Friday, July 26, 2013

`I Live in Light'

Hot, drought-ridden Houston is still a relief after three years of exile in Seattle. It never storms up there; it drips. The sky is low and opaque, like a bowl of gray milk. The sun shines for three days in August. Moss displaces grass, and mold displaces moss. The population is peevish and surly. Rereading E.M. Cioran after long absence proves, yet again, confounding. In Tears and Saints (trans. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston, University of Chicago Press, 1995) he writes: 

“Sunlight is not a good topic for poetry. You can be grateful for the sun, but can you sing its praises? The Egyptians made the sun a god so that they could compose hymns in its honor. Light is indiscreet, and when you are unhappy it is downright vexing. The sun describes a curb of happiness, but plenitude has never been a source of poetry.” 

One understands the attraction of contrariness, the will to provocation. Who wants to drone with the rest? But here Cioran is mistaken. Sunlight and plenitude may be the only good topics for poetry. When Dante, guided by Beatrice, visits the Sphere of the Sun in Paradise, he encounters the souls of twelve wise men, including St. Thomas Aquinas, Boethius and King Solomon. “I live in light,” Helen Pinkerton says in “Degrees of Shade” (Taken in Faith, 2002). And then there’s this beautiful line from “Paho at Walpi” by Pinkerton’s friend Janet Lewis: “The sunlight pours unbroken through the wind.” 

My ten-year-old asked the other day what would happen if the sun suddenly disappeared. He knows about the eight minutes it takes light to travel from the sun to Earth. How soon would we feel its absence? Eight minutes? Then what happens? Would we see the darkness before life blinked out of existence? And what about gravity? Relativity teaches that gravity moves at the speed of light. Would the earth, without the sun and its gravitational pull, go tumbling out of orbit through space? Would the next most powerful source of gravity (Jupiter?) yank us away from the empty center of the solar system? I’ll stick with Dante and his wise men. 

1 comment:

Tom Schmidt said...

Edward Thomas: There's nothing like the sun