Friday, June 23, 2006

This Sunrise of Wonder

From chapter 7 of This Sunrise of Wonder – letters for the journey, by Michael Mayne, published by Fount 1995.

Of course I cannot force myself into some permanent state of wonder. How I see the world depends on a hundred different things: on the sort of person I am, my upbringing, my environment, my relationships, the mood I am in, whether the sun is shining or the rain pouring down, whether I have had a good night or a sleepless one, and how life is treating me. What I can do, though it may take a lifetime, is to train myself to see, to notice, to give due attention to what is before my eyes. I can come to understand that there is no object (and certainly no person) not worthy of wonder, and that what makes them so is that each in its or his or her essence is (a) unique; (b) unlikely (are giraffes and flamingoes likely? Is a humming bird? Or Mozart?; (c) ‘other’; and (d ) not mastered, that is to say, not capable of being fully understood, docketed and explained. Again, it is the child’s approach to the world that we lose, not because we have resolved its mystery but because we have grown accustomed to its face.

What are the kind of triggers that can open our ‘doors or perception,’ as Blake calls our eyes? Auden had no doubt that the one who best goes on to flesh out our ‘Primary’ awareness is the artist, for it is by the framing of a moment in a painting or a poem, by intensifying our awareness of he shape of things or their colour, or the effect of light on them, or their particularity, that an artist may arouse our wonder.

Just as the native religions have guarded truths about our relationship with the creation that our more cerebral faiths have neglected or forgotten, so the experience of living in a new culture can cause a shift of understanding of the nature both of what is real and what is of value. Barry Lopez tells in his book Arctic Dreams of the four years he spent travelling in the Arctic Circle. He sets on the title page words of N Scott Momaday:
‘Once in his life a person ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered
earth. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape…to look at it from
as many angles as he can, to wonder upon it…to imagine he touches it with his
hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it.’
Lopez became obsessed, haunted with the beauty of the Arctic landscape. ‘I had the same quickness of heart and very intense feelings that human beings have when they fall in love.’ The book is a kind of poetic reflection on how we see our planet and the mystery of natural world. He writes of the loss of the ‘native eye’, of the polar bears and the great whales and their ‘power to elevate human life;’ of the mystery of the migration of the snow-geese and their ability to detect electromagnetic fields or to use sound echoes or differences of air pressure as guides; of the awesome nature of the great pale blue and mint-green icebergs,’ so beautiful they made you afraid.’

He comes one evening upon a horned lark sitting on a nest. ‘She stared back at me resolute as iron.’ Beside her, golden plovers abandoned their nests, revealing eggs that glowed with a soft, pure light…
‘like the window light of a Vermeer painting. I marvelled at this intense
and concentrated beauty…I took to bowing on these evening walks, bowing slightly
towards the birds…What, I wondered, had compelled me to do so? ….I bowed before
the simple evidence of this moment in my life in a tangible place on the earth
that was beautiful.’
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