I was recently reading a chapter from Martin Amis’ semi-autobiographical “Inside Story”, and found a particular section entitled “the mind’s ear” fascinating.
We have all heard of “the mind’s eye”, an old and much-used phase that most famously can be found in “Hamlet”, when the protagonist of the title confides in Horatio that he sees his father in his “mind’s eye”. We all know what this means, and also what it feels like to be able top picture something so vividly in our thoughts that it has all the characteristics of being genuinely “visible”. Before Shakespeare, Chaucer used a similar turn of phrase in “The man of Law’s tale” and it was in common usage.
Martin Amis describes the process of writing as drawing upon the “mind’s eye”, but also “the mind’s ear” – particularly in the creation of dialogue and settings. Again, even before looking up the term to see whether Amis created it or deployed it, I knew what this meant. As it happens, the expression dates back to the eighteenth century at least, being used by poet Matthew Green in 1733’s “The Grotto”. However, unlike its Shakespearean counterpart, it has fallen out of favour.
The festive period is often, rightly, described as a feast for the senses. Now fifty, when I think back to those magical times as a child, it is not only the sights – the tree and lights, the decorations and presents – that I remember. There are the sounds in my “mind’s ear” too. Laughter, or groans, at jokes read from Christmas crackers, the singing of old “music hall” songs with then elderly relatives long since passed, and songs by Paul McCartney or Wizzard that when played today still take me back to those Christmas holidays.
As we grow older we can somehow lose sight, and sound, of the magic. In ‘Herzog’, Saul Bellow wrote that “every treasure is guarded by dragons. That’s how you can tell it’s valuable.” The treasure of our magical childhood memories is guarded by the dragons of responsibilities, pressures and world-weary cynicism. But it’s still there, and working in schools – even in difficult times such as these – is as good a place as any to find it.
As we move toward the end of term, I want to thank all those who keep the magic of childhood alive. Parents, our school staff and all who want the memories that will be created in those “mind’s eyes”, and “mind’s ears”, to be a wonderful, and sustaining part of those young lives. May they look back with fondness upon this season’s festivities and ensure that the dragons that guard their treasured memories in their future can be defeated!
As always, thanks for reading.