Saturday, September 17, 2011

Daily Vocabulary

sexton: a person who looks after a church and churchyard, typically also acting as bell ringer and gravedigger. In larger communities, he would only have been the bell ringer, not the digger of graves. It is the ringing of bells I'm thinking about right now, and how lovely it must have been. Lovely, but loud: there would have been churches all over any given town with bells ringing, each calling a few hundred people to prayer, so that in any town you'd hear a few of them at once. Oranges and Lemons, say the Bells of St. Clements, and all that. You would know what bells were yours, but you'd hear others all the same. What a world it must have been, that the bells would peal out the hours, and you would know that now it was morning, that now it was lunch time, that now you should pray. Everyone, all the same. We lack any such thing now, any unifying marker. This is a good thing (we are free persons, able to make our own decisions) and a bad thing (we are barely reigned in, scarcely joined together). I have heard bells ring. Some have been real, but only one church at a time has rung out. Some have been false, as with the rather tinny carillon at the University of Washington. I don't know that I'd want to live my whole life under their domination. But I think I'd like to try it for a while, to have the chimes call out the hours, and shape my day. To resist, for a little while, the tyranny of clocks. I am charmed by the notion, impractical as it may be.

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