“Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age
The child is grown, and puts away childish things.
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.”
– Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies”
It is easy, mired within the endless problems of the world, to believe the end is nigh. They are the concerns of each consecutive generation, from those that experienced the devastation of World War I to the parents who decried Elvis Presley and Rock ‘n’ Roll to the anxiousness that marked the Cuban Missile Crisis. What seems to spell the end for one generation is, for another, the most promising of beginnings.
The American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote the poem “Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies” as if to illuminate this fact. Until the disappointments of life have lit up, after friends have disappeared and illusions have been cast aside, we can exist in a near state of childhood with hope, however ephemeral and unattached, being easily maintained. It is when the world presses in and we become familiar with its hard truths that this state of belief falls away. Hope becomes something which must be counted and weighed, carried forward like extra coins.
In youth, hope lies ahead of us and is disconnected from the reality that will one day assert itself. It is made up largely of the fruits of our imagination, the things we suspect the world just might be and the justice we believe it will mete out. It is once we are outside in the world that hope, or at least its more tender shoots, is trampled by the facts of life, and the institutions which lack flexibility.
The news in all its mediums is a bastion of disaster. From smart phones to tablets to laptops, to content sites and twitter feeds, the information is endless, and when one disaster ends another has already taken its place. It is not only that the parade of information makes hope difficult, it provides a constant distraction, an inability to deal with anything to any great degree. In this way, childhood has been accelerated and with it the effervescent hope sustaining life. Nowadays, it is easy to believe the world is ending – I believe it with each new day.
When we are alone, whether in perfect solitude in our home or among nature, there is rarely any running from calamity to calamity. We are free to envision a more ideal world and believe in its possible existence. There is no swift assertion of facts and no easy answer for everything. We can, in some part, choose what we know, shut out what we have no interest in and be relatively free in the moment. The onslaught of information disallows this, and despises solitude. It feeds on a distracted mind, tearing out first the imagination and then slowly the heart.
Perhaps the world is ending, and perhaps some parts of it ends every day, whether through an extinction, a heartbreak or an unfulfilled crop, but nevertheless the most tender of hopes, the child in all of us, must be protected. We must maintain some part of the kingdom of childhood in our hearts if we want to persist in life.