Today, I couldn’t stop thinking about eye-beams.
No, not high-beams, though I must confess to a bit of a “deer in the headlights” sort of feeling as I contemplate the idea. It all started with Milton.
Throughout Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained Milton sets up some pretty fundamental tropes: God=Light and Satan=Darkness. Okay, so what makes Satan dark is the absence of light(God). He’s still visible, you see, darkness visible and all that. Don’t get confused with the inversion; hey my name isn’t Satan, I’m Jeff, and this is visible darkness.
For those (including high school English teachers, at least the ones who end up on game shows) who aren’t that familiar with Milton, he was blind when he dictated these works. Blind prophets are also a big trope in literature, besides being a factual description of Milton’s self image. In Samson Agonistes, Milton weaves his own personality tightly around Samson, who like Oedipus was blinded before the crashing conclusion of the biblical story. How do you get around the reality of that darkness in contrast with the more abstract symbolism? Eye-beams.
But Milton was too well versed in science to go for that. Milton admits that eye-beams cannot be evidence that Samson was inspired: “For inward light alas / Puts forth no visual beam.” John Donne wasn’t so scientific about it, particularly when using it as a trope for seduction:
Where, like a pillow on a bed,
A pregnant bank swelled up, to rest
The violet’s reclining head,
Sat we two, one another’s best;
Our hands were firmly cemented
With a fast balm, which thence did spring,
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes, upon one double string;
So to’ intergraft our hands, as yet
Was all our means to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation
The Ecstasy 1-12
So, being in love is collecting the same pictures with your eyes? I really like that idea. This whole concept of eyes reaching out to get the world has been a big thing with me. I first found it in Blake.
But Blake’s conception is different (big news, eh?). In Blake not only do the eyes reach out (not take in, that’s the key difference) to the world, they create it. The key is to see the world with “poetic genius” (one of his primary ways of referring to God too, BTW) rather than the mundane organ of the flesh. So, though eye-beams aren’t visible, they also do exist as a manifestation of the “poetic genius”. For Blake, that was as good or better than real. Vision is eternal. There is a similar sense of this in the conclusion to Donne’s poem.
And if some lover, such as we,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
Small change, when we’are to bodies gone. (73-6)
I want my eye-beams back, but I’m tragically uninspired. My eyes keep connecting with the world in their own way, but like most times I end up talking, it’s strictly a monologue. I don’t like that as much. But I keep collecting my pictures, and spitting them back out again. It’s not as much fun without an audience.