Some bodies have their own light. Some are natural luminaries.
There are the obvious ones, of course: the sun’s hydrogen and helium afford it a magnificent luminary independence; while the Oxford Dictionary affords the moon the accolade ‘luminary’ even though it is blue rock which borrows its white light from a far off star.
Travel to the depths of the ocean and you will see the weak blue or green light of the lanternfish: an eerie lamp in depths which never see the light of day.
Each holds a fascination, because they can do something we will never be able to do, no matter how we try. We will always need a prop to give us light. We can never create it ourselves.
And if we could, would any of us be afraid of the dark?
I am reminded of our dark winter nights, when we negotiate tiny lanes on the way to some pub with a fireplace and windows which glow red with welcome. Our cars are mechanical luminaries, equipped with headlights on two settings, dipped and full.
In the dead of night, how comforting is that full beam as it sweeps the darkness, bringing light and clarity and intelligence of what lies ahead to the eye of a perplexed motorist?
Darkness need no longer be feared. Enlightenment of a kind sits at the driver’s shoulder.
My favourite kind of luminary is metaphorical. Such human beings are not luminescent: rather, they specialise in enlightenment.
I read a beautiful poem written by just such a luminary today.
William Blake’s family were not conventional members of the establishment church. Instead they were known as ‘dissenters’; members of a troop of Moravians, to whom the bible was an important way to stay close to the people.
Blake was always one who walked to the beat of his own drum. Some thought him crackpot: his ideas were nothing like people had seen before. As we read them today, perhaps they are like nothing we have seen since.
We all accept the systems of a society into which we are born: not William Blake.
Each illustration, each poem, each new idea must have been utterly startling on first encounter, just as they are when I see them today. His grasp of complex symbolism and development of the philosophy of a brave new world, while bewailing the wizened old one: all are hallmarks of this utterly extraordinary light source.
Such passion; such intolerance for the shackling of minds. Yesterday I read A Divine Form: a mirror image of an earlier Song of Innocence entitled The Divine Form.
Cruelty has a human heart,
And Jealousy a human face;
Terror the human form divine,
And Secresy the human dress.
The human dress is forged iron,
The human form a fiery forge,
The human face a furnace sealed,
The human heart its hungry gorge.
It seems, then, that luminaries can bring forth darkness. Or rather, they shine light into the darkest corners: in this case, Industrial Britain and its foundries. Blake railed at the way we humans enslave ourselves, shackling our fellow creatures in unnatural, furtive fear, denying the need which is there at the centre of each of us.
Did we ever listen to Blake?
His papers fell into the wrong hands and many were burned because they were deemed heretical or radical. Biographer Alexander Gilchrist brought Blake to full recognition in the 1860s. Since then, this luminary has been the darling of poets and artists.
But as I wandered round some of his works at the Tate Britain, I was struck with a strong conviction that this luminary has something vital to say to our time.
For are we not still anesthetised slaves? Not to iron and foundries and mills, but to another pair of spiritual manacles: to a society which has quite lost its mind.
Here, scantily clad pictures of women are paraded for young girls to use as role models. Disney offers full-slap makeover sessions for toddlers. Some adults have ceased to care about terrifying ideas and images, and even language, being used to entertain their children. For amusement we employ small virtual worlds far from the daylight and the open air.
We are enslaved to acquisition, to appearing to be that which we are not. We work the hours of the old mills, so that we might carpet our big houses and wear clothes to create an image which is nothing like us.
It is dark. If we could create our own light, like the lanternfish, would any of us fear the dark?
Blake believed we are all potential luminaries.We have an inner source of light, ours to grasp if we would but turn everything off, turn inwards, embrace silence.
And walk to meet it.