by Rainer Maria Rilke
The school's long stream of time and tediousness
winds slowly on, through torpor, through dismay.
O loneliness, O time that creeps away...
Then out at last: the street rings loud and gay,
and in the big white squares the fountains play,
and in the parks the world seems measureless.-
And to pass through it all in children's dress,
with others, but quite otherwise than they:-
O wondrous time, O time that fleets away,
And out into it all to gaze and gaze:
men, women, women, men in blacks and greys,
and children, brightly dressed, but differently;
and here a house, and there a dog, maybe,
and fear and trust changing in subtle ways:-
O grief uncaused, O dream, O dark amaze.
O still-unsounded sea!
And then with bat and ball and hoop to playing
in parks where the bright colours softly fade,
brushing against the grown-ups without staying
when the ball and hoop their alien walks invade;
but when the twilight comes, with little, swaying
footsteps going home with unrejected aid:-
O thoughts that fade into the darkness, staying
And hours on end on the grey pond-side kneeling
with little sailing-boat and elbows bare;
forgetting it, because one like it's stealing
below the ripples, but with sails more fair;
and, having still to spare, to share some feeling
with the small sinking face caught sight of there:-
Childhood! Winged likenesses half-guessed at, wheeling,
oh where, oh, where?'
I think this is a magical poem, by the 'Santa Claus of loneliness'(W.H. Auden). It is deeply suggestive of the introspection that marks a certain period of childhood. It is hard to remember one's days as a carefree scamp without a soundtrack of melting harpstrings and images of sunbathed, rosy cheeked, mail-order catalogue toddlers. But if you get to that place, the country that is utterly particular to you, then you might remember that you spent a phenomenal amount of time wandering around aimlessly, singing atonal, abstract tunes and inventing idyllic worlds for yourself. Often without talking to anyone else. Whether you are now a socialite or, like U.S.C.R., a 'lanky quasi-intellectual recluse', remember that you were once wholly content to live inside your own head for hours.
When academic discipline was introduced to my school life, at about seven, school did become a 'long stream of time and tediousness'. Previously composed of colouring-in, story-time and show and tell (doesn't that sound like The White Stripes' 'We're Going To Be Friends'?), it now became something uninterruptable, inevitable, inescapable. I would daydream in Maths and jump for joy when the bell went for hometime. The 'time that creeps away' describes the cruel phenomenon that, though childhood is magical, one is oblivious to this at the time. This 'time that fleets away' makes up a tragically small part of your life.
The next stanza simulates the innocent observations oif a child with the capacity to simpy 'gaze and gaze'. The '' is the child's charmingly fickle emotional state.The 'fear and trust changing in subtle ways' is the child's charmingly fickle emotional state.Hence the 'grief uncaused.''O still unsounded sea!' all that mysterious potential that does not bother a child in the slightest. Their inconsequential games of bat and ball for a telling moment infirnge on the 'alien walks,' of the adults. 'Alien', because their seriousness, decorum and reserve are baffling, perhaps even faintly amusing. However, tired and subjugated, they welcome the arm of their parents on the way home; ‘unrejected aid’.
The pond seems to me to be a beautiful metaphor for the child’s self-contained quality, its joyous introspection, ‘stealing below the ripples’. What on earth is that ‘small sinking face’? A premonition of their adult self? The sight of a companion? The final line captures in the most sublime way possible the flickering, trembling palimpsest of suggestive half-recollections that constitute the memory of our childhood. ‘Winged likenesses half-guessed at’; those ghosts of ‘lectricity, hovering, illegible in our subconscious. Elusive, half-ruined by rosy sunlight, ‘wheelinh’, constantly shifting. Can you picture those original playschool friends of yours? I can’t really. They are vague, suggestive smudges, stains and bruises on my mind. A half-caste boy, whose hair was intriguing. A girl called Caroline, who had a crush on me but whose pale face I cannot crystallize. A tiny blond boy who seemed quite like me. oh where, oh, where?