A lyrical description of a boy’s realisation that the world is a tiny pebble compared to the stars he is learning to observe. He swings from an awareness of our insignificence to the fact that he has something vast to commend him: knowledge and understanding.

‘Those little stars that seemed to speckle a not too dreadfully distant blue ceiling were farther away than he could make himself think, try as he might. Those little stars must be enormous. The whole earth must be a tiny pebble in comparison. A spinning pebble, and he, on it, the astronomer, looking at flaming gigantic worlds so far away that they seemed¬† no more than sparkling grains of dust. He felt for a moment less than nothing, and then, suddenly, size did not seem to matter. Distant and huge the stars might be, but he, standing there with chattering teeth on the dark hillside, could see them and name them and even foretell what next they were going to do.’¬†

This boyish observation anticipates and echoes the commonly quoted comment of Stephen Hawkins that:

‘We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.’


Source: Arthur Ransome, Winter Holiday (London: Vintage, 2012), pp. 24-25

Photo credit: FelixMittermeier at pixabay


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