It wasn't long before Woolf's Kew Gardens brought me to Paris, specifically Paris of 1966 and Jacques Dutronc's song Et moi, et moi, et moi from his self-titled debut album. The song is a response to the self-important windbaggery of mid early 60s lyrics wherein the fate of the universe seems to hang on the outcome of the singer's relationship (or the kind of hubris that would make Simon think the Dragonfly had anything to do with him). Dutronc challenges such an egocentric outlook by putting his problems squarely in the context of the life on the planet as a whole, as in the song's first verse:
Sept cent millions de chinois
Et moi, et moi, et moi
Avec ma vie, mon petit chez moi
Mon mal de tête, mon psi
J'y pense et puis j'oublie
C'est la vie, c'est la vie"
Seven hundred million Chinese
And me, and me, and me
With my life, my little home
My headache, my Persian cat
I think about it and then I forget
That’s life, that’s life
Dutronc and Woolf seem to share an idea about how the troubles of individuals fit into the context of the gigantic struggles between major world forces. Dutronc sees how greatly the pains of his headache and the comforts of his cat pale in comparison to the experiences of the "seven hundred million" Chinese. Likewise, Kew Gardens is a story of being dwarfed. The snail and the obstructions in its path are dwarfed by the Garden visitors, who are themselves dwarfed by the "murmur" of the city in which their voices are lost. And, let's not forget, everything in London, the greatest city of the world at the time, was dwarfed by the number of men and women fighting and dying in the Great War; no one in the story seems to realize how small they are as compared to the goings on in the world about them.
Yet, regardless of how small their subjects are, both the short story and the song exist; though minor as compared to the fate of nations, Simon still thinks about the dragonfly and the two elderly women still wonder about Williams and his companion. Jacques Dutronc has a home that shelters him and a life that he has to live. Despite the murmur and the 700 million Chinese, the voices of the individuals, small though they may be, are still worthy of attention and documentation.
Both Dutronc and Woolf feature an ambiguous "it". We're not sure what the "it" is that Dutronc thinks about, nor what the young woman's "it" is that's worth sixpence. And I think the ambiguity and the universality of that humble pronoun is terribly important: no matter what it is, it's worth the time of writer to document, the reader to read, and the person to live. No matter how small the snail's quest may be, it is important to the snail; no matter how intensely private Simon's recollections are, they are worth thinking. The smallness of life leads neither reader to reject its value; for Dutronc, "c'est la vie"; that's just how it goes, and for Woolf, the voices and lives are not subsumed into the din of the city, but rather they find themselves atop the cacophony and "cried aloud [as] the petals of myriads of flowers flashed their colours into the air".