Tag Archives: reverie

Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 6: The Symbolism of the Cave

donquixote_cave

On a hero’s journey, the hero often goes through a symbolic exploration of the subconscious mind. This can be represented by the hero going into water, the underworld, or a cave. For this reason, I was not surprised when Don Quixote entered a cave and explored the abyss within, emerging with an expanded consciousness.

Before undertaking a daunting task, heroes will summon strength from an outside source. Before entering the cave, Don Quixote calls upon Dulcinea for protection and guidance upon his journey into the underworld.

“O mistress of my actions and movements, illustrious and peerless Dulcinea del Toboso, if so be the prayers and supplications of this fortunate lover can reach thy ears, by thy incomparable beauty I entreat thee to listen to them, for they but ask thee not to refuse my favour and protection now that I stand in need of them. I am about to precipitate, to sink, to plunge myself into the abyss that is here before me, only to let the world know that while thou dost favour me there is no impossibility I will not attempt and accomplish.”

(p. 716)

After Don Quixote reemerges from the cave, he relates his experience to his companions. The visions he describes are consistent with altered states of consciousness. He actually describes how he slipped into a state of reverie prior to the shift in awareness that brought on the mystical visions.

“… and as I was thus deep in thought and perplexity, suddenly and without provocation a profound sleep fell upon me, and when I least expected it, I know not how, I awoke and found myself in the midst of the most beautiful, delightful meadow that nature could produce or the most lively human imagination conceive. I opened my eyes, I rubbed them, and found I was not asleep but thoroughly awake. Nevertheless, I felt my head and breast to satisfy myself whether it was I myself who was there or some empty delusive phantom; but touch, feeling, the collected thoughts that passed through my mind, all convinced me that I was the same then and there that I am this moment. Next there presented itself to my sight a stately royal palace or castle, with walls that seemed built of clear transparent crystal; and through two great doors that opened wide therein, I saw coming forth and advancing toward me a venerable old man, clad in a long gown of mulberry-coloured serge that trailed upon the ground.”

(pp. 719 – 720)

The old man that Don Quixote encountered was Montesinos, but I could not help but seeing him as a Merlin figure. In fact, Merlin is mentioned later in the chapter as having prophesized the arrival of Don Quixote (p. 723). And the castle being made of crystal corresponds to the crystal cave of the Merlin mythology.

The last thing I want to discuss is the distortion of time associated with altered states of consciousness.

“I cannot understand, Senor Don Quixote,” remarked the cousin here, “how it is that your worship, in such a short space of time as you have been below there, could have seen so many things, and said and answered so much.”

“How long is it since I went down?” asked Don Quixote.

“Little better than an hour,” replied Sancho.

“That cannot be,” returned Don Quixote, “because night overtook me while I was there, and day came, and it was night again and day again three times; so that, by my reckoning, I have been three days in those remote regions beyond our ken.”

“My master must be right,” replied Sancho, “for as everything that has happened to him is by enchantment, maybe what seems to us an hour would seem three days and nights there.”

(p. 725)

In addition to the distortion of time, there is some number mysticism woven in here. We have three days existing within one hour, or three comprising the one. I cannot help but wonder if this is a reference to the trinity forming the godhead (father, son, holy ghost), or the mind/body/spirit trinity within a human being. Additionally, it could be symbolic of the triple goddess (maiden, mother, crone). Regardless, we have a situation where the hero travels to the underworld, encounters a mystical being, experiences time distortion, and is presented with the number three as being connected to the mystical experience.

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“Lines Written in Early Spring” by William Wordsworth

Lake District - Source: Wikipedia

Lake District – Source: Wikipedia

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

It has been many years since I last read this poem, and reading it again reminds me why I love the Romantic writers so much. This poem captures emotions I have felt too often.

In this poem, Wordsworth expresses contrasting emotions stirred by sitting quietly in a meditative state in Nature. On one hand, he experiences a serene spiritual connection to the beauty and harmony of Nature which surrounds him. But he is unable to sustain that feeling because as he revels in the joy of Nature, his thoughts involuntarily drift and he thinks about the tendency of humans to extract themselves from their connection with Nature, to see themselves as distinct from the natural world.

I live in a beautiful place, surrounded by mountains and Nature. When I go and hike in the woods, or sit beside a stream and let the sounds and scents of Nature transport me, I feel the connection which Wordsworth describes. But then I think of the things we have done to Nature, the exploitation and destruction for short-term gain. It saddens me deeply. But there is also the spiritual component. I was recently in Atlanta and observed people trapped within their cars, sitting in ten lanes of traffic, and I felt sad for these people. They have sacrificed their spiritual connection to what is important. I know this because I lived in a big city for many years and during that time there, I know my spiritual connection with the earth was diminished. What connection I had took a conscious effort to maintain. And as Wordsworth points out, we have done this to ourselves.

“Have I not reason to lament what man has made of man?” It’s a haunting line and it is as relevant today as it was when Wordsworth penned it over 200 years ago. I only hope that one day a poet will be able to rejoice in what man has made of man.

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“The Reverie of Poor Susan” by William Wordsworth

Wordsworth

At the corner of Wood Street, when daylight appears,
Hangs a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years:
Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard
In the silence of morning the song of the Bird.

‘Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her? She sees
A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.

Green pastures she views in the midst of the dale,
Down which she so often has tripped with her pail;
And a single small cottage, a nest like a dove’s,
The one only dwelling on earth that she loves.

She looks, and her heart is in heaven: but they fade,
The mist and the river, the hill and the shade:
The stream will not flow, and the hill will not rise,
And the colours have all passed away from her eyes!

I love this poem. It embodies the classic romantic ideal of how living in the country, in harmony with nature, is infinitely preferable to living in the dregs of a city. For me, I am fortunate that I live in a small city nestled in the mountains. I can travel ten minutes from my house and I am walking along gorgeous mountain trails, past streams and waterfalls. I also have the culture of the city, where I can go and attend a concert or visit an art gallery. I have the best of both worlds. But during Wordsworth’s time, most people were not that fortunate. If I had to choose, I would choose to live in the country.

In this poem, Susan has left her home in the country and moved to the city. She appears miserable and is likely homeless. Amid the squalor of the city, she sees a bird and hears its morning song. The sound of the bird chirping stirs her memory and evokes images of her pastoral life. She recalls Nature’s beauty which surrounded her, and most importantly, she experiences the same feelings of happiness and contentment which she felt back then. It is almost like she is temporarily transported to another place which now only exists in her psyche.

Unfortunately, the bliss is momentary. Soon reality assaults her and strips the beauty from her inner vision, and she is left standing alone on a desolate street corner. This shift back to stark reality is reflected in her eyes, which are the proverbial window to the soul. No more do they shine with the colors of Nature; instead, they are filled with the dull gray that is the city.

As I finish writing this, I am listening to the sound of birds drifting in through my open window. I see the lush green outside that surrounds my home. I think back to when I lived in a big city and how unhappy I was. I am very grateful that I live in close proximity to Nature and its beauty. My soul is that of a romantic. While I love visiting big cities, I could never be happy living there and not getting my regular fix of Nature’s beauty.

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