The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

★★★★★ (5/5)

A few thoughts penned down whilst reading this profound story.

I’m reading this delightful little children’s classic “The Wind in the Willows”, wavering between a myriad of emotions. This was easily the most happily sad book I’ve ever read. All of one’s childhood and adulthood fancies packed into one classic. I wish I were reading this during winter time in my cozy, snug bed with a hot mug of coffee. I also want to move into Mr. Badger’s underground burrow-house.

….

I must give a trivial but nonetheless accountable pause to my reading of Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows”, in order to absorb a myriad of emotions it evokes in me. I’m delighted, overjoyed, pulled into nostalgia for an innocent childhood out of which I struggle to get out of. Oh what memories are made of!

But it was from one little window, with its blind drawn down, a mere blank transparency on the night, that the sense of home and the little curtained world within walls—the larger stressful world of outside Nature shut out and forgotten—most pulsated.

This pause comes with a sudden deluge of sadness, irreparable, inseparable sadness. Grief and realization bought on by visiting the animals’ homes, be it on the riverside or burrowed deep under the Wild Woods. The cozy, snug spots they call theirs. A sense of wonderment and belonging when Mole feels at home at Mr. Badger’s burrow. Profound sadness when Mole returns to his abandoned albeit sorely remembered home which still houses the most beloved of his things including the past. I cannot help but feel disjointed when I inquire of myself as to what is a home for me? Where is my home? Is it or is it not? Where do I return? What do I look back to? Have I even moved at all? I’m filled with despair when I cannot find an answer to these questions within me. It is troubling, yes, and unsettling.

And the home had been happy with him, too, evidently, and was missing him, and wanted him back, and was telling him so, through his nose, sorrowfully, reproachfully, but with no bitterness or anger; only with plaintive reminder that it was there, and wanted him.

But I must return to the story, as there is always a return. A resume. A look back. Between the threads of sentences, between the spaces that cradle each word, between the pages and ancient tomes, somewhere, someplace lies my home.

The Sea Rat and his mighteous, daring adventures made me teary once again. I would weep were it not for my emotions, throttling me, chaining me up. The Sea Rat was but a wisp of joy for the Water Rat; summoning distant lands and painting vivid adventures, which the latter would never get to know despite being close to abandoning the only place he had known as home. The flight of imagination on which the Water Rat embarks upon, the fancy, the fantasy, the unreality, is all but a dreamscape, an unattainable, unassuming desire, a wish that can never be assuaged.

I’m deeply moved for I fell in love with the Sea Rat however briefly it was. I too wanted to hear the call of the South, be beckoned by a distant land, hark the call an unexplored adventure. But alas! Much like the Water Rat I too am homed.

“And you, you will come, too, young brother; for the days pass, and never return, and the South still waits for you. Take the Adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! ’Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old life and into the new! Then some day, some day long hence, jog home here if you will, when the cup has been drained and the play has been played, and sit down by your quiet river with a store of goodly memories for company.”



A. A Milne on the value of “The Wind in the Willows” is perhaps the most precious of compliments one author has paid another.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

Thought-provoking statements

  • After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working.
  • What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing.
  • for it is impossible to say quite all you feel when your head is under water
  • We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses, have not even proper terms to express an animal’s inter-communications with his surroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word “smell,” for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur in the nose of the animal night and day, summoning, warning, inciting, repelling. It was one of these mysterious fairy calls from out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal, even while yet he could not clearly remember what it was. He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that had so strongly moved him. A moment, and he had caught it again; and with it this time came recollection in fullest flood.
  • I never stick too long to one ship; one gets narrow-minded and prejudiced.

Beautiful imagery

  • Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.
  • Poor Mole stood alone in the road, his heart torn asunder, and a big sob gathering, gathering, somewhere low down inside him, to leap up to the surface presently, he knew, in passionate escape. But even under such a test as this his loyalty to his friend stood firm. Never for a moment did he dream of abandoning him.
  • Embarking again and crossing over, they worked their way up the stream in this manner, while the moon, serene and detached in a cloudless sky, did what she could, though so far off, to help them in their quest; till her hour came and she sank earthwards reluctantly, and left them, and mystery once more held field and river.

