Poetry of Motion

The poetry of motion is a phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, first enlarging the consciousness with a sense of difference from the mass of civilized mankind, who are horizontal and disregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars. After such a nocturnal reconnoitre among these astral clusters, aloft from the customary haunts of thought and vision, some men may feel raised to a capability for eternity at once. 

Far from the Madding Crowd p. 9

When I read “poetry of motion,” I immediately thought “poetry in motion” and thus Thomas Dolby’s 80s hit “She Blinded Me with Science.” I realize what that communicates about me. Harding gives us more to chew on than Dolby however; though, I wonder if he doesn’t have it a bit backward. For Harding, the man who recognizes the desire for the gratification that comes from gazing at the night sky for some length, knows he is different (superior?) than the rest of his lot who are flat on their backs at this hour. In fact, this “stately progress through the stars” imbues in some an immortality—at least that is how I read the last few words. 

But is not the opposite more likely the case? Doesn’t a long gaze upwards cement in our souls the smallness of our situation? The vastness of the night sky is sublime. Certainly we may feel the need for eternity, a longing to hold on to this beatific vision of the cosmos, but, surely, standing alone on a hill at night reminds us of our inferiority and finiteness and our inability to measure up to the grandeur. 

That is not to say that putting oneself “aloft from the customary haunts of thought and vision” is not good for us. But it’s good in a different way, a humbling way. It sets us before our creator, shows us our insignificance, and then suddenly puts in us the idea that it was created for small creatures like us to gaze at and be blessed by its beauty. Sara Groves sings of what looking up at the night sky might do for someone in her song “Maybe There’s a Loving God”:

I’m trying to work things out
I’m trying to comprehend
Am I the chance result
Of some great accident
I hear a rhythm call me
The echo of a grand design
I spend each night in the backyard
Staring up at the stars in the sky …

Maybe this was made for me
For lying on my back
In the middle of a field
Maybe that’s a selfish thought
Or maybe there’s a loving God

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