Friday, December 4, 2009

Pooh and Eden

Listening to Robert Tear's wonderful album of the Fraser-Simson-A.A. Milne songs -- and it is growing on me, though my ancient loyalties lie, of course, with the Jack Gilford recording -- is turning out to be a poignant, even painful, experience for me.   The songs are so curious -- art music written on children's poetry -- and their beauty is so anachronistic, that they seem almost an aural metaphor for the strangeness and fleetingness of childhood itself.  I wish I could preserve the wonder of childhood for my own son, and of course I wish it could have been preserved for me, and I wonder sometimes how I became so determined to fall so far from the innocence of childhood, which, paradoxically, I managed to retain for a longer time than most American girls.  When the world begins to appear the mirror opposite of how it formerly looked  and felt (the shock and processing of this experience are very much what Mozart's last opera, Die Zauberflöte, is about), some children feel as if they've been driven out of the safe world of childhood, which now seems utterly false, and begin to act out their anger and grief at this loss which reflects the primordial loss of Eden.  This, at least, is what happened to me.

Yet I am strongly drawn to the ethos of childhood.  Most of what I read in my limited spare time is children's literature, and I am always trying to devise ways to bring the things I loved in my own childhood into my son's life (though I will need to accept the possibility that he may not love them himself).  But, I wonder, is it right, is it good to create a world of wonder around childhood, when the real world is such a hateful, mean, dangerous place?

I fervently wish that all children might be immersed in the world of delight that's portrayed in H. Fraser-Simson's wonderful Milne songs.  In my new city,  however, where I see little boys with neck tattoos that match their dads', where I read in the paper every day about horrific acts of child abuse and neglect, and where I hear parents screaming and cursing at their children as they walk them home from school, I'm even more acutely aware that this world is a distant dream for most children.  How fortunate are the few who, through happy circumstance and the efforts of their parents, are able to live in a world of innocence for a few short years.

The existential sorrow that the Fraser-Simson/Milne songs evokes for me is, I think, most of all elegiac -- not only for the world of childhood, which is always slipping away, always being lost -- but also for life itself, which starts out as a trickle of small goodbyes and later turns into a torrent of big ones.


lissla lissar said...

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

I think children are aware of evil and pain from a pretty young age, and that good children's lit. gives them explanations and a safe, book-confined world to explore danger, courage, evil, temptation. I'm tired right now, and your post has a confusing mix of Chesterton, Bible stories, and my favourite kid's books running through my head. Sorry if this lacks coherence.

I think the wonder of childhood caught in Milne and Stevenson is what grows into the wonder and knowledge and responsibility of Narnia- not exactly loss, but maturation- being able to hold onto the delight in creation that we have as children, knowing that having been given the gifts of love and security we now gradually assume responsibility for ourselves. We no longer have to be subsumed in every moment, terror, joy, or play.

Right. Did any of that make sense? I need to go to bed.

Pentimento said...

Yes, it does make sense.

"We no longer have to be subsumed in every moment, terror, joy, or play." I wish I had learned this before adulthood. The neurotic assumption that I indeed had to be subsumed really did a lot of harm. I think part of it was the strong attraction to the Dionysian that many artists -- and children -- have.

I hope everything is going smoothly with Nat.

Darwin said...

The picture of Pooh ascending stairs you have on this post (or, rather more so, the similar one of Christopher Robin dragging Pooh upstairs by one leg) is one that I deeply associate with the end of life as well as the beginning. To fill in:

My father was a man who identified with Pooh, referring to himself at times, in a rather gruff voice, as a "bear of very little brain", though he was one of the wiser men that I have known. "Silly old bear!" was also one of the lines frequently used between himself and my mother.

In the last weeks of his struggle with cancer, he began to talk about himself as a worn out old bear. And in that context, I couldn't help envisioning death as being that moment in which Christopher Robin would at last take him by the leg, and drag him (bump, bump, bump) up the stairs to bed.

Pentimento said...

That is very moving, Darwin. Thank you for sharing it here.

I think that one of the painful things (for me) about the Milne poems and stories (and songs) is that, in a sense, they are really, themselves, about death. Christopher Robin has to go away in the end -- to boarding school -- but we know he will never really, truly be "back."

lissla lissar said...

That's beautiful, Darwin.

I was reading The Selfish Giant to Nat this evening (his request- he seems to share my love for bittersweet stories), and the ending always surprises me with its beauty. "You let me play in your garden. Today you shall come with me to My garden, which is Paradise."

Nat's doing well. He's resigned to needles and doesn't mind the blood testing, and we're learning to kindly rebuff reams of wildly inaccurate but well-meant advice on miracle cures and diabetes causes. And he's acting like a proper toddler, tearing around frantically, which is (usually) a great joy.