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Pointers from Essays

            Some authors touch us deeply with their essays – deeply in the sense of making us dwell on the hidden sentiments of life.  They help us jump out of the rut that we unknowingly keep deepening with our habitual thought.  In that sense, those essays have an esoteric touch. 

            Here we look at an example.   Jerome K. Jerome, the English author, is known for his humorous writings.  The philosophic content that runs parallel to his humor is what makes the presentation so penetrative.  This is particularly evident from his book “Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow” (Jerome, K., 1903).  The absence of that book may create a lacuna in the shelf of every spirited person.  In one of the essays in that book, titled “On Babies”, he mentions jocularly all the pranks and mischief that children indulge in, and then the following poignant lines come in tandem.

"But, there, there, there!  I shall get myself the character of a baby-hater if I talk any more in that strain.  And Heaven knows I am not one.  Who could be, to look into the innocent faces clustered in timid helplessness round those great gates that open down into the world?

            “The world – the small round world! What a vast mysterious place it must seem to baby eyes!  What a trackless continent the back garden appears!  What marvelous explorations they make in the cellar under the stairs! With what awe they gaze down the long street, wondering, like us bigger babies when we gaze up at the stars, where it all ends!

            “And down the longest street of all – that long, dim street of life that stretches out before them – what grave old fashioned looks they seem to cast!  What pitiful, frightened looks sometimes! I saw a little mite sitting on a doorstep in a Soho slum one night, and I shall never forget the look that the gas lamp showed me on its wizened face – a look of dull despair, as if from the squalid court the vista of its own squalid life had risen, ghost-like, and struck its heart dead with horror.

            “Poor little feet, just commencing the stony journey!  We old travelers, far down the road, can only pass to wave a hand to you.  You come out of the dark mist, and we, looking back, so tiny in the distance, standing on the brow of the hill, your arms stretched out toward us.  God speed you!  We would like to stay a while longer and take your little hands in ours, but the murmur of the great sea is in our ears and we may not linger.  We must hasten down, for the shadowy ships are waiting to spread their sable sails.” 


            There is a similar passage that touches our hearts in the essay “On Cats and Dogs”.  Again, after a humorous and poignant presentation on human beings’ association with these pets, Jerome writes some moving lines worth reflecting on.  They follow after his musings on rats. He says that the poor rats seem only to exist so that cats and dogs may gain credit for killing them and chemists make a fortune by inventing specialties in poison for their destruction.  He feels there is something fascinating about the rats along lines of being weird and uncanny.  After giving examples for these, he goes on to the melancholic story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.   Using the stream of the story as a base, Jerome paints a moving scenario of human life on this planet, as revealed by the following lines:

             “Then there is the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin; how he first piped the rats away, and afterward, when the mayor broke faith with him, drew all the children along with him and went into the mountain.  What a curious old legend that is!  I wonder what it means, or has it any meaning at all?  There seems something deep, lying hidden beneath the rippling rhyme.  It haunts me, that picture of the quaint, mysterious old piper piping through Hamelin’s narrow streets, and the children following with dancing feet and thoughtful, eager faces.  The old folks try to stay them, but the children pay no heed.  They hear the weird, witched music and must follow.  The games are left unfinished and the playthings drop from their careless hands.  They know not whither they are hastening.  The mystic music calls to them, and they follow, heedless and unasking where. It stirs and vibrates in their hearts and other sounds grow faint.  So they wander through Pied Piper Street away from Hamelin town [to be lost forever].

            “I get thinking sometimes if the Pied Piper is really dead, or if he may not still be roaming up and down our streets and lanes, but playing now so softly that only the children can hear him.  Why do the little faces look so grave and solemn when they pass awhile from romping, and stand, deep wrapped, with straining eyes? They only shake their curly heads and dart back laughing to their playmates when we question them.  But I fancy myself they have been listening to the magic music of the old Pied Piper, and perhaps with those bright eyes of theirs have even seen his odd, fantastic figure gliding unnoticed through the whirl and throng.

            “Even we grown up children hear his piping now and then.  But the yearning notes are far away, and the noisy, blustering world is always bellowing so loud it drowns the dream-like melody.  One day the sweet, sad strains will sound out full and clear, and then we too shall, like the little children, throw our playthings all aside and follow.  The loving hands will be stretched out to stay us, and the voices we have learned to listen to will cry to us to stop.  But we shall push the fond arms gently back and pass out through the sorrowing house and through the open door.  For the wild, strange music will be ringing in our hearts, and we shall know the meaning of it by then.”     


            Every time one reads it, one’s eyes well up in tears.  Like Jerome, there are other authors who invite us to visit those hidden corners of ourselves.  We do not normally dwell on such deeply touching presentations long enough, and often enough, for them to make inroads into ourselves and bring about lasting change in our psychology.  They have the power to widen our perspective and to make us move towards the Inner Being.



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