Helen writes that she hopes her readers don’t think that reading is the only pleasure she has in life, and insists that the amusements she enjoys are “many and varied.” She refers to her love of nature, the country, and outdoor sports; as a girl, she loved swimming, and now when she is in Wrentham, Massachusetts, she “almost live[s]” in her boat. She takes great pleasure in taking her friends out rowing, though she must rely on others to steer the rudder while she rows with the oars. She feels exhilarated when rowing, enjoying the “imperious surge of the water” and the way the boat becomes “obedient to [her] will and muscle.”
Helen wants for her readers to know that while she is perhaps not exactly like them, neither is she barred from conventional enjoyments and physical pursuits. Her love of nature has spurred her to pursue many hobbies and activities which have enriched her life, and despite the fact that she does not enjoy them in exactly the same way as hearing or sighted people, they are no less thrilling or exhilarating to her.
Helen also enjoys canoeing on moonlit nights. She explains that even though she can’t see the moon, she loves knowing that she is beneath its glow, and feels “a luminous warmth” during these nighttime trips out on the water.
Helen demonstrates her abiding love of being in nature, which is so great that the simple presence of the moon and the lake bring her warmth, comfort, and joy.
Last year, as soon as her exams were over, Helen and Miss Sullivan traveled to Wrentham, where they have a little cottage on a lake. The thoughts of “work and college and the noisy city” faded from Helen’s mind as she took in the sensations of the nature of the countryside, and though the two of them occasionally caught “echoes” of fighting in the Pacific and the struggles between capital and labor in society, they were ensconced in their own Eden. Helen writes that readers and friends have expressed surprise that Helen, robbed of sight and hearing, is attuned to the differences between the city and the country, but Helen says that these people forget that her “whole body is alive” to the conditions in which she finds herself.
Helen has had to assert many times throughout the book that her experience of the world is not so different from that of hearing or sighted persons. In this passage, she asserts that even though she cannot see the sights or hear the sounds of a big, bustling city, her other senses allow her to perceive the world in other ways. The gentle comforts of the countryside are more calming to her than the noise, grime, and heat of the city.
Helen reflects on the visits she has made to see the poor and downtrodden, and she reveals her distress at the fact that wealthy people live comfortable lives of peace and luxury while the poor must live in “hideous” tenements and grow “ugly, withered, and cringing” over the years. Memories of the urchins in the alleys of her city “haunt” Helen, and she believes that if the world was not so focused on city living and people returned to nature, these children would grow up “stately” and nourished by the natural world.
Helen knows that there are many people whose journeys are much harder than hers, and who have not been afforded the opportunities and luxuries which she has been afforded. Helen’s outgoing personality and deep interest in helping others—which she would come to be known for throughout her life—are shown to be taking root in this passage as she considers the plight of the poor and wonders what solutions might help restore peace and balance to society.
In the countryside, Helen takes leisurely walks and rides on her and Miss Sullivan’s tandem bicycle. Her dog often accompanies her on these outings—she has had many pets over the years, and is always heartened by their sensitivity her limitations, as well as their affectionate demeanors. When Helen cannot go outside due to weather, she enjoys knitting and crocheting, checkers and chess, and playing games of solitaire with special cards embossed in braille.
As Helen describes the activities which bring her joy, she reveals her profound appreciation for the natural world, the comforts of home, and the loving company of friends, family, and animals. She graciously attributes her exceptional success in life to these things, as well as to her own perseverance.
Helen also enjoys taking in art and museums; though she cannot see the paintings or sculptures, she loves touching great works of art, and finds that her fingers can “discover the thought and emotion which the artist has portrayed.” She keeps a medallion of Homer hung low on the wall of her study so that she can reach out and touch it, and remind herself of Homer’s triumphs in spite of his struggles.
Helen again reminds her readers in this passage—and the passages following it—that she can appreciate and even delight in the same physical pleasures and activities that they do. Art and poetry are great inspirations to her, and enrich her life each time she is able to be around them.
Another of Helen’s great pleasures, though it is a rarer one, is attending the theatre. She likes having plays described to her while they are being acted in front of her, because she enjoys feeling as if she is “living in the midst of stirring events.” She has met many accomplished actors and actresses, and often even gets to have private audiences or behind the scenes visits with them in which they perform for her while she touches their wigs, costumes, and bodies so as to better get a sense of the action.
Just as Helen described being heartened and warmed by the presence of the full moon, she describes an ineffable but electric joy at sitting in a theatre while a play is taking place in front of her. She loves the chance to interact one on one with performers, and to feel their movements as they bring the stories she has loved for years to life right in front of her.
In reflecting on all her pleasures and passions, Helen writes that her life, even with all its limitations, “touches at many points the life of the World Beautiful.” Though sometimes, in her dark and silent world, Helen finds herself enveloped in isolation and sorrow, she remembers that “there is joy in self-forgetfulness,” and in these moments dedicates herself to making the light in the eyes of others her sun, the music in the ears of others her symphony, and the smile on the lips of others her happiness.
Helen attempts to show her readers in this passage that even though she has known many dark times, doubts, and fears, the whole of her life is one which is in deep communion with beauty, education, nature, and art. Experiencing all these things through others’ eyes is one of her greatest joys in life.