“Life is an excess – call it the self-ecstasy of matter.”
Entitled Opinions host Robert Harrison recorded this monologue at the solstice. Now his reflections summarize the season that is coming to a close.
The reason for the solstice, he reminded us, is that the earth does not spin upright, but tilts at more than 23 degrees, and that obliquity is responsible for life on our planet. An upright planet like Mercury would lack seasons, and be so cold at the poles that it couldn’t foster greenhouse gases, hence, liquid water would never form. Uranus, with a tilt of more than 82 degrees, would be blazing hot for six months and intolerably cold for the others.
But there’s more to life than that. Harrison said that the Czech author Karel Čapek, who cultivated his garden plot in Prague, understood intuitively what science now accepts: in the beginning, the earth “aggressively resisted life’s colonizing adventures.” Harrison described “the animosity and callousness of dead and sterile matter,” resulting in “the terrible fight life must have undergone inch by inch to take root in the soil of the earth.”
“It took the tremendous self-affirming struggles of life itself to transform the earth, sea, and air into elements hospitable to life. Life itself first brought about the conditions that favor life on the planet today,” he continued. “This is the great paradox and great miracle of life: it’s life itself that actually transformed the earth into a planet favorable for life.”
He closes with the literature of summer – the luncheons and garden parties in Virginia Wolff’s novels, the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson and Christina Rossetti, and the “humming, inarticulate music that one can hear in one’s head that is in some kind of syntony with a season.”
The larkspur listens, ‘I hear, I hear;’
And the lily whispers, ‘I wait.’
– Alfred, Lord Tennyson