Saturday, July 1, 2017

montaigne quote

But that which seamen experimentally know, and particularly in the Sicilian sea, of the quality of the halcyons, surpasses all human thought: of what kind of animal has nature so highly honored the hatching, birth, and production? The poets, indeed, say that the Island of Delos, which before was a floating island, was fixed for the service of Latona’s lying-in; but the gods ordered that the whole ocean should be stayed, made stable and smoothed, without waves, without wind or rain, whilst the halcyon lays her eggs, which is just about the Solstice, the shortest day of the year, so that, by this halcyon’s privilege, we have seven days and seven nights in the very heart of winter, wherein we may sail without danger. Their females never have to do with any other male but their own, whom they always accompany (without ever forsaking him) all their lives; if he happen to be weak and broken with age, they take him upon their shoulders, carry him from place to place, and serve him till death. But the most inquisitive into the secrets of nature could never yet arrive at the knowledge of the marvellous fabric wherewith the halcyon builds the nest for her little ones, nor guess at the matter. Plutarch, who had seen and handled many of them, thinks it is the bones of some fish which she joins and binds together, interlacing them some lengthwise and others across, and adding ribs and hoops in such a manner that she forms, at last, a round vessel fit to launch, which being done, and the building finished, she carries it to the wash of the beach, where the sea beating gently against it, shows her where she is to mend what is not well jointed and knit, and where better to fortify the seams that are leaky and that open at the beating of the waves; and, on the contrary, what is well built and has had the due finishing, the beating of the waves so closes and binds together that it is not to be broken or cracked by blows, either of stone or iron, without very much ado. And that which is still more to be admired is the proportion and figure of the cavity within, which is composed and proportioned after such a manner as not possibly to receive or admit any other thing than the bird that built it; for to anything else it is so impenetrable, close, and shut, that nothing can enter, not so much as the water of the sea. This is a very clear description of this building, and borrowed from a very good hand; and yet methinks it does not give us sufficient light into the difficulty of this architecture. Now, from what vanity can it proceed to place lower than ourselves, and disdainfully to interpret effects that we can neither imitate nor comprehend?