Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 1 – “A Very Short History of the Clouds”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 4, chapter 1 – “A Very Short History of the Clouds”)

We’re into the home stretch now (although there’s still about 1/3 of the book to go – we’ve got some VERY long chapters coming up), and Helprin again starts us off with a prologue of sorts, a step back, as he did before jumping into the action of the previous parts.

We get a very long view here; the cloud wall has been in existence for thousands of years (‘long before even the first millennium,” as the author tells us) and it has always been seeking the perfect moment of justice in which to lift New York (or, at least, the land that would become New York someday) and wrap it in gold.

But in that long-ago time, physics and beauty were not enough; the human heart was also required.  Jumping forward to the 19th century, another moment of rising nearly presented itself.  Unfortunately, while hearts may have been ready, the machines – another element to the equation – were not.

Later, in the jazz age, another moment almost came.

But circumstances had been a trifle uncertain, many elements had been out of place, and the city had remained firmly rooted, as if it would never rise.

Could that day have been December 31st, 1915?  I suspect so, and I think Helprin’s use of “jazz age” is probably broad enough to allow that.

But at the beginning of the third millennium:

did the wall open and rise, and the bays and rivers turn bright gold.  It was a masterwork of precision.  The choir of machines had been tuned to shout back and forth across the ages.

And note this:

The means by which justice was proffered were strikingly humble, and yet cardinal to the principles that bind this world.  And at the beginning of the third millennium, in those years of unrelenting winters, the just man finally emerged.

“Humble means” doesn’t seem to correspond with what Jackson Mead and his entourage are planning, and yet Helprin is flat-out telling us that time will be shattered, the world will be golden (note that the title of this final part of the book is “A Golden Age”).  So if he and his unprecedented bridge will not be the cause, then what will be?

And note also the mention of the just man.  Helprin also says that he “emerges”.  Not “appears.”  Not “arises.”  Emerges.  That implies that he has been here all along, among us, unseen.  Perhaps not even knowing himself that he is the just man upon whom an age will turn.  I think we all know by now that it’s Peter Lake.

So, onward.  As you read this final part, I think it might be useful to keep Richard Wagner in mind, too, specifically Gotterdammerung.  The reason will become clear when we get to the final two chapters.

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