Collis cannot hear ants.

I’ve continued reading along in The Worm Forgives the Plough by John Stewart Collis, though days and weeks did go by when I neglected that paperback sitting on my nightstand and followed instead the lives of fascinating characters in Pearl S. Buck’s novels.

After the first half of the Collis book and its descriptions of farm work, the author begins to give lessons on clouds and chalk, geology and evolution. He explains botany in lucid prose, and earthworms. I wasn’t so interested in some of these topics and did skim a bit, but when he started writing in vivid detail about the kingdoms of ants and how they live, I paid closer attention. Just a short example here:

Thus ants are specialized in activity, but they all share common destinies and dooms. All, for instance, are without ears, and live in a world dedicated to silence. Here again we cannot easily conceive this life. There is silence along their streets, and even on the field of battle there is no sound. And since they are deaf it seems certain that they are also voiceless. It may be that we have not the ears to hear the utterances of insects even as we have not the eyes to see the tiniest of their brothers. Anyway the fact iant-trail-2s that we don’t hear anything and it is probable that the silence is absolute. Just as we can watch a spider attack a fly caught in its web and see it slowly eat its living meal without a sound being heard, so also, however close we might bend down upon cohorts of embattled ants, we will hear no shout of insectual command, no cry of triumph, no moans of the dying, and even when a head is sawn off or a severed limb falls to the ground, no shriek of pain will humanize the scene.

— John Stewart Collis

4 thoughts on “Collis cannot hear ants.

  1. OK, I totally had to smile…just as I was reading about the ants, I glanced over at your About Me pic. Perhaps you read something about ants previously? Perhaps you found some on your deck? =) Happy day, Nancy

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    1. That is funny, Nancy…indeed, there probably were ants in that scene in the photo, down there where my head was close to the deck, because it’s the deck of our cabin in the high mountains and large wood ants are usually running about everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were getting in my way as I was trying to pain a door threshold 🙂

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  2. How fascinating! He considers the horrific noises of the battlefield to be “humanizing”!! Hmm. This passage reminds me of Thoreau in Walden. He writes about agonizing, brutal ant battles also, between red ants and black ants. He passes his leisure time watching them.

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