Our birth? A sleep and a forgetting?
Well, Mr William Wordsworth, legions of experienced woman might have a thing or two to say about that. Felix’s birth was not a sleep and a forgetting.
I know, and so do most of the women on the ward I was on. I have a singer’s voice and a singer’s projection. I had been doing awfully well on gas and air when nature rammed in and muscles I never knew I had ground into action. Ye Gods: I bellowed.
Perhaps I should have settled on a soothing mantra to call out, occupying a maternity ward on which many patients were still at the bath-and-hot-water-bottle stage. What might one settle on, to bellow encouragingly?
How about a Steve Jobs: “Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.” Or maybe the Dalai Lama: “My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”
I should have prepared. Because once our muscles are king, intellect and even reason fly out the hospital window. And so I bawled, in a manner worthy of Covent Garden Opera House, and without thought for my unfortunate fellow women: “Oh my stars (or something to that effect but possibly more colourful) that hurts so much!”
Wilful facetiousness aside, I must own that Wordsworth’s words, when slotted seamlessly into context, are rather stellar themselves.
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting,
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar…
Birth, says Wordsworth, is not the beginning.
Perhaps, he writes, we come from the magnificence of the universe, ‘trailing clouds of glory’. And in infancy the experience is still close: but as we grow our recollection fades into the commonplace.
Wordsworth is not the first to think it.Plato argued that we come equipped with knowledge gleaned from other lives.
Could they be right? Could a birth be simply a forgetting?
Perhaps we could turn to Wordsworth’s great inspiration: nature, and the lie of the land. We can raise our perspective away from our everyday lives and preoccupations and gaze in awe at the history before history, the birth not just of a people but even further back, to the birth of a landmass.
Beneath every country is a signature. A mass of rock which tells a story. This is the story not of our globe’s birth, but of its Cambrian years, around 500 million years ago, when land was moving about the globe colliding and joining and detaching in a restless pavane.
And it is the time when two continents, Laurentia(largely the land now in North America) and Baltica(the Scandinavian and Baltic countries) began to move slowly together. It took them a hundred million years or so to do it. It wasn’t until the Devonian era – round about 400 million years ago- that the two managed to collide.
And a splinter broke off Laurentia’s continental shelf.
It drifted underwater: folds in the earth’s tectonic plates sent it above water level, drifting off towards land with a Baltic geological signature. It was Avalonia, the land which contained England and Wales.
Was this Scotland’s birth? A land so violently different from England and Wales, the landmass to which it has become joined?
Or maybe its birth was later, and surrounds the first Scottish people, a settlement at Cramond, near Edinburgh: archaeologists found it while they were excavating land near a Roman bath house. They found a layer of earth filled with stone tools and hazelnut shells which have been carbon dated to 8500bc.
A camp for hunter-gatherers, this. They’ve found the wooden stake holes to prove it, and scoops and pits and advanced stone age tools.
Perhaps the beginning of a country coincides with its first king: like the one whose 4000 year old burial chamber has stunned archaeologists. It was found in 2009, at the ancient settlement of Forteviot, near Perth, which was once a great capital of the Pictish kingdom.
Picture a giant circle of 200 timber obelisks, and at its centre a stone-walled tomb, the walls inscribed with axes. The remains of the ruler were found laid out on hundreds of white quartz stones, and his treasured possessions – a bronze and gold dagger, a bronze knife, a wooden bowl and a leather bag- lay with him.
One land mass: each birth, each beginning as startling as the last.
But which one is the true birth of the country? For what became Scotland was born out of the fire of a star, and who is to say what it was before that?
Each of Scotland’s rebirths has been but a sleep and a forgetting.
Its life’s star has come from the beginning of what we know as time, and who knows when it may set.
Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme, ‘Birth’ which you can find here