Not Magnificent … Mag-nif-i-cent!

Exploring The Human Dichotomy ... Feeling Apart And A Part Of Things

What was I saying? … 

— Um, you hadn’t actually started —

Oh right, yes … sorry … come in, come in ….

I was listening … am listening … to the song Holocene by Bon Hiver.

You know it?

Gorgeous, gorgeous song.

”And at once, I knew I was not magnificent ….”

Check it out first, maybe .…

— A magnificent word, magnificent, though, isn’t it? …

You have to break it up as you say it, mag-nif-i-cent, and it comes out of your mouth all big and grandiose, like God talking to Moses or something.

Magnificent word. —

You know that great line from Bruce Springsteen’s No Surrender

“We learned more from a three-minute record, baby

Than we ever learned in school”?

Well, there are some big thoughts explored in Holocene, a song short of six minutes long.

The biggest, for me, this sense of how tiny we are in the vast cosmos, yet part of it too, marvelling at it, in it …

Not magnificent, as we might like to think, but, paradoxically, how freeing is this feeling of cosmic insignificance, expanding, even …

We may be only a small part of all this, but we’re still a part …

Connected …

And at once, I knew I was not magnificent

Strayed above the highway aisle

Jagged vacance, thick with ice

But I could see for miles, miles, miles

I get that feeling sometimes looking up at a magnificent clear night sky, full of twinkling stars … making out familiar constellations like the Big Dipper and Orion, but really losing myself  — and creaking my neck — in the freeing vastness of it all, seeing for miles, miles, miles … 

Or I sometimes get it gazing out over the sea on our North Beach here in Rush …

There’s a passage in one of Ian McEwan’s books — it might be Amsterdam — where he describes that feeling of going out hiking, and feeling all big and significant, at first, the main figure in the landscape, and then that moment arrives, hopefully, when one is subsumed into it …  and that feeling of being apart becomes one of being a part …

The roles are reversed: it’s the universe is big, it’s you that are small …

But magnificent, just in a different way …

There’s all sorts of opaque personal references, of course, in Holocene, and I got kind of consumed by it, as you do, working out meanings and all that, but mainly, I just surrendered myself to its beauty and feeling.

You know that thing where you do want to explore something, but are also kind of afraid to crack the mystery of it?

Nonetheless, I did read a fantastic bit on Wiki where Mr Bon Hiver himself, Justin Vernon, explains the genesis of the song …

It was Christmas night, and he and his brother, after a “little smokey-smoke”, went for a walk outside:

“It was like a really icy night and it was already quiet ’cause there’s not a lot of people travelling, and it was really kind of spooky night. The air’s just hanging, and we went and walked over to this bridge over I-94 (east–west Interstate Highway connecting the Great Lakes and northern Great Planes regions in the US), and there just wasn’t a single car. 

“There was nothing for miles and miles, and the air was hanging in such a way with the ice storm kinda going on, and it looked like this sheet of ice on the road and this glow of the distant lights of Eau Claire (small city in Wisconsin where Vernon is from), and it was just — it really just came out, like at once I knew I was not magnificent, you know, and the highway aisles of ice and all that, and it was one of those moments where you’re not really sure if you’re the creator of something or not or if you’ve just been handed something to share …”

He goes on to explore his feeling off connection with his home place:

“There’s a lot of humble people around. Growing up in Wisconsin, I never felt like anybody was really trying to prove too much. The winter slows us down enough that, you know, we’re not Hollywood. We don’t seem to think achievement is the biggest thing. It’s family and togetherness and having a beer at The Joynt or whatever. It’s more like that, and I’ve always resonated with it and it’s another one of the reasons I can’t seem to leave.”

Mythic, Magical And Magnificent … Sigur Ros

There’s a lovely video, shot in Iceland, that goes with the song, and I just feel some kind of cosmic serendipity in the fact that Iceland is also the home place of the wonderful Sigur Ros — now there’s a band that knows about magnificent landscapes and myth, and that feeling of a place being “part of me, apart from me” — a line in Holocene! 

used the word connection …

There’s connection too in people all over the world looking up at the “same” night sky, or beach … looking at the “same” waves and stars, and seeing their own stories in them too …

Connection to the past too, to the people who first looked up at the night sky and told the story of the Big Dipper, or here in Ireland of The Plough, in northern Germany, the folktales were about a Wagon … so all around the world, and all through our history, people have looked up to the sky and remembered different stories of their childhoods.

Connection and metaphor, the figure of speech we use to make a comparison between two things that aren’t alike but do have something in common … 

A way of sharing experience, which unites us and also separates us as it does so.

The human dichotomy … feeling apart and a part …

Your sea and sky, and mine, our ancestors’ sea and sky … similar but different …

Those myths and legends the first people told, and began sharing, trying to explain the origins of the universe and all its phenomena, endeavouring to find their footing in it all.

