Weekend Poetry: excerpt from Orson F. Whitney’s “Love and the Light”

So by now, most of you probably are aware of the origins of the name A Motley Vision. But the excerpt there is only part of Whitney’s description of the Grand Canyon, and because I wrote a senior thesis on it (and other instances of red rock poetry), and because I’m also (slowly) working on a Mormon-themed critical essay on it, I have the full description in my possession. Here it is. Enjoy!

Excerpt from Love and the Light: An Idyl of the Westland
by Orson F. Whitney

Chief among the sights compelling
Mingled awe and admiration,
Far along a great gulf opened,
Monster-jawed, as though devouring
In its wide voracious vastness,
In its Saturn-mouth, unsated
As the hungry deeps of Sheol,
Storm-stuck, down-hurled cities, temples,
In its fell maw crusht and crumbling.

Cleft and sundered Earth there yawning
O’er abysmal dark Perdition!
Fancied so the spelled beholder,
Halting on the marge precarious
Of that ghoul-like gulf appalling.

Savage scar on face of Nature,
Weird and terrible as Hades;
Gaping wound in God’s creation,
Awful, dread, beyond description,
Beggaring imagination.

Nature, stript and scourged and bleeding,
Thorn-crowned and to Calvary driven,
And her gorgeous robe imperial
Shredded as by tempest furies,
Torn to streaming flags and tatters;
Tragic coat of many colors,
Trampled, bloodstained, riven and writhing,
Twisting into forms fantastic,
As by witchery infernal,
Riding on the steeds of darkness,
Lightning-goaded, throbbing, thundering.

Was it earthquake, valley-cleaving?
Was it whirlwind, mountain-shouldering?-.
Fierce upheaval and convulsion,
Or swift deluge and erosion,
Shaped these frightened crags and caverns,
Carved these shuddering precipices?

Gulf of gulfs and gorge of gorges,
Length on length of leagues extending,
Breadth of miles on miles expanding,
Down from dizzy brinks to torrent,
Eight mad furlongs wildly plunging.

Mind-amazing, world-alluring,
Crowning wonder of the Westland!

Glorious and grotesque presentment,
Good and ill, a motley vision,
Half-alluring, half repelling;
Rainbow-hued, yet shorn of radiance,
Like to Lucifer the Fallen;
Beautiful, though sadly brilliant,
Blazing with satanic splendor
In the sunset’s dying glory;
All the hues of hell and heaven
In one blare of lurid blazoning,
In one master stroke commingled.

Night-then morn-burst! Angel Sunrise,
Archer from the gates of Orient,
Crimson-golden arrows speeding
Through the gloom and ‘thwart the grayness,
Crowning every crest with splendor,
Flooding every glen with glory.
Angel of the Sovereign Presence,
Messenger of Light’s deliverance,
Rolling back the rock sepulchral
For the glad Day’s resurrection!
Prophecy of blight and blooming,
Crucifixion and ascension.

Seemed it so to him there gazing,
Brave heart, though he shook and trembled
Ere the dark had come to dawning,
From that fearful brink recoiling;
Shrinking back from more beholding
Of the symboled immolation.

Trembled less with fear than boding
Of some occult mystic meaning,
Esoteric sad foretelling,
In the sacrificial showing.

He, a dreamer, like that Joseph
Glorified from pit and prison,
Marytred with a wholesome sorrow,
Ending in his exaltation;
Like him was he doomed, foredestined
To the grief that bringeth gladness,
To the gloom that breaks in glory? (pages 38-41)

Note: I’m not going to say too much about all this because I’m saving it for the essay, but notice the ideological movement as we go from pagan-themed descriptions on in to Judeo-Christian ones and finally end with the Restoration. Notice also how Whitney exhausts imagery and allusion. I take all this to be a very evocative and even provocative model for Mormon literature.

9 thoughts on “Weekend Poetry: excerpt from Orson F. Whitney’s “Love and the Light””

  1. William–Thank you so much for sharing this with us! I’ll need more time with the poem before I can really dig into it, but, wow, what a gift!
    I can’t wait to read your essay about it 🙂

  2. .

    There are several volumes of Whitney in my ward library and I keep picking them up and trying to convince myself to take one home, but I always chicken out. I don’t know what my problem is.

  3. .

    So I’m reading L and the L now and so I’ve finally read this passage closely and I’m a little mystified how you chose it. I think it’s a good name for a blog of this sort, but here are other descriptions equivalent to “motley vision” within the confines of this stanza: “Glorious and grotesque”, “Half-alluring, half repelling”, “Like to Lucifer the Fallen”, “Blazing with satanic splendor”—-

    I mean, I’m oversimplifying what the meaning of the words as a whole is, but all the devil stuff surprised me. Is there some sort of subtext here…?

  4. I’m proof texting, Th. It’s a fine Mormon tradition.

    But really: you can’t read the devil stuff without reading the Classics stuff and the Jesus stuff and the Restoration stuff. The beauty of this section is that Orson F. Whitney throws in everything and the kitchen sink in. It’s a fundamentally ecumenical model for literary reference and allusion and yet in the end it’s also insistently Restorationist. And that’s what this blog is all about, right?

    And as I said, I have a whole essay (almost written) on the Grand Canyon section of The Love and the Light. I should probably finish it and submit it somewhere.

  5. .

    Please do.

    In reading this section, I’m not sure how you can be certain its about the Grand Canyon and not, say, Bryce. Is that where the trains went by? I don’t know.

    I do know I was being unfair focusing on the devil stuff. I was just startled by the juxtaposition. Apparently I never bothered to read the Whitney excerpts you’ve posted before.

  6. I don’t know that the trains went by either. Didn’t the train stop in Richfield?

    But based on the superlatives used [Gulf of gulfs] and in the context of some of the other writing on the Canyon of the late 19th century, my best guess is that it’s the Grand Canyon. I could be wrong, of course. Which would suck, but my honors thesis at Cal took in both the Grand Canyon and other red rock areas so I think my analysis is still on solid ground.

    And regarding the devil thing — don’t freak our readers out. There’s no hidden message and once you look at it in context, it’s less “The Devil” and more an elegy for the fallen Lucifer. But even more than that Whitney ascribes a whole litany of things to the Grand Canyon. What’s startling is that we move through all these various ways of describing it and then break into this imagery that part the Resurrection and part the Restoration. That’s part of why it’s not only a wonderful piece of Mormon literature but also an intriguing model for Mormon literature (and thus A Motley Vision).

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