"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Friday, November 28, 2014

An Interstellar Thanksgiving

Ancient Space Travel
" . . . the vast expanse of interstellar space . . . "

Our family's day - after - Thanksgiving activity was going to see the new movie Interstellar, then coming home to expand our knowledge of interstellar space with a few episodes of Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey:
"Deeper Deeper Deeper Still"
"Hiding in the Light"
"A Sky Full of Ghosts."
I thought of that old favorite by Walt Whitman and wondered if only he had heard de Grasse Tyson or Carl Sagan, he might have been mesmerized rather than unaccountably "tired and sick":

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams,
to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer,
where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

~ from "By the Roadside" (Book XX) in Leaves of Grass

Coincidentally, although we didn't think of this before going to see it, Interstellar fit right in with a couple of things that we had watched earlier in the week: the movie About Time, with its somewhat under - utilized subplot of traveling back in time to re-direct the course of personal events; and Bob's Burgers, particularly the episode in which Bob gets stuck in the crawl space and communicates with his family from behind the wall.

November Moon & Millennium Sundial
On the John T. Myers Pedestrian Bridge
between Lafayette & West Lafayette, Indiana

Later in the day, with thoughts turning toward Christmas, I made an additional connection -- not stars and perfect silence, but stars and a sky full of "the sweetest music":

A Spaceman Came Traveling
[Click to listen]

A spaceman came traveling on his ship from afar,
'Twas light years of time since his mission did start,
And over a village he halted his craft,
And it hung in the sky like a star, just like a star.

He followed a light and came down to a shed,
Where a mother and a child were lying there on a bed,
A bright light of silver shone round his head,
And he had the face of an angel, and they were afraid.

Then the stranger spoke, he said, "Do not fear,
I come from a planet a long way from here,
And I bring a message for mankind to hear,"
And suddenly the sweetest music filled the air --

And it went la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la . . .
Peace and goodwill to all men, and love for the child.

La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la . . .
Peace and goodwill to all men, and love for the child.

This lovely music went trembling through the ground,
And many were wakened on hearing that sound,
And travelers on the road, the village they found,
By the light of that ship in the sky, which shone all round.

And just before dawn at the paling of the sky,
The stranger returned and said, "Now I must fly,
When two thousand years of your time has gone by,
This song will begin once again, to a baby's cry."

And it went la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la . . .
Peace and goodwill to all men, and love for the child.

Oh the whole world is waiting, waiting to hear that song again,
There are thousands standing on the edge of the world,
And a star is moving somewhere, the time is nearly here,
This song will begin once again, to a baby's cry.

~ Chris De Burgh

This mystical song always arouses my curiosity. The spaceman halts his craft, that seems to become the Star of Bethlehem; yet he himself "followed a light" -- the light from his own ship which others are following? Or a different light? He seems to become the Christmas Angel who says "Do not fear" and brings glad tidings; but what is the source for the "lovely music" filling the air and "trembling through the ground"? More angels? Or the Spaceman?

He flies away, bidding farewell to the mother and child and other assembled Earthlings, promising the song again and "a baby's cry" in two thousand years' time. Does this mean a new baby Messiah? The Spaceman doesn't promise his own return, though the song's haunting conclusion suggests it. Is the Spaceman the baby, all grown up (like Jesus or Mad Max or Dad / Joseph Cooper / Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar)?

So that bright start might be some kind of complicated spaceship from the past or the future; but equally appealing is the possibility described in The Littlest Angel. The star could be a treasure box containing the smallest items -- two white stones, three blue eggs, a butterfly orange and a black, a feather -- insignificant in every way aside from the fact that they are dear to our hearts. The little time traveler leaves Eternity for a short visit Earth, where only mere seconds have elapsed since his departure. But days have passed in the afterlife, and he misses his wooden treasure chest:
"All these things I love best I have kept in this old chest.
Sorted and counted hundreds of nights,
they all have have given me a thousand delights.
Who can say how much they are worth?
They are the miracles of the Earth."

[click to hear Johnny Whitaker sing: @ 57:15]

Story by Charles Tazewell, Illustrated by Sergio Leone

More space time continuum holiday viewing:
Ghost of Star Trek Christmas ~ Primer ~ Ink

Next Fortnightly Post
Sunday, December 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Friday, November 14, 2014

First Snow In Indiana

~ Garage Lights ~
Waiting for Gerry's return from the Indianapolis Airport

When it snowed two weeks ago, on Halloween, I could have sworn it was the first time in my life that I've ever seen snow in October. Having lived in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Indiana -- well, those are not the States where one sees snow in October, not even on the last day!

Snow on Halloween? In Indiana?
When half the backyard is still green? Well, I never!

