Plenty more where they came from

William Blake invoked us, in his Auguries of Innocence

To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower

Blake also said that he could see the world by going no further than the bottom of his garden. Our understanding of the infinite has probably always been massaged by meditation on the finite.

Meanwhile, our relationship to great and small has become environmentally acute. Fears over erosion of the physical world have led to pressure groups virulent attacks on any semblance of human activity that might contribute to it. Ian McEwan’s behaviour is a case in point. He admitted taking a few pebbles from Chesil Bank so that they might perch before him on his desk and encourage poetry and a sense of place in his writing. (He has since returned them, owing to the outcry from beach protectionists.) What do we make of this?

Are we here in the complex world of the ends justifying the means or not? Is the taking of a handful of pebbles a crime of any kind or is it in fact a deeply human act of communion with the planet? If McEwan’s book is wiser and more acutely in touch with the environment because of it, then its intensification of its readers empathies with nature would exponentially outweigh the grams lost to the beach. In some expressive way it is connected to our ancestors taking vast boulders to form Stonehenge for, probably, a similar desire to see the infinite through the immediate, to try to touch the stars via a circle of stones. I wonder how long it will be before there is a pressure group wanting them returned to their original hillside.

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