Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The poetry of motion

"Rat, who was in the stern of the boat while Mole sculled, sat up suddenly and listened with a passionate intentness. Mole, who with gentle strokes was just keeping the boat moving while he scanned the banks with care, looked at him with curiosity.

'It's gone!' sighed the Rat, sinking back in his seat again. 'So beautiful and strange and new! Since it was to end so soon I almost wish I had never heard it. For it has roused a longing in me that is pain, and nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go on listening to it forever. No! There it is again!' he cried, alert once more. Entranced, he was silent for a long space, spellbound.

'Now it passes on and I begin to lose it,' he said presently. 'O, Mole! the beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear, happy call of the distant piping. Such music I never dreamed of, and the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet! Row on, Mole, row! For the music and the call must be for us.'"

I came across TWitW as a senior in high school and made it a vernal ritual for the next four years. If there is a better articulation of the call of the unknown--the voice from around the bend in the road--I haven't read it.

The heady pastoralism of The Wind in the Willows does not make for gripping reading, and you don't find abstractions like "the music and the call" in contemporary young adult fiction. Wizardry is okay; mysticism is not. Maybe the distinction is between action and awe--between acting and being acted on. There's plenty of action in TWitW but the most important--the awakening of Mole's dormant liveliness--is subcutaneous.

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