And they passed these stories down, just as we pass on our stories and yarns, big and small, every day …

And struggle with the dichotomy every day …

Not magnificent ..

And yet part of this magnificent planet and cosmos …

Magnificent in our own way, with a small ‘m’ …

One last thought, for now ..

I often ask myself when I still give out about things, big and small, both in myself and in the world, wanting them to change, and believing, somewhere, they can …

Sure I might as well still think I’m magnificent, and it might all turn out right for me …

Just me.

And I realise how daft it is, really, to think that all the bad stuff that goes on in the world, the rifts, the drifts, the follies and the cruelties, are somehow resolvable …

That one day, we will all magically, wise up, and collectively sort it all out for the good of all …

Better just live, bask in the magnificence of it all.

The good and the bad …

Do your best, but be just content to be a part of it all. 

Now there’s a magnificent thought …

Thanks for reading — try another one … sure, why not follow my blog!

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27 comments on “Not Magnificent … Mag-nif-i-cent!

  1. michael morris

    Beautifully written, Enda, very very deep. I will read it again another time. X Michael

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  2. A beautiful piece, Enda, that fits so well with the beauty of the song and the enormousness of what we’re a part of.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I listened to the song, I love the explanation. Very philosophical Enda, we are indeed all under the same sky. It’s strange feeling when you realise what a tiny thing you are in this universe, especially when life can feel so big.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! Beautiful piece, Enda. I love thinking about the connectedness of it all. Everything. That’s what I call God. I know exactly what you mean about the insignificance of the individual being freeing. I am not in charge of everything, thank god! Mag-nif-i-cent!


  5. Great writing Enda. The Earth and sky are Magnificent. I am not. That’s a good feeling because it means my frivolity can work today but ultimately I remain what I am

    Laugh like a mad man. Only you will know if you are


  6. Denyse Whelan Blogs

    Very interesting read and I loved the part about looking up..because we are all connected. I am in the southern hemisphere!

    Denyse #weekendcoffeeshare

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A magnificent write! 🙂 Enjoyed the introspection and extrospection with this insightful article you’ve written. Reminds me of my first night out at sea (ocean). I had just buried my first husband, discovered I was expecting a week after, lost my home, my job… and decided to leave the country and see the world before I died because I surely couldn’t live without him in my life. We’d been betrothed since birth, grew up side by side… It was like losing half of my soul. so, that first night at sea I sat there nursing a tall glass of juice and staring into the universe. And…annnnd, I felt so very small and insignificant in the grand scheme. Which at that moment, only added to my grief and depression. The Captain of the ship shared a few words with me that stuck…” He has counted the stars and knows each one by name… even the smallest one.” I’ve repeated that line to myself many a time over the years, and even more so during this last year of pandemic isolation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Bear, thank you so much for your kind words, and for sharing a little of your story … that was a lot of stuff to have to think about on that first night at sea. So good to see you have come a long way since

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes, to “Better just live, bask in the magnificence of it all.” I haven’t listened to “No Surrender” for a while. Thank you, Enda, for sharing your thoughts with #WeekendCoffeeShare.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I think we could all do with a few more magnificent thoughs Enda. Keep them coming.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is beautiful. I’ve always loved the thought of being under the same sky with people far away – the same sky and yet it looks a little different depending on where you are. I find sometimes taking that step back and remembering how small we are and how big the universe is helps me put things in perspective. #WotW


  11. Your heading photo is exceptionally beautiful, Enda. Interesting about emphasizing the syllables of “Magnificent.” For me, the concept of feeling small makes me feel I am part of something much bigger. It is a good feeling. Like you say, “…part of this magnificent planet and cosmos.”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It has taken me several dasy to get here but it was worth the read. I watched both videos. So deep, thanks for sharing them both. Thanks also for sharing the research, because as I listened and read, watching the lyrics on the screen, I thought, I do not know what most of this means, and while I love research and looking things up, you saved me the trouble and filled in some pieces of understanding. Your post contains both sorrow and hope. Do we just sit back and take it all in, convinced that there is no possibility of change? Or do we press on and do our best to make a difference where we live? There is no magic, there is only us, and for those who believe (and I do) God. If we did not believe that changes was possible, would we write? Best and blessings, Michele

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Michele. At the end of the day I also think it’s just a beautiful song. I suppose, ultimately, I’m somewhere between the two, depending on the day!!! I suppose I’m really telling myself to try and appreciate the good things

      Liked by 1 person

  13. A very thought-provoking post. We are all connected and I think it is so easily forgotten about. I feel this current year is a true reminder of this. #WotW

    Liked by 1 person

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