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Friday, December 14, 2012

Pinion and Pride

eagleAs often happens, and as I have mentioned before, certain topics and images enter my mind and then I will read articles and posts about the very thing I have been thinking of.

I have just finished Clothed in Thunder, and I’ve been going from depths of despair to periods of giddiness. How can it be that authors and other artists can be both self confident and so full of fear? That ecstasy can follow so quickly on the heels of agony?

Nathan Bransford's blog addresses this very issue. You can read his words for yourself by clicking the link.

On his blog, he had a picture with the words to The Progress of Poesy by Thomas Gray. I read these words in that poem: Two coursers of ethereal race,
With necks in thunder clothed, and long-resounding pace.

Whoa! What a coincidence that I read a blog post dealing with the very things I have been dealing with that included the words “thunder clothed.” (Probably would have been a better title for my book, but it’s too late now.)

Here are the last two verses of The Progress of Poesy (poesy means poetry, by the way)

Nor second he, that rode sublime
Upon the seraph-wings of Ecstasy,
The secrets of th' abyss to spy.
  He pass'd the flaming bounds of place and time:
The living Throne, the sapphire-blaze,
Where Angels tremble while they gaze,
He saw; but blasted with excess of light,
Closed his eyes in endless night.
Behold, where Dryden's less presumptuous car,
Wide o'er the fields of glory bear
Two coursers of ethereal race,
With necks in thunder clothed, and long-resounding pace.

Hark, his hands the lyre explore!
Bright-eyed Fancy hovering o'er
Scatters from her pictured urn
  Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.
But ah! 'tis heard no more——
  O Lyre divine! what daring Spirit
  Wakes thee now? Tho' he inherit
Nor the pride, nor ample pinion,
  That the Theban eagle bear
Sailing with supreme dominion
  Thro' the azure deep of air:
Yet oft before his infant eyes would run
  Such forms as glitter in the Muse's ray,
With orient hues, unborrow'd of the Sun:
   Yet shall he mount, and keep his distant way
Beyond the limits of a vulgar fate,
Beneath the Good how far—but far above the Great.

So, what do these verses mean? I didn’t have a clue, but I’m always ready to explore. I googled to find analysis of this poem. I found that most people are as clueless as I am.

Yet, these words seem to reflect the feelings I have. Therefore, I decided to summon up my courage and take a stab at analyzing these last two stanzas.

Nor second he, that rode sublime
Upon the seraph-wings of Ecstasy,
The secrets of th' abyss to spy.

To write this in simpler language, “Nor second he, that rode upon the angel wings of joy, the secrets of the deeps to see.” Now I am beginning to glimpse the meaning. When in the throes of creation, the artist, and I will equate this to a writer, sees deeper.

He pass'd the flaming bounds of place and time:
The living Throne, the sapphire-blaze,
Where Angels tremble while they gaze,
He saw; but blasted with excess of light,
Closed his eyes in endless night.

When we write, we are submerged into a different place, a different time. Sometimes the images are so vivid and elicit such strong emotion that we must close our eyes.

Behold, where Dryden's less presumptuous car,
Wide o'er the fields of glory bear
Two coursers of ethereal race,
With necks in thunder clothed, and long-resounding pace.

Dryden, of course, was a famous poet. Gray is giving his opinion—what exactly that is I don’t know. To reword it, “Behold, Dryden’s less true chariot, wide over the fields of glory bear two horses of heavenly race, that have necks clothed in thunder, and an impressive bearing.” It seems to me that Gray is saying that Dryden was popular and seemed impressive but was lacking in truth.

Hark, his hands the lyre explore!
Bright-eyed Fancy hovering o'er
Scatters from her pictured urn
Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.

Ooohhhh, I like this part. “Fancy” refers to the artist’s imagination. Notice that while he is exploring (his hands the lyre explore), that “Fancy” visits. I have seen this again and again. It’s when I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard that my imagination takes flight. If we are lucky we can actually create “thoughts that breathe” and “words that burn.”

But ah! 'tis heard no more——
O Lyre divine! what daring Spirit
Wakes thee now? Tho' he inherit
Nor the pride, nor ample pinion,
That the Theban eagle bear
Sailing with supreme dominion
Thro' the azure deep of air:

Ha! Sounds like writer’s block to me. The “Theban eagle” refers to the famous poet Pindar of Thebes who died in 438 B.C. “Pinion” refers to the primary feathers of a bird. Pindar had the self respect (pride) and the talent (feathers) needed to rise to great heights. What of those of us lacking in those two things?

Yet oft before his infant eyes would run
Such forms as glitter in the Muse's ray,
With orient hues, unborrow'd of the Sun:
Yet shall he mount, and keep his distant way
Beyond the limits of a vulgar fate,
Beneath the Good how far—but far above the Great.

In other words, those of us with “infant eyes”? Although infants, we have images given to us by the “Muse”—whatever or whoever the “Muse” may be. I think most writers are aware of the muse in their writing lives. I believe in this context that “orient” refers to “radiant or glowing.” Therefore, I believe this is saying that even those of us who are not mature writers can still write beyond our skill, catching glimpses of beauty. Although we may not be “the eagle” (as Pindar was the eagle), we can still mount upon the eagle (our muse) and rise above our mediocrity.

Hmmmm…I can still catch the feeling in the last part about feeling inferior, unfit for the work we are doing, yet somehow still managing to surpass that and be able to sail, as Pindar did, upon the “azure deep of air.”

This reminds me of the verses:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint
.

Yes, this is the way I feel. I am the “faint,” the one who “has no might.” And, I become anxious because I forget the “the Lord shall renew” my “strength.” He will allow me to “mount up with wings like eagles,” to “run and not be weary,” to write “and not faint.”

Praise be to God we do not have to rely on our own puny efforts—for that surely would be pure agony. Instead we can experience the ecstasy provided to us by God. Praise be!

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