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,
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.
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.