Drowsy Devotion

There were seven names in all now, each rounded out with the date of inheritance, and the old man in the white necktie pointed with his ringed forefinger as he read off each of them to his grandson. His father’s name was there, as was in fact his grandfather’s, and his great-grandfather’s; and now that syllable came doubled, tripled, and quadrupled from the storyteller’s mouth; and the boy would lay his head to one side, his eyes fixed and full of thought, yet somehow dreamily thoughtless, his lips parted in drowsy devotion, and he would listen to the great-great-great-great – that somber sound of the crypt and buried time, which nevertheless both expressed a reverently preserved connection of his own life in the present to things now sunk deep beneath the earth and simultaneously had a curious effect on him: the same effect visible in the look on his face.

Thomas Mann
The Magic Mountain

This John E. Wood translation by  is so good. I am frequently jarred from the narrative by the beauty of the prose. This fragment above brought back to me that boyhood fascination of concepts beyond my grasp. The pleasure of being initiated into an adult ritual without the need to comprehend, being willing to postpone that comprehension. The strange, listless reverie such moments could cause. I remember lying on the cool, wooden floor. One ear flat against the floor with the distant rumble of traffic, the other ear listening to my father’s jazz record playing, possibly his favourite Charlie Parker. The awareness that one day these few minutes would represent an important initiation. The desire that the moment would never end.

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