We think ourselves the center of their world.

Now that the household at Husaby was grown so great and Kristin had six sons, she could no longer take a hand herself in all parts of the housekeeping. She was obliged to have a housekeeper under her, and so it came about that most of the time the mistress of the house sat in the hall sewing; there was ever someone wanting clothes—Erlend, Margret or the boys.

The last she had seen of her mother was riding after her husband’s [i.e., Kristin’s father’s] bier—that bright spring day when she had stood in the meadow at Jörundgaard and seen her father’s funeral train pass the green patch of winter rye beneath the scree.

Kristin’s needle flew and flew, and she thought on her parents and their home at Jörundgaard. Now, when all was memory, she seemed to herself to grow ware of much that she had not seen when she lived in the midst of it, and took as things of course her father’s tender guardianship and her silent, sad-faced mother’s quiet, constant work and care. She thought on her own children—they were dearer to her than her own heart’s blood; they were not out of her mind one hour of her waking life. Yet was there much in her mind that she pondered over more—she loved her children without brooding on the matter. She had never thought aught else, when she was at home, but that her parents’ whole life and all their doings and strivings were for herself and her sisters. Now she seemed to see that betwixt those two, who in their youth had been brought together by their fathers, well-nigh unasked, there had run strong swift currents both of sorrow and of joy—yet she knew naught of it save that they had passed now, hand in hand, out of her life. Now she understood that this man’s and woman’s lives had held much beside their love for their children—and yet that love had been strong and wide and unfathomably deep, while the love she gave them back had been weak and thoughtless and self-seeking, even when, in her childhood, those two had been her whole world. She seemed to see herself standing far, far away—so small, so small beyond that great stretch of time and distance; she stood in the beam of sunlight that streamed down through the smoke-vent in the old hearth-room house at home, the winter-house of her childhood. Her parents stood a little back, in the shadow—they bulked as great as they had seemed to her sight when she was small, and they smiled to her—the smile that she knew now comes to one’s face when a little child comes and thrusts aside heavy and troublous thoughts.

“I thought, Kristin, when you had borne a child yourself, you would surely understand better.”

She remembered when her mother had said these words. Sorrowfully she thought—it was not true, she feared, even now, that she understood her mother. But she began to understand how much there was she did not understand.

From Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset


I can never give the slightest weight or sense the least bit of gravity in the doubts expressed about the action of a loving Providence in the lives of those who have suffered only their own failures, misfortunes and contradictions, but never tried to raise children. When my first son was born I was amazed to learn that I had never any image of being a son of God before that day. Now the lad is almost nine years old and we have three more—a girl and three boys in all—and between them and my students I can only smile, not be tempted to participate in, silly debates about the existence of a personal God.

As my mentor said in a similar situation, one can only reread Auden’s “The Chimeras” and leave them to their fate.

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.



About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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