For several years I've been quoting Michael Mayne, but only second-hand, and reading of 'The Enduring Melody', his last book before his death, I thought I really ought to go to the source. In view of the name of my blog, and bolstered by delighted reviewers, I chose 'This Sunrise of Wonder' to begin. And I have absolutely loved it!
It is a book, made up of twenty-four chapters, or letters, written to his grandchildren. The writing was done while staying in a chalet in the Swiss Alps during a Study Leave when Mayne was the Dean of Westminster, 'but the study has been done over the years by reading books and observing people, by watching and listening, by giving attention and learning to make connections. I did not have to look very far once I had spotted the thread I wished to pursue, for it runs through the work of most artists and many scientists and some theologians, and it is the theme of this book. For these letters are, above all, about wonder.'
Mayne says of his task, 'So much of what I want to share with you could be summed up by saying: to ask "What is art?", "What is poetry?", "What is music?" is one way of asking "What is a human being?" For I believe the mystery of what I am and what you are has to do before all else with our capacity to create, and be possessed by, such things. It is a sharing in the creative act that is no less than God-like, and that, too, is a source of wonder.' He draws on a huge number of poems, authors, playwrights, painters, composers and scientists, theologians, ancient and modern, in making his connections. And he does so from a life which was not without its pain. Mayne suffered from ME and 'The Enduring Melody' is in part an account of his battle with cancer of the jaw and was published a few days before his death.
'This Sunrise of Wonder' however, is a celebration of life. It's a book to savour, to read meditatively. And having finished it, I want to keep it close to hand to dip into again and again.