A Sleep and A Forgetting

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


35 thoughts on “A Sleep and A Forgetting

  1. Stunning description, Kate. Rivetting stuff.

    You might care to search my pages for. “Beginnings”.
    That’s what returned to my mind.

    Love Dad

  2. I too look back in amazement at the noise I created for the first birth! “I need an epidural and I want it now,” was the last thing I remember shouting (not my usual style, might I add) before Techie ‘popped’ out, even before he or she had arrived.

    The second was quieter!

  3. I threw up during the birth of Tinson 2. Mrs Tin and I have never told anyone that before.
    In fairness, I think it was caused by the heat in the delivery ward and the fact that I’d just had a cigarette at 5 a.m. upon a completely empty stomach, but from the look on the faces of the nurses as they handed me a bowl I don’t think I improved their opinion of the male gender.

    1. Poor soul 😦 It’s quite a business, and we mothers have the advantage that we might be doing it but we can’t see a thing that’s happening the other end. I have never watched a childbirth and know what? I don’t intend to…

  4. Ye Gods, Kate! Another great post. I love looking at beginnings, but there is always something before. Even before the Universe existed there had to be something. I never, for one moment, thought that Scotland could have been a separate piece of land that attached itself to England… I always believed that we all became detached from Europe. Well, I believed it because I was told it. I really love seeing things from a different perspective. Thanks, Kate!

  5. I have always loved learning about ancient geology and the many possibilities that existed in past millennia. What a great post, so many thoughts about the beginnings of things.

  6. The birthing floor at St. Joseph’s East in Lexington, KY will never forget Sam’s grand entrance into the world. I’m sure some of those women learned new vocabulary words from me that day.

  7. I actually do believe that birth is a forgetting Kate. Have you read Journey of Souls? A bit tedious in the case studies but fascinating.

  8. Wonderful, Kate!

    We’ve been attending a Think and Drink series at the planetarium about the “birth” of Florida . . . also formed by shifting land masses that snagged it off a passing continment. Fascinating stuff this evolution of the planet.

    I agree with the worth of Wordsworth’s words . . .

    ”What are you ~ a god, an angel, a saint?”
    β€œNo,” replied The Buddha, β€œI am A-W-A-K-E.”


  9. As always, Kate – this is a stunning post. I have a feeling, however, that we could have sung a Wagnerian (that composer I cannot abide) duet – Valkyries with gusto! My first “receiving” birth saga is much too long to tell here, but suffice it to say, it was with every single minute and much more! My entry went more that way than yours did:


    The birth of the planet, as well as all her land masses, is infinitely fascinating. And Scotland – never thought about it as being separate – at least a far as the British Isle is concerned. It is a different kettle of fish altogether as a people, however! Being married into a Scottish clan, I can attest to that!

    1. Beautiful poem, Paula πŸ™‚ Thank you for your kind words. I doubt you and I will ever perform arias with such gusto again….and the Scottish: I’d say they are a race apart. The Romans never got top sides of them the way they did with the rest of us…

  10. I love the way you marry births here. I am sure the landscape groaned as much as you did, with both end results things of beauty and wonder. (Well. Felix may not want to be called a thing of beauty, but as his mother, I bet you think so.)

    1. I do, Andra, he’s the apple of my eye πŸ˜€ I have often longed to be there at the moment the English Channel was created. Strange ambition, but if I ever get my hands on a time machine and enough safety gear….

  11. Ah! your post reminded me of my groaning time… It was awful…. I don’t know how I survived those anxious 8 hours…

  12. Surely there was profuse bellowing during the birth of Scotland – could a land destined for the Scots arrive with a yawn? With great respect for the Scots in my life…

  13. I’ve been unable to keep up and have missed so much! My dad is in the hospital, Kate, doing well, but with pneumonia. At 80….needs a little extra TLC. I thought I’d share that with you since you have had so much hospital duty! (all is well, I just can’t do more). My dad’s roots go so far back in Scotland and I have a love for a country I have yet to see! I feel very connected–somehow. Maybe that’s the “pre-birth” experience, I don’t know, but I would just revel in the history and experience of the king’s tomb. I really enjoyed thinking about how it “all” began. You picked an amazing storyline to follow Side View’s weekend theme! I loved reading this from beginning to end. Debra

  14. A botanist told me that he believed that Brisbane (Australia) had once been joined to Durban (South Africa) because of some plant found in both areas. I’ve heard of splitting land masses, but never joining – fascinating about Scotland

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