Little ones, baby ones

I've read a lot this week about last Friday's shocking massacre of six adults and twenty little children in a primary school in Newtown, Connecticut. There's a lot to read: ferocious commentary on America's idiotic gun laws, exposes of the NRA's membership and funding structure, histories of what Philip Roth calls “indigenous American berserk”, the President's moving homily.

What came home to me most vividly was imagining how little these victims were; how trustingly they must have walked into their classrooms that morning, sat at their little desks. It was an act of indescribable violence, yet it was not only their lives but their world that was violated. How different a six-year-old's world is from the one in which gunmen, policemen, ideologues, and lobbyists swirl and clash.

Their world, their school, was a place of discoveries, loyalties, stories, wonders, dreams. A place of possibility, curiosity, experiment, of exhilarating leaps of cognition and capacity. A place where they learned beautiful, venerable ideas; where the lovely aimlessness of infancy was just beginning to be tamed; where they read books and chanted poems and drew pictures and ran around in the sunshine and raised their hands to ask and answer questions. Where they learned things we have all forgotten long ago. In many ways the world of these little ones was bigger, much bigger, than ours. What shattered it was a terrible smallness.

Something made me think of this poem, from AA Milne's collection “When We Were Very Young,” with its invitation, its invocation of the world, so wide and deep, of childhood. 

Where am I going? I don't quite know.
Down to the stream where the king-cups grow-
Up on the hill where the pine-trees blow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don't know.

Where am I going? The clouds sail by,
Little ones, baby ones, over the sky.
Where am I going? The shadows pass,
Little ones, baby ones, over the grass.

If you were a cloud, and sailed up there,
You'd sail on water as blue as air,
And you'd see me here in the fields and say:
“Doesn't the sky look green today?"

Where am I going? The high rooks call:
It's awful fun to be born at all." 
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
“We do have beautiful things to do."

If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You'd lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You'd say to the wind when it took you away:
That's where I wanted to go today!"

Where am I going? I don't quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don't know.