Saturday, August 1, 2015

‘Can Light Be Golden?’

I’ve been awake all night (long story) and had the chance to read. I selected Owen Barfield’s novella Night Operation, a science fiction story published in 1975 that, among other things, comments presciently on cultural collapses we are experiencing today. It is a kind of allegory of the cave—clearly it acknowledges Plato’s lesson—as subterranean humans venture toward the light of day to experience what life might be like above ground. It’s a good story, and short enough to read in one sitting, if you’re so inclined. And reclined. Actually, reading Night Operation as dawn approaches enhances the tale’s ambience. Furthermore, to read it during the opening hours of August causes the mind to wander and ponder.

August of the zodiac sign Leo: Leo’s ruling planet is the sun; its element is fire; its color gold. (A slain lion named Cecil so prevalent in the world’s news this week.)

Can light be golden?

Owen Barfield, Anthroposophist extraordinaire, has three characters in Night Operation: Jon, based on himself; Jak, based on his dear friend C.S. Lewis; and Peet, inspired by another close friend and fellow Anthroposophy leader Cecil Harwood. The three young men protagonists endure a hellish existence, but their spiritual longings prompt them to undertake their Night Operation—a determined search for a place of enlightenment in a totally unknown atmosphere above ground. They behold dawn for the first time.

Anyway, the story triggered a memory of this Barfield poem, which I share with you:


Can light be golden? That can never be,
The well-informed assure us, because light
Is what we see by, never what we see.

But are the well-informed, I wonder, right?
Those painters of the old Italian school
Seem almost to condense it into sight.

I doubt if Cimabue was a fool,
Or faked the background, or the aureole.
Perhaps they worked to some more secret rule

That light observes—not light through Newton’s hole
(The force we see by when we are not blind),
But light inbreathed by man’s adoring soul.

Can light be golden? Now recall to mind
That seeding whereof Perseus was the flower:
How sad Acrisius’ daughter was confined

In Argos long ago—the brazen tower—
Then Zeus, the Light of Day, with godlike stride
Descending on it in a Golden Shower,

Breaching its walls to glorify the bride.
Can light be golden? Now the truth comes clear:
It is, when wonder meets it open-eyed—

As I am to the light that streams from her,
When she at last is near, and these old walls
Invading, overwhelms their prisoner:

The light that, condescending, disenthralls!
For now the pagan myth’s inverted: she
(Look up, and see how smilingly it falls!)
The Shower of Gold; I, wondering Danäe.

If you registered for the MRF symposium in Philly, I’ll see you in three weeks. Otherwise, I hope you’re enjoying this incredibly kind summer weather. I will be the guest speaker at Inspiratus Masonic Lodge No. 357 in New Jersey on September 28—presenting again “Come to Your Senses!”—so maybe I’ll see you there.

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