Friday, August 10, 2007

The Chambered Nautilus

Many thanks to a referral in Bored in Vernal's blog, extolling the beauty of this poem, I have something of value I wish to share:

The Chambered Nautilus

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sail the unshadowed main,
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.

Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!

Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.

Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathed horn;
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

At first glance while reading this poem, it came across to me as nice, but rather random. Why would this poem be considered so special to BiV? As I reread and considered, the poem began to unveil its beauty to me. Such it is with the gospel and with people who turn out to be good friends.

I had a vague image in my mind of the chambered nautilus, so I went and refreshed my memory. It is a curious being that floats and swims in south Asian oceans, and builds a lovely shell of progressively larger chambers through it's lifecycle, forming a nearly perfect equiangular spiral. This humble animal is a magnificent example of our Creator's genius!

The sophisticated beauty of this poem is two-fold: its structure and its deep analogy. If you go back and look at the author's devices in constructing the poem, you'll find that all the stanzas follow a pre-meditated pattern. The stanzas each consist of 7 lines, with a rhyming scheme that goes aabbbcc. Not only do the vowels repeat predictably, but the rhythm also repeats: the number of syllables in each line of each stanza follows the pattern 10, 6, 6, 10, 10, 6, 12.

Why go to all this trouble? First, the poem is meant to be auditory, to be shared. Secondly, it lends a design and exquisiteness to the ideas expressed. When I write a poem, like 'Skinny Dipping,' I have a general idea of what I want to say, but the exercise of making the words fit into a desired structure pushes me to word places and meaning that would never happen if I took the first random thought that came to mind. It is conformance to will that shapes the deeper meaning of the poem, the same as in observing the gospel's demands. And herein lies the creative and inspiring process experienced by poets, as well as Disciples.

The wonderful imagery and metaphor of Holmes' The Chambered Nautilus communicates beautifullly to me that we must move on through life, continually making for ourselves new 'temples' of abode, bigger and better, until one day we join the infinite. This is our doctrine of eternal progression. It inspires me to not short-change or discount my experiences of mortal life, but to learn and grow and plan to build 'more stately mansions' of my soul. The poem also lends the image of sealing off the past, that it is our present where must live; however, the empty chambers of the soul still serve a valuable function to keep us buoyant and moving on in eternity's expanse.

1 comment:

Bored in Vernal said...

I am so glad you were touched by this poem also! It's so amazing. I also wanted to tell you I like the direction your blog is taking. It is a place of beauty and clear thought.