09 March 2017

"And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking" -- A Case in Point

The Angelus -- Jean-Francois Millet

Tolkien was appalled by our modern obsession with speedy locomotion. It annihilates space, he said, blinding us to the glories that we are traversing. As with much of modern technology, he feared that jet travel is yet another instance of what Thoreau called "improved means to unimproved ends." We take off from New York or Atlanta and land in Cairo or Delhi a few hours later, as if these vastly different cities in vastly different countries were abstract and featureless places, mere dots on a map. No wonder that Tolkien penned a tart note to one year's income tax payment, refusing his support of supersonic jet travel: "Not a penny for Concorde." 
Ralph C. Wood. The Gospel According to Tolkien

And as if in answer there came from not too far away another note. For at the bottom of this page on my screen is the following message:

"7 hrs 35 mins left in book"


There has to be a place and a time where all this haste stops, just stops, just stops.  And that place and that time must be home, where we may be enchanted out of the world where we lay waste our powers, and recover our selves from the hasty, locomotive days outside our door. Or, as Pink Floyd tell us:

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today,
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.
Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time,
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines.
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I'd something more to say .
Home, home again,
I like to be here when I can.
When I come home cold and tired
It's good to warm my bones beside the fire.
Far away, across the field
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spell.
Time, David Gilmour and Richard Wright. 




  1. Brings to mind a passage from Chesterton's Orthodoxy:

    It is customary to complain of the bustle and strenuousness of our epoch. But in truth the chief mark of our epoch is a profound laziness and fatigue; and the fact is that the real laziness is the cause of the apparent bustle. Take one quite external case; the streets are noisy with taxicabs and motorcars; but this is not due to human activity but to human repose. There would be less bustle if there were more activity, if people were simply walking about. Our world would be more silent if it were more strenuous. And this which is true of the apparent physical bustle is true also of the apparent bustle of the intellect. Most of the machinery of modern language is labour-saving machinery; and it saves mental labour very much more than it ought. Scientific phrases are used like scientific wheels and piston-rods to make swifter and smoother yet the path of the comfortable. Long words go rattling by us like long railway trains. We know they are carrying thousands who are too tired or too indolent to walk and think for themselves. It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion one holds in words of one syllable. If you say "The social utility of the indeterminate sentence is recognized by all criminologists as a part of our sociological evolution towards a more humane and scientific view of punishment," you can go on talking like that for hours with hardly a movement of the gray matter inside your skull. But if you begin "I wish Jones to go to gaol and Brown to say when Jones shall come out," you will discover, with a thrill of horror, that you are obliged to think. The long words are not the hard words, it is the short words that are hard. There is much more metaphysical subtlety in the word "damn" than in the word "degeneration."

  2. Thanks, Hannah, for the wonderful quote from Chesterton, whom I am perpetually meaning to read more of and one day I will. He's quite right of course, and I imagine that both he and Tolkien would be even more appalled now at the hurry we are always in these days, and the noise we are bombarded with everywhere. We need music playing while we are pumping gas, and a tv above the pump to tell me things I don't know I need to know. Right.