Thursday, August 6, 2009

August 6: A Prophet of Aerial Warfare (Vol. 42, pp. 979-986)

Alfred Lord Tennyson was born this day in 1809. Flying machines weren't yet invented, yet Tennyson wrote this line: "For I dipt into the future — saw the nation's airy navies grappling in the central blue."

That comes from the poem "Locksley Hall," which is today's reading. Inadvertantly, since the editors chose this piece long before the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which happened this day in 1945, this poem has extra added resonance. In particular, these lines:

Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;

Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.
There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.
So I triumph’d ere my passion sweeping thro’ me left me dry,
Left me with the palsied heart, and left me with the jaundiced eye;
Eye, to which all order festers, all things here are out of joint,
Science moves, but slowly slowly, creeping on from point to point:

Slowly comes a hungry people, as a lion creeping nigher,
Glares at one that nods and winks behind a slowly-dying fire.

Yet I doubt not thro’ the ages one increasing purpose runs,
And the thoughts of men are widen’d with the process of the suns.

What is that to him that reaps not harvest of his youthful joys,
Tho’ the deep heart of existence beat for ever like a boy’s?
Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and I linger on the shore,
And the individual withers, and the world is more and more.

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