Sunday, April 18, 2010

Eruption Disruption: Milton's Prophetic Voice in the LA Times?

"Which way I fly is hell"
Hence the 'helicopter'?
Eyjafjallajokul, Iceland
(Image from Toronto Sun)

The epic poet John Milton considered himself a prophet, and though he didn't actually foresee the current air-travel chaos in Europe, the words that he attributed to Satan in Paradise Lost came to mind as perfectly descriptive:
"Me miserable! . . . Which way I fly is hell."
That's Henry Chu quoting Milton for the Los Angeles Times in his report from London: "Volcanic ash continues to disrupt Europe flights" (April 16, 2010). More fully rendered:
To the thousands of glum and despairing passengers marooned across Europe on Friday by an unforeseen act of God, it may have seemed like a page from "Paradise Lost."

"Me miserable!" John Milton wrote 350 years ago. ". . . Which way I fly is hell."

Many had grappled with the tribulations of bad weather, veteran fliers for whom snow and rain held no mystery. But a volcano spewing fire and ash from the bowels of Earth? Hell didn't seem too far-fetched a metaphor.
Hell for travelers, but not for those people who live near airports:
Yet as the unlucky brooded over missed weddings and conferences, or how to reach the bedside of a sick relative, for others there was a sense of paradise regained, a return to a time before the infernal roar of jet engines and the smell of aviation fuel.

"It's gloriously peaceful. I could hear the birds singing . . . even through the double-glazed windows," exulted 63-year-old Loraine Martin.
The literate Mr. Chu thus managed to weave in a reference to yet another of Milton's epic works! I found myself wondering who this man is who can cite Milton so well and found the answer in a 'memo' offered by the LA Times: "Henry Chu new London Bureau chief" (June 5, 2008). According to Foreign Editor Marjorie Miller, Mr. Chu's was highly qualified for the position of London Bureau Chief at the time of his promotion:
In his decade on Foreign, Henry has served as Bureau Chief in Beijing, Rio de Janeiro and New Delhi. He has covered armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Israel and Iraq, and political conflicts such as the fallout from the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia. Henry is a terrific news reporter, but also a wonderful feature writer who has brought us unforgettable Column Ones on Poetry in Pakistan, Sun Tzu’s Art of War from China, the Laborer Librarian from Brazil and -- my favorite -- Bullied by the Eunuchs from New Delhi. He has written about mental illness and the middle class in the Middle Kingdom; he’s brought us stories from Nepal and Bhutan.
Ms. Miller adds, "He is a graduate of Harvard University with a BA in History and Literature." That would explain the literary quality of Mr. Chu's report.

For readers interested in sources, here's the Milton passage from Paradise Lost alluded to by Mr. Chu:
Me miserable! which way shall I flie
Infinite wrauth, and infinite despaire?
Which way I flie is Hell; my self am Hell (PL 4.73-75)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed., The Milton Reading Room, April, 2010]
Like Mr. Chu's London passengers, Satan was also grounded . . . though on a mountain called Niphates in Asia Minor's Taurus range, and only briefly.

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