Isn't it fine?

Isn't your first impulse, upon seeing a new baby, to make some sort of cooing sounds? You might be saying Hello! or Sweet Baby! Your precise words are not important. You don't really expect the infant to understand the particular syllables you utter. You'd use one and the same tone of voice to an African child, or an Argentine. You assume the baby hasn't yet learned, or been limited by, a particular set of vowels and consonants toward the use and meaning of which he will be duly educated. Right now he responds to the music of what you're saying. That music is sufficient meaning for him. You can tell him all sorts of nonsense - abracadabra, boom-boom-boomerang, tipsy-topsy-turvy - no matter. He's listening for the pitch and the beat and the dynamics and the phrasing. You could speak Urdu to him - that little Bethlehem baby, for example - for all he'd mind.

Even your smile, your ear-wiggling, your face-making, intrigue the small beholder surely less than the sound - shall we call it prime rather than primitive - which accompanies them. After all, he has had a long experience, nine months or so, of listening to the responses of life before ever he was born. His visual sophistication, on the other hand, is restricted. He comes out of a confined space, that prenatal one. And it's dark in there.

So he's already a good listener, deeply familiar with the sounds of his mother's personal and social history. Though he will see very well by the light of his eyes in the days to come, right now his ears are already prepared to catch the tenderness in your exclamations of welcome. And since he has not yet forfeited the manifold of expressive communication to specialized forms in some provincial mode or other - Hebrew, for instance, or English - he is still finely tuned to purr of cat, chirp of barn swallow, baa of lamb. These miscellaneous media are each their own message to him.

Isn't it fine, then, that dogs can bark, roosters crow, cows moo? That rain can patter on a stable roof, wind howl, and tree limb creak? And that a baby can notice them? Long before he has learned how men compose hymns and psalms according to the dictates of their craft, he attends to untutored nature surrounding him with song - murmurous, melodious, boisterous song - of praise, of poignance, of pure being.

The marvel for us seasoned worldlings is that a birth brings back to us our own remembrance of music past. We reconstruct, however clumsily, the dim lisps and trickles and warbles and soughings long since muffled by the clang of our busy workaday schedules. Listening for time at our back, the click of our imposed or even elected clockwork vibrations, we fail to hear the beetle at our elbow. Until, that is, a new birth reminds us. Then, well, we reminisce like fools: grown men and women on our knees at a cribside, brought down to joyous praise of beginnings, not even the lump in our throat silencing us. Wasn't it fine . . . that a black-backed cricket was able to stay from the end of September hidden in a stable - of all surprising places - through most of December in time to stand at the manger - by chance or design - rubbing his lyric wing-cases that chirruped Welcome! to every new- comer kin and neighbor and stranger and praised the gifts three kings were bringing and chirruped chirruped till every creature must carol according to its nature and chirruped till even the straw was singing?

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.