One of the gems.

I mentioned in my review of The Once and Future King that there were some amazing gems throughout the book that made it able to be reread and reinterpreted ad infinitum, in my eyes.

This is one in particular that’s been lodged in my brain since I read the book; it comes to the forefront of my mind at the oddest of times. (It’s a long one, so pull up a chair.)

There is a thing called knowledge of the world, which people do not have until they are middle-aged. It is something which cannot be taught to younger people, because it is not logical and does not obey laws which are constant. It has no rules. Only, in the long years which bring women to the middle of life, a sense of balance develops. You can’t teach a baby to walk by explaining the matter to her logically–she has to learn the strange poise of walking by experience. In some way like that, you cannot teach a young woman to have knowledge of the world. She has to be left to the experience of the years. And then, when she is beginning to hate her used body, she suddenly finds that she can do it. She can go on living–not by principle, not by deduction, not by knowledge of good and evil, but simply by a peculiar and shifting sense of balance which defies each of these things often. She no longer hopes to live by seeking the truth–if women ever do hope this–but continues henceforth under the guidance of a seventh sense. Balance was the sixth sense, which she won when she first learned to walk, and now she has a seventh one–knowledge of the world.

The slow discovery of the seventh sense, by which both men and women contrive to ride the waves of a world in which there is war, adultery, compromise, fear, stultification and hypocrisy–this discovery is not a matter for triumph. The baby, perhaps, cries out triumphantly: I have balance! But the seventh sense is recognized without a cry. We only carry on with our famous knowledge of the world, riding the queer waves in a habitual, petrifying way, because we have reached a stage of deadlock in which we can think of nothing else to do.


But there was a time when each of us stood naked before the world, confronting life as a serious problem with which we were intimately and passionately concerned. There was a time when it was of vital interest to us to find out whether there was a God or not. Obviously the existence or otherwise of a future life must be of the very first importance to somebody who is going to live her present one, because her manner of living it must hinge on the problem. […]

Further back, there were times when we wondered with all our souls what the world was, what love was, what we were ourselves. (The Once and Future King, T. H. White, p. 377-8)

I am not near middle age. My body is not “used”, hate issues aside. I am simply fatigued. But I feel and recognize this shift that been occuring within me for past year–I don’t get passionate about religion, about politics, about morality/ethics anymore. Maturity, resignation, or this seventh sense? I don’t know, but everytime I read this passage, it strikes a chord within me.


  • Jenny

    if i am naked, i hope i never get dressed

    while i hope to gain wisdom with experience and maturity, i never want to be numb, just taking the waves as they come. i think my joy, my sorrow, my shame, my pride, my awe, my curiousity, my passion are innate parts of me. i revel in taking each day as a new world to explore, experiencing it eyes wide open, even when it’s scary. it still makes me a little uneasy not knowing exactly what will happen, but i also recognize that there is joy in not knowing. i wish this sounded less cheesy and more eloquent, and i wish you didn’t have to carry around the weight of resignation. i used to carry it, but i can feel it slipping away more and more as i let go.

    are you disappointed by your premature middle age?

  • Hannah

    I don’t think gaining this “seventh sense” necessarily implies losing your passion or interest or becoming numb. I think instead, it is a sort of “zooming out” on the world–being able to see the larger picture, and not get so carried away with minute passions. Note that the author says “she can go on living….” I don’t think we are supposed to take this as a resignation or as a passive acceptance of everything, merely as a next step in understanding. If you continue with the metaphor of the baby walking, you can consider that before walking, the baby must have so many questions, so much wonder and passion about walking. Once the baby learns to walk, those particular questions might be answered, but a whole new set of questions arises, about other things in life, things which perhaps require walking or balance to even begin to understand. Maybe it is the same way with this “seventh sense?” Maybe there are new questions?

  • Lissa


    I’m going to side with Hannah a little on this one–I don’t think the seventh sense is necessarily a numbness or lack of interest. It seems more a lack of… fanaticism. I’m still interested in politics, social issues, moral consistency, but my responses are much more… measured.

    Whether that lack of youthful exuberance is good or bad is debatable.

    I’m also not sure I’m disappointed by my “premature middle age”, if that’s what I’m developing. I think it’s… fascinating, I suppose. My current fatigue/weariness aside, I think it’s interesting to note differences in my attitude and question how it came about. And I think there are new questions–some are just a little more practical than my old questions would have been. Super-duper theoretical questions (trying to find some “best”/worst overall moral system or religion or political system) no longer interest me–I’m a lot more interested in personal, my-world-your-world types of questions, even if theoretical (what makes you/me/world systems tick and be happy and succeed and fail). Maybe I’m just working on *developing* this “knowledge of the world”.

    All that said, I do miss some of the youthful exuberance. I don’t know how much to chalk up to my current fatigue, but it feels like it’s been a while since I gleefully and childishly laughed with no restrictions or even did something as silly as dance around in the rain.