Then along came yesterday's snow, on my sister Peggy's birthday, and even that seemed too early. Have I ever seen snow on her birthday before? I don't think so! I don't care if it is the second week of November, that's just too soon! I decided to check out the Indiana Climate Archives, which informed me that there had indeed been "measurable" snowfall in Indiana on October 18, 1989. What?! I actually lived in Indiana on that day, but I have no memory of such! Oh, if only I'd been recording weather lore in my journal back then. But alas. Well, this time, I took plenty of pictures:

I love my friend Dana Hall's description of this eerie, early snow:
"Exciting but a little surreal and scary, right?"
The pumpkins are an added bonus!

Several friends noted how much we might have enjoyed this snow back when we were seven years old! But at fifty - seven, it's a mixed blessing. On their Christmas Portrait, the Carpenters provide a light - hearted reminiscence:
Oh the first snowfall of the winter
Was a day that we all waited for . . .

Oh the first snowfall of the winter
What a joy for a boy to behold . . .

It's the good old sentimental season . . .
When a man becomes a boy once again . . .

Music by Joseph F. "Sonny" Burke (1914 - 80)
Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster (1907 - 84)
With Veterans Day so recently past, my thoughts turned to the snowy battle scene depicted by poet Richard Wilbur in "First Snow in Alsace." The World War II night guard in Wilbur's poem "becomes a boy once again," in more somber circumstances than the Carpenter tune describes, but with equal joy. He boasts warmly that "He was the first to see the snow." Seen through through "the new air white and fine," even the war - torn surroundings have been magically transformed by the first snow that falls indiscriminately, innocently, neutrally.

In fact, it hasn't been all that long ago since the young soldier was a child himself, playing in the snow. His daydreams of youthful winters take him -- not fifty years -- but a mere "Ten first - snows back in thought":
First Snow in Alsace
The snow came down last night like moths
Burned on the moon; it fell till dawn,
Covered the town with simple cloths.

Absolute snow lies rumpled on
What shellbursts scattered and deranged,
Entangled railings, crevassed lawn.

As if it did not know they'd changed,
Snow smoothly clasps the roofs of homes
Fear-gutted, trustless and estranged.

The ration stacks are milky domes;
Across the ammunition pile
The snow has climbed in sparkling combs.

You think: beyond the town a mile
Or two, this snowfall fills the eyes
Of soldiers dead a little while.

Persons and persons in disguise,
Walking the new air white and fine,
Trade glances quick with shared surprise.

At children's windows, heaped, benign,
As always, winter shines the most,
And frost makes marvelous designs.

The night guard coming from his post,
Ten first-snows back in thought, walks slow
And warms him with a boyish boast:

He was the first to see the snow.

Richard Wilbur (b. 1921)

Addional Connections

1. Here is another poem that takes the reader on an absolutely beautiful walk in newly fallen snow. Whereas Wilbur is crossing Alsace, "Walking the new air white and fine," Wylie walks elegantly "In a soundless space . . . through the still town / In a windless space":
Velvet Shoes
Let us walk in the white snow
In a soundless space;
With footsteps quiet and slow,
At a tranquil pace,
Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk,
And you in wool,
White as white cow's milk,
More beautiful
Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk through the still town
In a windless peace;
We shall step upon white down,
Upon silver fleece,
Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes:
Wherever we go
Silence will fall like dews
On white silence below.
We shall walk in the snow.

Elinor Morton Wylie (1885 - 1928)
2. In "The Arrested Artistry of Elinor Wylie," editor John G. Rodwan, Jr. observes that Wylie's poetry has been compared to that of Richard Wilbur and that she was devoted to the life and work of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

3. I don't know if this poem about the mutability of art and love was one of Wylie's favorites, but it's one of mine. It lacks the hope of Wilbur's "First Snow in Alsace," but shares a similar sense of human frailty, endurance, and irrevocable loss, complete with seasonal imagery of falling leaves, and cold wind:

When the Lamp is Shattered
When the lamp is shattered
The light in the dust lies dead-
When the cloud is scattered,
The rainbow's glory is shed.
When the lute is broken,
Sweet tones are remembered not;
When the lips have spoken,
Loved accents are soon forgot.

As music and splendour
Survive not the lamp and the lute,
The heart's echoes render
No song when the spirit is mute-
No song but sad dirges,
Like the wind through a ruined cell,
Or the mournful surges
That ring the dead seaman's knell.

When hearts have once mingled,
Love first leaves the well-built nest;
The weak one is singled
To endure what it once possessed.
O Love! who bewailest
The frailty of all things here,
Why choose you the frailest
For your cradle, your home, and your bier?

Its passions will rock thee,
As the storms rock the ravens on high;
Bright reason will mock thee,
Like the sun from a wintry sky.
From thy nest every rafter
Will rot, and thine eagle home
Leave thee naked to laughter,
When leaves fall and cold winds come.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 - 1822)
[see also "Ozymandias" & "Ode to the West Wind"]
4. Another blogger makes a connection between "When the Lamp is Shattered" and Wilbur's haunting Christmas hymn "A Stable Lamp is Lighted".
[See also "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World"]

5.StoryPeople always gets it right! Thanks Brian Andreas!

Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, November 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading