Saturday
Sep052015

Go Away, Baby Sun!

Brian Henry


 

“For some time I have had all Olympus at my heels … gods have been falling on my head like chimneys. It seems to me that I am having a bad dream, that I am rolling through space and that a multitude of wooden, golden, and silver idols are falling with me, tumbling after me, bumping into me, and breaking my head and back.”

—Charles Baudelaire, “The Pagan School”

 

My first encounter with him was hazy. I had been smoking marijuana and drinking bourbon and needed some minor distraction before falling asleep. I didn’t watch much television since I hadn’t owned one in college or graduate school, so I started scanning channels, stopping when the screen framed a bright sun with a baby’s face. A little smiling face, enveloped in flame but giggling. Then an unseen adult’s voice pleasantly droned 

            To see a fine lady upon a white horse
            With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
            She shall have music wherever she goes 

And the stuffed aliens with television screens on their abdomens tootled around aimlessly, blissed out amid repetition and rhyme.

Nearly a decade passed before Baby Sun, and the rhymes it introduced, entered my life again. This time, S/He came via my toddler, who inadvertently discovered this babbling, bubbly world and seemed to like it.

            Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
            To see a fine lady upon a white horse.
            With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
            She shall have music wherever she goes.

Homer, in book 13 of the Odyssey, reminds us that gods do not appear to mortals in their true form. So who else could Baby Sun be but Keats’s “God … of the golden hair, / And of the golden fire” (“Hymn to Apollo”)?

Recognizing that 19th century Europe was an inhospitable place for a god to make an appearance, Roberto Calasso asks (in Literature and the Gods), “how does a god make himself manifest?” “[C]orroded by sarcasm and irony” in Paris, the gods could only be taken seriously by the “crazy,” such as the German poet Hölderlin, awestruck by Apollo after a trip to Bordeaux. The “sacred terror” unleashed by the gods in modern western civilization mutates into sick annoyance in the hyper-sacrilized yet soulless void of American culture near the turning of the second millennium.

Calasso informs us that “the Olympian gods are back and in business, but they live in the demi-monde,” their comeback couched in parody and “vaudeville.” And giggling out from that body he once controlled is Apollo, who has regressed, along with the jabbering inhabitants of this demi-demi-monde, to a state of perpetual infancy.

Apollo: consigned to a post-polytheistic hell, transmogrified for the upcoming millennium. Holding no power, as the people grant him none, Apollo has been forced back into infancy, his giggly face, plastered on a tamed sun, a mask for the former god’s everlasting torment. Helios’ bright chariot has been converted to a cheap trick of animation.

Icarus would no more singe his wings on this Baby Sun than on the water below. Before long, my daughter, perhaps detecting in the giggling bright visage an impostor, if not a fallen god, took to yelling “Go away, Baby Sun!” every time it appeared. Even a two-year-old knows instinctively that the old gods deserve better.

 

 

Sources:

Baudelaire, Charles. “The Pagan School.” In Baudelaire as a Literary Critic. Introduced and Translated by Lois Boe Hyslop and Francis E. Hyslop, Jr. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. Pages 71-77.

Calasso, Roberto. “The Pagan School.” In Literature and the Gods. Translated by Tim Parks. New York: Vintage International, 2001. Pages 1-24.