The joy of dawn is the emotional charge in some of the most famous scenes in Western history – the Latin Christian warriors’ shout of “Deus le volt” in response to Pope Urban II’s preaching of the First Crusade, the ministry of Saint Francis of Assisi seen through Giotto’s and through Saint Thomas of Celano’s eyes, the landfalls of the Pinta [footnote: Though the first member of Columbus’s first expedition to sight land was a sailor on board the Pinta, this vessel’s name had not won equal renown with the Santa Maria, which was the Admiral’s flagship.] and the Mayflower, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the taking of the Tennis Court Oath – and the poetry in some, at least, of these historic events has been uttered in lines that speak more eloquently than volumes. The poetry in the American Revolutionary War has been distilled by Emerson into one quatrain:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the World.
[Footnote: Emerson: Concord Hymn, stanza 1.]
The poetry in the French Revolution has been distilled by Wordsworth into two lines:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven.
[Footnote: Wordsworth: The Prelude, Book XI, ll. 108-9, incorporating The French Revolution as it appeared to Enthusiasts at its Commencement.]
It is no wonder that, in these rejoicings at a dawn, the historians should have had to let the poets be their spokesmen; for the joy awakened by the dawn of a new era of History is the Soul’s response to an epiphany that is something more than a merely temporal event. The dawns that awaken such joy as this are irruptions into Time out of Eternity. What has happened on these historic occasions likewise happens at the birth of every child:
“A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but, as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the World.”
[Footnote: John xvi. 21.]
In a mother’s joy the Soul hails an incarnation; and, since “alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis”, [footnote: Goethe: Faust, ll. 12104-5.] the dawns of mundane eras that have this poetry in them are antitypes of cosmic dawns in which a Divine Light breaks into This World. A radiance which shines in upon us through Botticelli’s picture, in the National Gallery in London, of the birth in the stable at Bethlehem is likewise manifest in the enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, in the descent of the Dove at the baptism in Jordan, in the transfiguration on the mountain, in the vision on the road to Damascus, and in the imprinting of the stigmata in the wilderness; and, as Milton’s voice strikes up in a Franciscan ode on the morning of Christ’s nativity, Gibbon’s voice dies away.
A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954