The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Finally getting back to reading The Wind in the Willows to the elder three children at bedtime, and last night we reached this chapter, about which I had completely forgotten. It reminded me why some people hold this book up as one of the best ever written, children’s or otherwise. The writing is achingly beautiful as it describes the dawn breaking upon Rat and Mole as they search for Otter’s lost son. And then it gets mystical…

“A wide half circle of foam and glinting lights and shining shoulders of green water, the great weir closed the backwater from bank to bank, troubled all the quiet surface with twirling eddies and floating foam-streaks, and deadened all other sounds with its solemn and soothing rumble. In mid-most of the stream, embraced in the weir’s shimmering armspread, a small island lay anchored, fringed close with willow and silver birch and alder. Reserved, shy, but full of significance, it hid whatever it might hold behind a veil, keeping it till the hour should come, and, with the hour, those who were called and chosen.”

Rat and Mole are granted a vision of the divine for just a moment. Then it passes:

“As they stared blankly, in dumb misery deepening as they slowly realized all they had seen and all they had lost, a capricious little breeze, dancing up from the surface of the water, tossed the aspens, shook the dewy roses, and blew lightly and caressingly in their faces, and with its soft touch came instant oblivion. For this is the last best gift that the kindly demigod is careful to bestow on those to whom he has revealed himself in their helping: the gift of forgetfulness. Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of difficulties, in order that they should be as happy and light-hearted as before.”

I don’t care if it’s just a story; when I read such an account of why the Divine delcares itself only in whispers; why the Almighty hides His face and makes us guess after Him, picking up an echo here, a stirring there, a confluence of events that seems to show His hand; why it should be harder to believe than not to believe, it brings comfort. I read this and think, “That’s the side I want to be on – the side where that kind of beauty and significance is possible.”


  1. AnotherCoward says

    I’ll raise my glass to that!

  2. Good or bad, the first thing I noticed was that “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is the title of Pink Floyd’s first album. Any connection?

  3. Matthew Lickona says

    I’m fairly certain that they took it from Wind in the Willows. They were into the whole childlike wonder/nature’s splendor/quasi-mystic thing there at the outset, no? The piper, of course, is Pan, the nature-god.

  4. Anonymous,

    Google the obit on Syd Barrett in Slate I think it was.

    It explains the Graham connex to Pink Floyd. There is a certain connection. The first frontman was fascinated with the English fabulism of the previous generation. Wasn’t the last, though: Led Zep. did the same for Tolkein. It got kinda wierd and a little ridiculous, though, when, who was it, Metallica? started writing rock songs about Dune.

    Enough is enough!


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