Eudora Welty tells of her time at the Mississippi State College for Women. The first book she bought for her bookshelf was In April Once, by the Mississippi poet William Alexander Percy. The first poem in the book, written in New York City, was entitled "Home":
I have a need of silence and of stars.
Too much is said too loudly. I am dazed.
The silken sound of whirled infinity
Is lost in voices shouting to be heard...
She is walking on the campus at night, the poem in her head, and around her is nothing but silence and stars. She writes: "In the beautiful spring night, I was dedicated to wanting a beautiful spring night. To be transported to it was what I wanted. Whatever a poem was about -- that it could be called "Home" didn't matter -- it was about somewhere else, somewhere distant and far."

What she felt that night became a theme of Welty's life: that one could stay put but still travel far. She spent most of her life in Jackson, Mississippi, in the house where she was born, but she considered herself a citizen of the world. The first chapter of her autobiography is called "Listening." Good advice for any of us who want to be citizens of the world -- or of the universe. We mean it metaphorically, of course, but we cock our ears for the silken sound of whirled infinity -- the galaxies turning on their languorous axes, the pulsars spinning in their millisecond compactness.