Unreal Nature

August 7, 2015

His Small Day-Born Eyes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… You will see what you must, but leave the dark alone.

This is from The Night Country by Loren Eiseley (1947; 1971):

… “This is your house,” says the poet Conrad Aiken, and you know he is talking about the human skull. “on one side there is darkness,” he warns you; “on one side there is light.” He wrote better than he knew, that sad-voiced man, for nature had pondered the problem before him. On the table as I write lies the skull of a relative of ours, a spectral creature which flits from tree to tree in the night-time forests of Borneo. It is about the size of a kitten’s skull, but it possesses a most remarkable feature. If the human cranium were built to similar properties, every aspect of the human face would be squeezed to provide for two great bony saucers with projecting rims. These saucers would occupy and extend far beyond the area now represented by our eye sockets. We would then possess the enormous owl eyes of a creature who is totally nocturnal but who must leap and spring about in the midnight darkness of a tropical rain forest.

This is your house, said nature, in essence, to the spectral tarsier, and the light, what there is of it, must be made to come in. This is your house, she also said to man, but your eyes will be day eyes. You will not need to cherish every beam of moonlight, or the spark of a star through a leaf. You will see what you must, but leave the dark alone. So this far-off relative of ours, with the thin and delicate fingers of a man, lives the life of a ghost. And man, who bumps his head and fumbles in the dark because of his small day-born eyes, fears the ghosts of the dark above all things.

tarsier_Tandurusa
spectral tarsier [image from Wikipedia]

… Even man’s own domestic animals, the creatures he has chosen to bring in to the fire beside him, grow suspect in the evening. His cat hunts alone through the weeds and his dog whines and snuffles at the door.

… Sometimes in a country lane at midnight you can sense their eyes upon you — the eyes that by daylight may be the vacuous protuberant orbs of grazing cattle or the good brown eyes of farm dogs. But there, in the midnight lane, they draw off from you or silently watch you pass from their hidden coverts in the hedgerows. They are back in a secret world from which man has been shut out, and they want no truck with him after nightfall.

My previous post from Eiseley’s book is here.

-Julie

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