Welcome to day 6 of 28 Days of Have Heaven, a short month of posts about heaven, paradise, perfection and desire, perfect places, art, theology, gardens, and more, using the Enya song “China Roses” as a jumping off point. Each post will look at these elements in itself, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may only peripherally be related. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted
We’re in the midst of a dozen days or so playing with some of the lyrics and elements in the song “China Roses.” It’s packed with interesting plants and allusions, and since I don’t know what was in lyricist Roma Ryan’s head when she concocted this magic, I feel I can construe the lines as I wish (“who can say the way it should be?,” after all).
Yesterday, the topics were Moonlight holly, the Sappho comet, and Angel’s tears. Today, they’re the break of morning and the new aurora.
As I mentioned at the start, taken as a whole, the lyrics span time from dawn through day to evening, night, and moon rise, evoking an exotic Eden, mythic and romantic, scented with heady fragrances, planted with unusual specimens made lush by rain and river, under a swirl of celestial motion. Explicit in the words and implicit in the connotations, histories, and mythologies are repetitions and reverberations of these conjurings, a journey through time in a day, time in an eon, eternity in the cosmos.
Here again are the lyrics:
Who can tell me if we have heaven,
Who can say the way it should be;
Moonlight holly, the Sappho Comet,
Angel’s tears below a tree.
You talk of the break of morning
As you view the new aurora,
Cloud in crimson, the key of heaven,
One love carved in acajou.
One told me of China Roses,
One a thousand nights and one night,
Earth’s last picture, the end of evening:
Hue of indigo and blue.
A new moon leads me to
Woods of dreams and I follow.
A new world waits for me;
My dream, my way.
I know that if I have heaven
There is nothing to desire.
Rain and river, a world of wonder
May be paradise to me.
the break of morning: This reference harkens directly to “a new aurora,” part of the lyrics of the Thomas Morley madrigal “When Lo, By Break of Morning:”
“When lo, by break of morning,
My love, herself adorning,
Doth walk the woods so dainty
Gath’ring sweet violets and cowslips plenty,
The birds, enamour’d, sing and praise my Flora:
Lo, here a new Aurora.”
And it refers, most likely, to the Roman goddess Aurora, the dawn, said to renew herself every morning to fly across the sky announcing the arrival of the sun (Sol, her brother; Luna, the moon, is her sister).
“a private grief tormented her, the loss of her son Memnon, whom she, his bright mother, had seen wasted by Achilles’s spear on the Phrygian plain. She saw it, and that colour, that reddens the dawn, paled, and the sky was covered with cloud. … Aurora was intent on her own grief, and even now she sheds tears, and wets the whole world with dew.”
Ovid also writes (Metamorphoses, Book II):
“The vigilant Aurora opened forth
Her purple portals from the ruddy East,
Disclosing halls replete with roses. All
The stars took flight whilst Lucifer, the last
to quit his vigil, gathered that great host
And disappeared from his celestial watch.”
(Lucifer, which means light-bearing, was “a Latin name for the planet Venus as the morning star in the ancient Roman era, and is often used for mythological and religious figures associated with the planet. Due to the unique movements and discontinuous appearances of Venus in the sky, mythology surrounding these figures often involved a fall from the heavens to earth or the underworld” (Wikipedia). In some myths, Lucifer is said to be the son of Aurora and Cephalus.)
Aurora is the Roman equivalent of Eos, the Greeks’ goddess of dawn, described with great white wings, like an angel, and both goddesses are said to wear robes either of saffron yellow or dazzling white and purple, with arms of glowing rose. One website comments on the similarity in the way the northern (and southern) lights, aurora borealis (astralis), appear as “shifting curtains or veils of light, evoking Aurora’s cloak blowing behind her as she rides across the sky.” These sunrise photos taken from the train bear that comparison out:
the new aurora: Not much talked about when “China Roses” was written, so likely not at all what lyricist Rona had in mind in 1995 — probably she was just emphasising the “new dawn” aspect of each morning — but amateur photographers have been photographing purple streaks of light in the night sky for decades, and in 2018 scientists thought it was a new kind of aurora, which they called STEVE (first an allusion to the movie “Over the Hedges,” now said to stand for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement).
As I mentioned, scientists initially (March 2018) thought that these lights were a new kind of aurora, a sort of wavy vertical one instead of the usual wavy horizontal lights, but by August 2018 they realised it’s not an aurora but a different celestial phenomenon — thought what, exactly, they’re not sure. It’s “an extremely narrow ribbon of vibrant purple and white hues … What makes this phenomenon different from the aurora borealis is how it’s formed. While auroras form when charged particles collide with the upper atmosphere, scientists have yet to figure out exactly what causes a STEVE to occur.” It’s not created like dayglow and nightglow are, by light waves produced by solar radiation. It’s mysterious! A space physicist at the Space Science Institute in Los Alamos, New Mexico, said, “‘It’s like you think you know everything and it turns out you don’t.’” (More at the American Geophysical Union website.)
This video, with shots of the purple and green lights, was filmed in March 2018, when scientists thought STEVE was an aurora, so the scientist’s narration isn’t quite right but the images are transcendental:
Tomorrow: cloud in crimson and one love carved in acajou.
“Never to lose my wonder but to rise
On such small steps as night might give way to:
My turning interplanetary here.
By this, I mean that it is only night
On one side of the world, that it be light
On the other, that I greet the dawn
My counterpart in China writes his poem
At midnight, poem he’s waited for all day
But only darkness brings him to his room
Where he can see such brightness as I hold
Lightly in my fist so it can expire.
Right now I’m only a space where God writes.
I say “God”—I mean imagination.
If there’s a difference, turning like this earth
Will show me, won’t you, earth. You will? Right now—
— Peter Cooley, “I Said,” Boulevard (vol. 27, no. 1 & 2, Fall 2011)
Featured image: sunrise at home, 4 Oct. 2013, 6:47 a.m. I have no idea why I was up so early.