Sandy Approaches Williamstown, Mass, bearing Rainbow cfe
All through my unexpected refugee time in Massachusetts mountains, –held there by hurricane, downed trees on the routes home, and no power at home–, I NEEDED to re-read Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”
A friend has since loaned me her teaching copy. My craving has proved powerfully apt.
As the storm approached even the Berkshires, Vermont’s Green Mountains, crept toward Melville’s Greylock, I found myself wondering, if Will were here, how would he cover it? The answers were swift in arriving:
SANDY IN WILLIAMSTOWN cfe
His headline would read, “The world has suffered a sea change, into something rich and strange.” As ever, the profundity of Will’s long-ago lines surges far beyond mere words into prophecy itself.
These sea changes on our shores (remember, New Jersey is unique in having three shores) are not merely of this storm, nor of this season.
Whether we find Sandy’s legacy ‘rich’ is a moot point. There is no question about change, and sea as agent. And man with his ceaseless carbon emissions the ultimate deus ex machina, far beyond Caliban, in this drama.
The earth, that “brave new world”, WAS “rich” before our depredations. Now, the emphasis, on all our coasts and well inland, even to towering waves off Michigan and Illinois/Chicago, must be on “strange”.
And, unlike Shakespeare’s, many of our changes are permanent, and all are harbingers.
As though Shakespeare were interviewing residents of the Jersey Shore, he has Sebastian observe, “Foul weather?” “Very foul,” Antonio replies. They speak of their boat and their sailing companions as having been “sea swallowed.”
WE are being sea-swallowed.
SANDY OVER GREEN MOUNTAINS cfe
Shakespeare’s tempest was called forth by the mage, Prospero, and carried out by his willing air sprite, Ariel. Our storms were well beyond Ariel, with more and more severe tempests waiting in the wings. There is no Prospero to halt ours.
What we had with Sandy was dress rehearsal for sea level rise. Where the waters went for a few hours is the land they’ll claim permanently, with every passing day of glacial melt and warming (therefore expanding) seas.
Ironically, since we had a snowstorm on the heels of the “Super Storm,” Will includes Trinculo’s noting, “Another storm brewing.” Trinculo further describes, “yond same black cloud — alas, the storm has come again.” As I concluded up in the mountains, this unwilling voyager concludes, “I will here shroud ’til all the dregs of the storm be passed.”
Calm Before Storm, Bennington, Vermont cfe
In another part of the island, Shakespeare/Prospero is deep in conversation with said Ariel, who refers to “the never-surfeited sea.” New Jersey waits between maw and paws of our never-surfeited sea.
Reporter Ariel paints the picture: “The powers delaying, not forgetting, have incensed the sea and shores.” The spirit exits to a stage direction, “He vanishes in thunder.”
In “The Tempest” , as in our recent lives, the storm of election was tangled with flying evergreens, sea spume, housing debris, sand-smothered vehicles. During Sandy as in our 21st-century lives, politics and literal seachange are inextricable. Trinculo frets, “If the other two be brained like us, the state totters.”
Reading Shakespeare’s tempestuous masterpiece, to the sound of buzz saws on all sides and the roar of tree-devouring-devices, I realize anew that this spectacular writer was far more than author. Like the hero of the Tempest, Will was a prophet.
In a chant which I picture as in Lear, delivered high on a hill with turbulent slatey clouds ripping about on all sides, Prospero describes the storm he called forth:
“I have bedimmed the noonday sun, called forth the mutinous winds. And twixt the green sea and the azur’d vault have I given fire and riven Jove’s stout oak with his own bolt. The strong-based promontory have I made shake, and by the spurs pluck’d up the pine and cedar. Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let them forth my my so potent art.”
Those harrowing lines describe our own town. I could declaim them before the forest outside my window on Canal Road, which lost six majestic tree between house and driveway. I could carry this volume and read it to uprooted monarchs among Battle Road mansions. I could pace up and down, choosing descriptions to share with century-old conifers flung about like ninepins and jackstraws all along the Ridge.
One cannot set out in any direction without evidence of the effects of the winds of sea change. One can often not drive down a local street, even now, without passing strangles of lowering wires, phalanxes of utility trucks, spilling workers to begin their feverish heroic tasks.
But none of this is cure. Most of it is palliataive. Some areas near to us, including sacred wildlife refuges, may never open again. Who knows how many sea birds perished? What will the ospreys do, when they return to breed, with all their platforms sea-swallowed?
Up in the mountains, I read that the destruction of this storm was not a catastrophe of wind and water, as that which Prospero and Ariel had called forth. Ours is a tragedy of trees turned weapon.
As a poet, I find poetic justice in this reversal of roles.
Our storm, also unlike Prospero’s, included the deaths of dear and valued neighbor Bill Sword, II.
Our storm birthed shipwrecks beyond counting — some of them literal; many of them, former houses, built upon sand, upon barrier island sand.
In “The Tempest”, everyone’s life changed once the waters stilled and the people gathered. In “The Tempest”, reason and magic prevailed. Wounds were healed, lovers united, voyagers set out anew upon that sea for home.
We are home. We are drowning our home.
It’s up to us whether we change our planet for the better. But now, we are all Caliban, stumbling about having drunk the spirits tossed ashore by wind and wave, complaining, altering nothing.
To mix metaphors, egregiously, we are all Nero, fiddling while our planet burns.
It’s not Ariel out there surging salt waves into baywater, rivers, creeks and streams.
It is we, who have turned from tending earth as did the Indians, to using it, exploiting it, sea-changing the planet for all time. We, who have turned from citizens to consumers, and will not be stopped.
We must all become Prospero, create sea change within ourselves, still the water, still the swallowing sea.
Window View After Sandy - Berkshires, Williamstown cfe
1 Comment posted on "A SEA CHANGE - Will Shakespeare Covers Sandy"
creative birthday gifts for wife on January 14th, 2013 at 7:00 am #
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