the mother’s hand
This sonnet captured my heart last Friday. In my comments I’m imagining what George MacDonald might have heard and seen in his mind’s eye as he wrote.
What though my words glance sideways from the thing
Which I would utter in thine ear, my sire!
Truth in the inward parts thou dost desire—
Wise hunger, not a fitness fine of speech:
The little child that clamouring fails to reach
With upstretched hand the fringe of her attire,
Yet meets the mother’s hand down hurrying.
George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul,
© 1994 Augsburg Fortress Press
The “I” of this sonnet is a little child just learning to talk. Barely able to make itself understood. Half-words, made-up words, phrases not yet sentences, articulated over and over and over. You know how it is if you’ve lived around toddlers.
Always something true and necessary to say, yet never quite able to carry it off or make itself understood. Sometimes comprehensible, sometimes gobbledygook. Stuttering, stammering, substituting this word for that. Making up words. Pointing, insisting, demanding a response now! If not a full-blown conversation about who knows what?
We nod our heads and smile. Encourage each sound. Lean down to listen. Gasp in delight and amazement when it makes sense! And feel oh-so-happy and proud of this little one who longs to be part of the conversation. This child who believes every word is perfectly clear or knows it isn’t but still says it anyway. Because you’re supposed to get it!
George MacDonald helped raise multiple sons and daughters. He loves his children; they love him. He’s approachable. Sympathetic. He loves to welcome them into his sometimes lonely life. Yet even he doesn’t understand everything. Even worse, when he the great adult talks with his ‘sire,’ he knows he doesn’t always have his words in order, either.
He does, however, understand the effort to convey truth—over and over and over, as often as needed. He understands a child’s internal hunger to communicate truth. Right now. To you! The desire for connection, acceptance and recognition.
Sometimes I tire of the clamoring. I tell it to go away. Or I laugh at it without meaning to put it down. Or sometimes make fun of it or try to shut it up.
Not so the God-mother. Here is her child, trying its best to reach her. Standing on tiptoes, arms stretched at least as high as the sky. Intent on connecting in order to communicate. To share a secret or tell a joke or ask her to come outside and play. Or to comfort and calm its frightened heart or wipe its tears or even its nose.
No matter the need, no matter the content of the communication, this God-mother quickly bends down without frustration or stubborn delay. She “hurries” her long arm down to close the gap by taking the little child’s “upstretched” hand.
Something like this, I think, is what George MacDonald had in mind when he wrote this sonnet. Not just for the little ones, but for the big children. For all the grownups who are, after all, but children themselves. For himself and for us.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 May 2015