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The Secret of Life

From In Defence of Sensuality (1931), by John Cowper Powys.


The more childish and unworldly a person's disposition is, the more happiness he gets from such simple things as air, water, sun, earth-mould, sand, leaves, bread, butter, honey, or the still more primeval sensation of a certain delicious drowsiness in his own limbs. This is what I mean by my recurrent image of the ichthyosaurus. What I am trying to indicate by "the ichthyosaurus-sensation" is nothing less than this simple primeval happiness in the immediate experience of being alive. To blink at that mysterious god, the sun; to stare at that equivocal goddess, the moon; to watch the incredible shapes of the clouds, as they pile up above the horizon; to observe, in early afternoon, a certain yellowish light upon a brick wall; to note a certain dark-blue wave of colour, as it sinks down upon the roofs of a city after sunset; to catch the ink-black silhouettes of bare branches against a November sky, just before the windows are lamp-lit in a roadside village; to feel the ploughed-up earth under your feet, and a cold wet wind upon your face; to sit over a fire of wood or of red coals, thinking the long thoughts of vague race-memories--all these things, belonging to a world of psychic-physical sensations that go back to the beginnings of consciousness, are the stuff of which the secret of life is made.