The Total Solar Eclipse

Where will you be on the morning of August 21st as the sun becomes a dark hole with a ring of fire in the sky? 

References to an eclipse appear throughout literature; novelists and poets have used the event as inspiration and, at times, an omen. Stephen King uses an eclipse as a foil in the murder plot of his horror story Delores Claiborne. In Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt sees an eclipse the night before he leaves for America as either a sign of good fortune or a curse.
Shakespeare wove the ghostly image into Othello’s cry of despair, after strangling Desdemona:

O insupportable! O heavy hour! / Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse / Of sun and moon; and that the affrighted globe / Should yawn at alteration’ –

Romantic poet William Wordsworth wrote a poem, immortalizing the solar eclipse event of 1820:

High on her speculative Tower
Stood Science waiting for the Hour
When Sol was destined to endure
That darkening of his radiant face
Which Superstition strove to chase…

As the total eclipse approaches America, Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk, wrote an essay for the New York Times – Among Others: A Total Eclipse is a Lesson in the Surprising Beauty of the Human Throng.  As someone who has witnessed three total eclipses, the last in Turkey, Macdonald offers her perspective on their value for humanity, especially Americans.

“The event this August has been called the Great American Eclipse, and it seems to me to chime with the country’s current struggles: between reason and unreason, individuality and crowd consciousness, belonging and difference. The most distressing present day crowds are those whose politics are built from fear and outrage against otherness.  They are entities that define themselves by virtue of what they are against. Yet the simple fact about an eclipse crowd is that it cannot work in this way.  Confronting something like the absolute, all our differences are moot. When you stand and watch the death of the sun and see it reborn, there can be not them, only us.”

Being present in the moments of the eclipse carries different expectations for those who participate.  Some may be inspired, others in awe, a few will be frantically recording data.  I attended a lecture at the local university, listening to the excitement of the professor’s expectations for the scientific knowledge to be gained in the few seconds revealing the activity of the sun’s corona.  Someone in one of my book clubs is making the trek to the mainland to watch the eclipse as it starts its descent across the United States from near Portland, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina.

TSE2016-Totality-RickFienberg-s  Helen Macdonald suggests being physically present to see the sudden blackening of the sky and the stars shining during the day is an experience “provoking the overwhelming recognition of human mortality.”  But she also suggests – whether or not you are present – the moment of the eclipse offers a chance for the world to be remade – rebooted and restored – a call to “set {the world} to rights.”  

 What a phenomenon that would be.



2 thoughts on “The Total Solar Eclipse

Comments are closed.