Lefties; Righties; Right Hand of God; Left Hand Man – or woman; the Hand of Friendship… Hands do a lot in writing. They hold pens too.
Let me tell you about my grandfather. A Sussex farmer whose native “bootiful” was beaten into a tetrasyllabic “bea-u-ti-ful” at school. The backs of his hands were scarred, dried, weather beaten and felt not like leather but like the bark of an ancient tree. And yet every morning he would take a cup of black coffee out to the dairy shed and the insides of his fingers and palm were soft enough to tease milk from the cows to turn the coffee a very creamy white – as well as fill the pail for the family.
No other part of the body – it seems to me – has such a duality: the gentleness, sensitivity of the palm; the roughness and armour of the fist which can close around it.
Wow, looking at those pics, you can tell I didn’t follow my grandad onto the farm!!
Having adopted my children, I distinctly recall the first time my son took my hand voluntarily – not because I’d grabbed it to cross the road or stop him from leaping out of his buggy. It is such a small tender shared action; yet hugely important.
Let us turn our gaze on Milton, a gaze that poor blind Milton cannot return. The fact that the poet of Paradise Lost was blind is terribly relevant: he could only “see” through his touch which adds another layer of poignancy to images such as of Adam and Eve when
hand in hand they pass’d, the lov’liest pair
That ever since in love’s imbraces met.
or when Adam did
My other half: with that thy gentle hand
Seis’d mine; I yielded
into their inmost bower
Handed they went
to sleep together unencumbered by clothes, shyness, negative body image or performance anxiety.
And all this tenderness occurred before the Fall and before Satan tempts Eve. As Eve leaves Adam to work alone on the day that she will be tempted, Milton takes the time to show how
from her Husband’s hand her hand
Soft she withdrew.
And once she has Fallen and returned to Adam, her sin becomes apparent, Adam is horrified and it is
From his slack hand the garland wreath’d for Eve
Down drop’d and all the faded Roses shed.
Simply beautifully, tenderly, painfully imagined.
And picture from the poet’s point of view: being blind, how lost and isolated would he feel if bereft not only of sight but touch also.
Etymologically, unusually for the usually Latinate Milton, “hand” is one of those basic vital words derives from Old Germanic and Old English. It’s not pretty, not fancy, not flash… But it does it’s job.