The Pull of the Sky
by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
For thousands of years, humans have imagined what it would mean to view the Earth from celestial heights, raising the question of how to reconcile our bounded lives with our longing for the cosmos.
Sometimes even writers who dwell too much on earthbound things feel a celestial pull, an invitation to a loftier perspective. The irascible medieval writer Gerald of Wales, for example, spent much of his life being disappointed by people and institutions. In numerous texts he composed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Gerald vented his anger at various groups to which he did not and could not belong. He is famous for describing ways to conquer lands whose residents would rather have been left alone. He felt an early calling for the study of divinity. As a child Gerald built cathedrals rather than castles out of sand. Earthly life was for him unquestionably the gift of a deity active in a world that he had fashioned and loves. After he became a cleric, though, Gerald wrote frequently about the tribulations of travel, the barbarity of foreigners, and the petty rivalries of the English court. And yet he also at times felt a kind of magnetism from the heavens, an invitation to regard the world from a more elevated point of view where the travails that weigh down everyday life might yield to a more capacious vista, disorienting in a productive way.
Like most medieval writers, Gerald of Wales believed cosmic as well as divine forces to be at work above. He knew that our eyes are never content simply to search the ground beneath our feet or scan oceanic horizons. Humans look skyward because something in the heavens draws their vision and asks them to lift their heads, causing them to wonder what it would be like to be up there gazing down. Would the order of the world be revealed? In contemplating what energies animate this turbulent Earth, Gerald recognized the tug that the firmament exerts, an irresistible attraction pulling all things skyward. As the light of the moon waxes, he wrote in his Topography of Ireland, the oceans swell and surge. The same cosmic force ensures that the sap of trees rises. Marrow and the vital fluids of every creature begin to lift, drawn toward a destination never to be reached but beckoning all the same. We feel this celestial allure in our very blood. For a medieval Christian, that pull might be the call of a place to be reached only after death. But the fact that our bodies remain earthbound never stopped writers across the ages from imagining what it would be like to yield to this extraterrestrial gravity, visit the sky, and behold a home now left behind as if from afar.
Humans look skyward because something in the heavens draws their vision and asks them to lift their heads, causing them to wonder what it would be like to be up there gazing down.
read on: https://emergencemagazine.org/story/the-pull-of-the-sky/