Nature’s Storytelling

  • and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.
  • and with his ear to the reed-stems he caught, at intervals, something of what the wind went whispering so constantly among them.
  • Such a rich chapter it had been, when one came to look back on it all! With illustrations so numerous and so very highly coloured! The pageant of the river bank had marched steadily along, unfolding itself in scene-pictures that succeeded each other in stately procession.
  • The Rat never answered, if indeed he heard. Rapt, transported, trembling, he was possessed in all his senses by this new divine thing that caught up his helpless soul and swung and dandled it, a powerless but happy infant in a strong sustaining grasp.
  • Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror—indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy—but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near.
  • As they stared blankly in dumb misery deepening as they slowly realised all they had seen and all they had lost, a capricious little breeze, dancing up from the surface of the water, tossed the aspens, shook the dewy roses, and blew lightly and caressingly in their faces; and with its soft touch came instant oblivion. For this is the last best gift that the kindly demi-god is careful to bestow on those to whom he has revealed himself in their helping: the gift of forgetfulness. Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of difficulties, in order that they should be happy and light-hearted as before.
  • But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, and can re-capture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty of it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties; so Mole, after struggling with his memory for a brief space, shook his head sadly and followed the Rat.
  • Lest the awe should dwell—And turn your frolic to fret—You shall look on my power at the helping hour—But then you shall forget!

The Spirit of Adventure

  • There’s real life for you, embodied in that little cart. The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs! Camps, villages, towns, cities! Here to-day, up and off to somewhere else to-morrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that’s always changing!
  • He was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery.
  • Mole saw clearly that he was an animal of tilled field and hedgerow, linked to the ploughed furrow, the frequented pasture, the lane of evening lingerings, the cultivated garden-plot.
  • Independence is all very well, but we animals never allow our friends to make fools of themselves beyond a certain limit; and that limit you’ve reached.
  • At first Toad was undoubtedly very trying to his careful guardians. When his violent paroxysms possessed him he would arrange bedroom chairs in rude resemblance of a motor-car and would crouch on the foremost of them, bent forward and staring fixedly ahead, making uncouth and ghastly noises, till the climax was reached, when, turning a complete somersault, he would lie prostrate amidst the ruins of the chairs, apparently completely satisfied for the moment.
  • Next moment, hardly knowing how it came about, he found he had hold of the handle and was turning it. As the familiar sound broke forth, the old passion seized on Toad and completely mastered him, body and soul. As if in a dream he found himself, somehow, seated in the driver’s seat; as if in a dream, he pulled the lever and swung the car round the yard and out through the archway; and, as if in a dream, all sense of right and wrong, all fear of obvious consequences, seemed temporarily suspended.
  • What seas lay beyond, green, leaping, and crested! What sun-bathed coasts, along which the white villas glittered against the olive woods! What quiet harbours, thronged with gallant shipping bound for purple islands of wine and spice, islands set low in languorous waters!
  • Those eyes were of the changing foam-streaked grey-green of leaping Northern seas; in the glass shone a hot ruby that seemed the very heart of the South, beating for him who had courage to respond to its pulsation. The twin lights, the shifting grey and the steadfast red, mastered the Water Rat and held him bound, fascinated, powerless

And the longings for Home

  • and they braced themselves for the last long stretch, the home stretch, the stretch that we know is bound to end, some time, in the rattle of the door-latch, the sudden firelight, and the sight of familiar things greeting us as long-absent travellers from far over-sea.
  • But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancour.
  • He returned somewhat despondently to his river again—his faithful, steady-going old river, which never packed up, flitted, or went into winter quarters.
  • A fire of sticks was burning near by, and over the fire hung an iron pot, and out of that pot came forth bubblings and gurglings, and a vague suggestive steaminess. Also smells—warm, rich, and varied smells—that twined and twisted and wreathed themselves at last into one complete, voluptuous, perfect smell that seemed like the very soul of Nature taking form and appearing to her children, a true Goddess, a mother of solace and comfort. Toad now knew well that he had not been really hungry before. What he had felt earlier in the day had been a mere trifling qualm.

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