noisy, noisy

Life In Armando Iannucci’s rather wonderful meditation on John Milton’s Paradise Lost (which was broadcast on BBC Two in the week and you might still be able to catch on the iPlayer if you’re in the area), the comedian talked about how the young poet, whilst at school was very much focused on his academic success, so much so that he would spend his evenings on homework, sat in the attic of the house until midnight learning multiple languages including latin and reading all of the great books of the day.

On hearing that, I at first decided that it must have required a massive amount of concentration; I can barely sit down to read any book these days without some kind of distraction even if it’s the thoughts in my own head, modern life and the rubbish which has been churned in between my brain cells leading them to wander off into a meeting about what makes Simon Cowell so contemptible in the middle of working my way through the biography of a baroque composer. How ever could Milton get through the Psalms? Latin conjugations? French punctuation?

One of the reasons Milton could concentrate, of course (other than being very clever), was because in the 1630s, life was rather more quieter. Locked in that attic he was probably dead to the world, his only focus the text in front of him and his own thoughts. He said later himself in Paradise Lost “The mind is its own place, and in itself. Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” The only sounds he could hear were possible the odd rumble from downstairs, or if it’s a cold and stormy night, the weather outside. Near total silence. No distractions. Sounds like bliss. I’m not sure there’s anywhere you can do that these days, even in a library.

When was the last time you experienced total silence, silent enough that you felt you could genuinely concentrate on anything?

I can’t remember.

There’s not much that can be done about the hustle and bustle of the streets, the sometimes annoying, but often comforting sound of life happening. Yet even at home, our existence is punctured and punctuated by clatter whether it’s the sound of a television from a different room, the hum of cars outside the window as is happening right now, dance music pumped in from a soundbox in the field. Even when everyone is out, and everything potential entertaining is turned off, there’s the tick of a clock or the lift in the building going up and down. Even late at night when everyone is in bed, in the darkness, I can still hear the changing settings of the freezers in the next room.

Modern life is a noisy, noisy thing.

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