Cans’t work i’ th’ earth so fast? O worthy Pioner?
Back in the Golden Age, the shepherd Strephon lay on a sun-drenched bank of flowers and, with his oaten pipe under a cloudless sky, sang ditties of love to his beloved Phyliss. In that perfected pastoral time, all creation lay before him, an immediate treasure of experience, like gold and silver and precious gems, all round the earth’s exquisite, unchanging shore.
And then one day, perhaps a cloudy day, Strephon spied Silvia tending her flock and his ditties were never again exactly what they were wont to be when they were in adoration of Phyliss alone. That “Silvia woman” troubled him-- deeply.
Who is Silvia? what is she,
That all our swains commend her?
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Worthies, away! The scene begins to cloud.
Loves’s Labour’s Lost
A certain ambiguity entered his music. One could no longer be sure what it meant. What was Strephon trying to say…?
The “true meanings” of things that used to lie around at lovers’ feet, free and easy, like gold and silver in the sunlight, were suddenly there no longer. The once beautiful earth of thought now was veiled, darkened, and obscure.
Those who read what they could find and wrote about it began to notice that Strephon’s simple ditties were no longer simple and had become songs of guarded intent. Now there were secrets that must be dug into: meaning had to be dug up out of mystery, like gold from a mine..
The mining of meaning was at first easy enough, scratching only a bit under the appearances of things. But the scratching soon became a pit, and the pit, a shaft down into the dark and forbidding unknown--down and farther down to discover veins, lodes of ore, ores of new knowledge, high-grades of experience and feeling.
Tunnels and stopes, went off in all directions from that ever-deepening shaft, probing into galleries of new understanding-- or sometimes into the incomprehensible.
Each generation of miners, reading and writing for their meager living, was to go down as far as life and experience would allow, all the time inventing new terminologies to meet and describe what was endlessly new and wonderful-- and often frightening. Generation after generation of probing miners, reading and writing, stopped off in the shaft at the level where each could find work.
New generations dug on, down deeper, and discovered what those above could not have imagined or experienced. Their discoveries were not better or richer, nor did they improve on what lay well-mined above, but they were historically new and liberating.
At the surface, in a shack over the open shaft, there reigned another and quite different figure, the hoist-man. Like a troll, he winched an ore-bucket up and down with the miners and their ores-- or readers and writers-- who work the mine and must at times come up to take the air of their origins and re-visit the beginnings of things,
By yanking on that rope, in a common code, these scholars of the earth’s experience communicated with the mysterious master of the winch above. They must believe in him, that he will always be there, ready at the winch of human culture.
And so, to stress this metaphor with one more yank, I shall say that I also am down there in the shaft, but only a little way, as in a limbo, comfortable, at rest, thinking my old thoughts, trying to read some of the new stuff, messing with metaphors like this, and hoping for a pull on the rope from below that will keep me in touch with what’s going on down there where smart young people are discovering all kinds of stuff and changing things.
But I worry: will the hoist-man be there for me when I need a lift?