Tuesday, August 18, 2009

These are the Dog Days

"Under Sirius," by W.H. Auden, is my favorite hot weather poem. I offer it today in honor of the hot weather which has finally arrived in New York.

Having grown up in the arctic suburbs of Buffalo, I welcome the idea of global warming with glee. I pray nightly for palm trees in East Aurora. I long for the day when Caribbean style cabanas (complete with boys) are erected on the shores of Lake on Ontario.

Of course, this will never happen, since anthropogenic global warming, as it is now advertised, is less an established scientific fact than a politically useful tool for keeping ignorance cool. That Man might not have entire dominion over Nature is a revolutionary notion contrary to many scriptures. And nobody needs visions of an impending apocalypse quite like a Medieval ruling class that has run out of ideas for keeping people in line. What could be worse (from their positively priestly point-of-view) than a resurgence of reason forcing us to have another Renaissance? One Leonardo was clearly quite enough.

Personally, I think small variations in solar radiation--the solar magnetic field--affect our environment far more than farting cows or an excess of cars. Walk outside on any sunny day and you can feel on your face the warmth, the enormous power of that bright ball of hydrogen 93,000,000,000 miles away. Stand next to a cow, or Al Gore, or a hippie and what do your senses detect: another kind of gas. One not nearly so pleasant, thin and odorless as hydrogen either.

But then, like Erasmus, my nose is particularly sensitive to emissions of nonsense. I am also an amateur astronomer and biased toward a Heliocentric view of the Heavens. You might also say I am a child of Copernicus, not Ptolemy. In this respect, I am a sun worshiper, a happy renegade, a scientific heretic. And, in my estimation, there is nothing like a little heresy to help your tan along in August. And a little Auden.

Under Sirius
W. H. Auden

Yes, these are the dog days, Fortunatus:
The heather lies limp and dead
On the mountain, the baltering torrent
Shrunk to a soodling thread;
Rusty the spears of the legion, unshaven its captain,
Vacant the scholar’s brain
Under his great hat,
Drug though She may, the Sybil utters
A gush of table-chat.

And you yourself with a head-cold and upset stomach,
Lying in bed till noon,
Your bills unpaid, your much advertised
Epic not yet begun,
Are a sufferer too. All day, you tell us, you wish
Some earthquake would astonish,
Or the wind of the Comforter’s wing
Unlock the prisons and translate
The slipshod gathering.

And last night, you say, you dreamed of that bright blue morning,
The hawthorn hedges in bloom,
When, serene in their ivory vessels,
The three wise Maries come,
Sossing through seamless waters, piloted in
By sea-horse and fluent dolphin:
Ah! how the cannons roar,
How jocular the bells as They
Indulge the peccant shore.

It is natural to hope and pious, of course, to believe
That all in the end shall be well,
But first of all, remember,
So the Sacred Books foretell,
The rotten fruit shall be shaken. Would your hope make sense
If today were that moment of silence,
Before it break and drown,
When the insurrected eagre hangs
Over the sleeping town?

How will you look and what will you do when the basalt
Tombs of the sorcerers shatter
And their guardian megalopods
Come after you pitter-patter?
How will you answer when from their qualming spring
The immortal nymphs fly shrieking,
And out of the open sky
The pantocratic riddle breaks -
‘Who are you and why?’

For when in a carol under the apple-trees
The reborn featly dance,
There will also, Fortunatus,
Be those who refused their chance,
Now pottering shades, querulous beside the salt-pits,
And mawkish in their wits,
To whom these dull dog-days
Between event seemed crowned with olive
And golden with self-praise.

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