‘The Songs of Distant Earth’, A.C. Clarke

[Disclaimer: This post has been lifted from its original version here with some minor edits.]

“To the legions of listeners, the concert was a reminder of things they had never known-things that belonged to Earth alone. The slow beat of mighty bells, climbing like invisible smoke from old cathedral spires; the chant of patient boatmen, in tongues now lost forever, rowing home against the tide in the last light of day; the songs of armies marching into battles that Time had robbed of all their pain and evil; the merged murmur of ten million voices as man’s greatest cities awoke to meet the dawn; the cold dance of the aurora over endless seas of ice; the roar of mighty engines climbing upward on the highway to the stars. All these the listeners heard in the music that came out of the night-the songs of distant Earth, carried across the light-years . . . ”
— sir Arthur C. Clarke, “The Songs of Distant Earth”

Oh the emotions that Clarke’s words convey!

And yet again, having faced the destruction of my original post, I’ll try to rewrite what I had so beautifully already put down. It is not the same though — it is never the same. Perhaps that is yet another illustration of Clarke’s point getting across (not that I hadn’t known before, but the setting was so different).

So, I finished rereading ‘The Songs of Distant Earth’. It is a great book, one of the finest I’ve ever read. In its philosophical aspects it rivals Henryk Sienkiewicz’s  ‘Quo Vadis’ (rivals, not surpasses — they touch upon completely different questions). ‘The Songs of Distant Earth’ has this sadness of irrevocable loss — a feeling that can not be described through words (“songs”, after all) and yet which can be understood.

The thought of having the one place called home destroyed by one of nature’s ‘miracles’ is somewhat frightening… and uplifting at the same time. The novae and supernovae are something no person can likely witness with their own eyes. They certainly would be worth the effort — limitless destruction, by what can be considered a source of (nearly) infinite power (for our present requirements).

The mention of Atlantis in the book brought up a question — the search for perfection. Can it ever end? Should it ever end?

If you saw Earth destroyed by the one thing that gave it life… What would you do?

Oh, and here a review of this book by the NY Times. Worth reading.

[Silent Note: This is a far different entry than what I wrote the first time round. Also, I changed the music from Amethystium’s ‘Lost’ to ‘Innocence’ since it seemed more fitting.]

For a proper ending though, the continuation of the quote with which I began:

“For the concluding item, the producers had selected the last great work in the symphonic tradition. Written in the years when Thalassa had lost touch with Earth – it was totally new to the audience. Yet its oceanic theme made it peculiarly appropriate to this occasion – and its impact upon the listeners was everything the long-dead composer could have wished.

“. . . When I wrote the ‘Lamentation for Atlantis’, almost thirty years ago, I had no specific images in mind; I was concerned only with emotional reactions, not explicit scenes; I wanted the music to convey a sense of mystery, of sadness-of overwhelming loss. I was not trying to paint a sound-portrait of ruined cities full of fish. But now something strange happens whenever I hear the Lento lugubre – as I am doing in my mind at this very moment.
“It begins at Bar 136, when the series of chords descending to the organ’s lowest register first meets the soprano’s wordless aria, rising higher and higher out of the depths . . . You know, of course, that I based that theme on the songs of the great whales, those mighty minstrels of the sea with whom we made peace too late, too late . . . I wrote it for Olga Kondrashin, and no one else could ever sing those passages without electronic backing. . .
“When the vocal line begins, it’s as if I’m seeing something that really exists. I’m standing in a great city square almost as large as St. Marks or St. Peters. All around are half-ruined buildings, like Greek temples, and overturned statues draped with seaweeds, green fronds waving slowly back and forth. Everything is partly covered by a thick layer of silt.
“The square seems empty at first; then I notice something – disturbing. Don’t ask me why it’s always a surprise, why I’m always seeing it for the first time. . .
“There’s a low mound in the center of the square with a pattern of lines radiating from it. I wonder if they are ruined walls, partly buried in the silt. But the arrangement makes no sense; and then I see that the mound is pulsing.”
And a moment later I notice two huge, unblinking eyes staring out at me.
“That’s all; nothing happens. Nothing has happened here for six thousand years, since that night when the land barrier gave way and the sea poured in through the Pillars of Hercules.
“The Lento is my favorite movement, but I couldn’t end the symphony in such a mood of tragedy and despair. Hence the Finale, ‘Resurgence.’
“I know, of course, that Plato’s Atlantis never really existed. And for that very reason, it can never die. It will always be an ideal-a dream of perfection-a goal to inspire men for all ages to come. So that’s why the symphony ends with a triumphant march into the future.
“I know that the popular interpretation of the march is a New Atlantis emerging from the waves. That’s rather too literal; to me the finale depicts the conquest of space. Once I’d found it and pinned it down, it took me months to get rid of that closing theme. Those damned fifteen notes were hammering away in my brain night and day. . .
“Now, the Lamentation exists quite apart from me; it has taken on a life of its own. Even when Earth is gone, it will be speeding out toward the Andromeda Galaxy, driven by fifty thousand megawatts from the Deep Space transmitter in Tsiolkovski Crater.
“Someday, centuries or millennia hence, it will be captured – and understood.”
Spoken Memoirs – Sergei Di Pietro (3411-3509) “

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