A picture of past and present

A man stands at the head of a pass looking back over the way he has come. In the plain spread out below him, he sees in sunlight the farm where he spent his childhood.

Later, he descends the other side and looking back sees the hills mounting one behind another and outlined against the sky the notch that he knows to be the head of the pass where he stood earlier.

What he sees bears no resemblance to the landscape he experienced earlier, but what he feels can take him right back there.

This expresses something I want to say about our concept of the past – which being a concept is perceived by the intellect, not through feeling or intuition – namely that it is always from the perspective of the present, and is no more than the painted backcloth in the theatre. ‘Ancient times’ are so only to us; our ancestors lived in the present, just as we do; which is why the briefest scrap of poetry can unite us with them:

Westron wynde, when wilt thou blow,
The small raine down can raine.
Cryst, if my love were in my armes
And I in my bedde again!

2 Comments

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2 responses to “A picture of past and present

  1. Related to a writing project, I’ve been thinking about this lately. We want to write about past events with some greater perspective or wisdom than the past-people had (even if “they” were “we”). It’s a trick to give the reader– or assume the reader has — a broader perspective, while not attributing fore-knowledge or undue wisdom to them. Certainly as a young person “back then” I had little perspective or sense of the future at all.

    • I suppose a lot of the time the reader (if they too are looking back from the perspective of age) will recognise the situation and see the perils and pitfalls of which the characters in the tale are unaware.

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