You didn’t have to listen very hard this week to hear the cynics mocking when newspapers showed photographs of one year old Prince George reaching to touch the folded wings of a butterfly.
‘Baby looks at butterfly!!’ they scorned. ‘So what?’
So everything, I would retort. So perfectly human. It doesn’t matter that this toddler is a prince. He’s a little boy. To a mother or father every child is a prince or a princess. And there is nothing as interesting as watching a baby get to know the world around him or her, to see the child enraptured at what we take for granted, fascinated by things we don’t notice anymore.
‘Heaven lies about us in our infancy,’ wrote William Wordsworth in 1807 in his ode Intimations Of Immortality, compressing into one line that childhood age of perpetual wonder.
Stop, we want to shout to every one year old we see, boy or girl. Keep on looking about you. Don’t let them hurry you into trains or cars or dolls yet. They will all come quickly enough in your race through childhood. You’ll find nothing in your years to come as beautiful or fascinating as the world that is before you at this very moment.
Wait a while in your toddling days. There’s no hurry. Crawl in the grass, eat the sand, paddle in the stream, and feel on your skin and in the creases of your little body the warmth and reality of the earth of which you’re now a part.
Your innocence won’t last long. Even before the ‘shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing boy’ as school and responsibilities inevitably race towards you, the rainbow that is nature is already fading.
Soon it will be artificially coloured out as television pictures replace experience, and games are created by clever adults in Silicon Valley instead of children in gardens and parks.
I’m not one of those people who decry everything that is new. Far from it. The inventions of the modern age dazzle and please me more with every passing day.
But though computers can apparently continue to be developed and redeveloped into eternity, we can’t make the innocence and first joys of the child. Only birth can do that. And we can’t remake that innocence when, and perhaps with the best of intentions, we’ve taken it away.
So, to those who don’t understand why a photograph of a baby and a butterfly should have been published on so many front pages, and who carp that there’s nothing special about this child other than that he’s a new member of the Royal Family, let me just say this.
You’re right. As a child he really is special only to his parents and grandparents.
But through him, we all see once again those glorious first years when the world was new and the adventure of a young life just beginning. And there’s no time in life quite like that.
‘Nothing can bring back the hour of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower,’ wrote Wordsworth about the lost innocence of infancy towards the end of his poem.
He’s right. But watching a mesmerised toddler, any toddler, reaching to touch the pretty, coloured wings of a butterfly can be the next best thing.