Blinded by the Sun, Rage against Darkness, and the Void: When Dylan Thomas Meets William Blake in the Final Frontier

The songtitle “Starblind” does not seem very surprising for an album which is called The Final Frontier (2010) due to the shared reference to space. Or, so it seems. First, “starblind” refers more to eyesight than to the outer space and secondly, “Starblind” deals with much more complex topics, such as religion, wisdom, and mortality. The combination of the metaphors of light / life and darkness / death as well as some wording are very close to Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into that Night”. But (now I am about to say what I pretty much always say at this point): the song transcends a simple musical adaptation. It combines the poem with Blakean ideas.

Mortality and the Metaphor of Extinguishing Light

The poem focuses in the death of Thomas’s father: “And you, my father, there on the sad height”. The narrator wants him to put up resistance. Every stanza ends with either “Do not go gentle into that night” or “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”. Night thus stands for death and the “dying of the light” is nothing less than dying itself. In short, “night” represents “death” and “light” “life”.

Some lines of the song echo the poem in the context of wording as well as by using the same imagery. The chorus is very similar to Thomas’s “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” (the wording has been cleverly turned around; but it still means the very same thing). The mentioning of the Goddess of the Sun adds to the light imagery. She gives the means to “rage against the night.”¹ And, of course, as the sun is a star, it harks back to “starblind” and “startripping”.

Yet, it is not only the narrator who is “starblind”. The narrator addresses another. The imperative of Thomas’s poem is still there, but now it has also become an invitation. This is not a desperate son pleading with his dying father that he must fight death. This is an invitation to another to join the narrator. They are the combatants striking against darkness. This is not about physical death anymore. Here is something else going on.

Imprisonment in the Material World

Here, “death” also refers to restriction; it refers to mortality as well as imprisonment. The offered freedoms are something like a walk in the courtyard of the prison. If you enter the light, however, you can escape the prison. You can escape the mortals who still put up a fuss about dying. And you should also not accept the comfort which is given by beings which are bound by death.

Now I will leave one step out. This complex symbolism (incarceration / earthly bodies /  mortality) is connected to William Blake’s The [First] Book of Urizen (1794)², something which I do not want to explain in this place (see e. g.  the echoing of the Blakean “citizens” which are trapped under the “Net of Religion”). It will suffice for now to say that here, analogous to Blake’s poem, incarceration means to be trapped in the body. Yet, the song narrator says that they can leave their bodies and enter the void (the “void” also being the realm created by Urizen when we first meet him). ⇒ If you want to meet Urizen in the void it’s either the Blake text or The Chemical Wedding (1998) / Scream for me Brazil (1999) you go for. If you want to know more about Urizen & Co, use the contact form or leave me a comment.

(Eye)Sight – (Star)Blind

So now that we are all in the void, it is time to talk about what we see. The song starts with the offer of the narrator’s eyes. As the song is heavily grounded in Blakean thought, this does most likely not refer to physical sight, but the prophetic sight. I have pointed out in my introduction of the category devoted to Bruce Dickinson’s “Blake album” that Blake had visions. Prophetic sight is something very prominent in Blake’s work. In fact, the mentioned “citizens” trapped in the “Net of Religion” become mortal because they lose the ability to recognise their (Blood) brothers. They have lost their ability to discern – or, to see.

“Starblind” means “half blind”. The most logical reading, in my eyes (pun intended), is that the narrator offers his eyesight to his addressed, who has become “starblind”. That person has been blinded by the sun and is so probably unable to see that s/he is supposed to be a source of light instead of staring at the sun. The narrator and his reciepient are linked to the Sun Goddess – the two of them are not looking at her from a distance. They are supposed to be light instead to be blinded by the light.

Now we come back to Thomas: “Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, /
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way”. Here, the union between sun (goddess) and humans has failed. And so, “Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight / Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay.” The “wild men” have tried to catch the sun, life-force, and have failed. When they are dying, they “see with blinding sight”. I suggest that they are starring at the sun as well. Their “blind eyes” “could blaze” like “meteors”. Meteors are nothing else but dying, extinguishing stars. These stars will cease to exist, light (life) will stop and the darkness will come. And so, they are supposed to “[r]age, rage, against the dying of the light.” In sum, we come to the same conclusion: starring at the sun leads to death. To rage against darkness, one must actually be the light.

What is more, the addressed is advised that you can actually see without discerning. Here we meet the Blakean citizens again who are caught under the Net of Religion and are unable to recognise their brothers. A fatal failure which leads to their doom. The sons of Urizen leave them behind. But I am digressing.

In sum, the addressed, who seems to be in the situation of a student of sorts, must learn to really see. You may be looking in the wrong direction (the sun) without realising that you are supposed to be a source of light yourself (and what else does a source of light do than enabling us to see?) instead of looking for one. You have the choice between crystal clear sight or a something of a half-hearted sight by looking without seeing. Meaning that you are half-blind. Starblind.

Teaching, Knowledge, and Religion

The offer of sight has two meanings here. First, I say, it is a metaphor for teaching because you can offer someone your teachings, your worldview – rather than your eyes. If I accept someone’s view of the world I accept his sight in a way. I accept how s/he sees things. Moreover, it is not only sight which stands for teaching, it is also the light. The imperative at the beginning is just as well the imperative “learn my ways”. In a second reading, the offered sight is the prophetic sight, which hinges back to the possibility of looking without seeing. “Looking” is something you do with your eyes, but “sight” is connected to understanding (take e. g. the exclamation “I see!”). If you “see” you get either insight or foresight.

Yet the aspect of seeing becomes more complicated when narrator and student suddenly become one. This scenario of seeing is physically impossible. I cannot see my own reflection in my own eyes. Thus, the student must have adapted to the teacher’s ways. Otherwise they would not have one face. The student and the teacher have most likely learned to escape the prison of the material world because its laws do not apply anymore. What is more, they have indeed left their bodies.

The teacher is an interesting character full of contradictions when it comes to having a body. For example, he lacks a physical face, but he also says that his mirror image becomes weaker.  There are more contradictions about the nature of the teacher and they all relate to the antagonism of body and spirit  – a distinction Blake rejects. At least you may say that he seems to live in the “void” and to be actively seeking his student by shouting for him. Is he calling because his student cannot see him?

To put it all in a nutshell, “starblind” means that your perception of the world is limited. You either lack the right teachings or you lack the ability to prophecy. And why is the student starblind? Because he is caught in the Blakean Net of Religion. The Net of Religion imprisons and limits the perception. In the song too people are supressed by constant reminders of sin. When this mechanism is revealed, religious institutions lose their power.

Thus, it’s up to you if you accept the call of the teacher and to decide what kind of life you want to have.

Notes

  1. In Bruce Dickinson’s solo project “Omega” (Accident of Birth, 1997) we encounter more or less the exact opposite scenario: the sun implodes and kills all life on earth. In the title song of the album, the imperative is to break loose from the light.
  2. The [First] Book of Urizen was printed and produced by Blake himself, which means that we have about eight copies today and not two of them are identical! They all differ in colour shade, some feature additional plates, and in some Blake has even changed the order of the plates, thus changing the narrative by doing so. He also dropped the “first” in later editions. In short, there is no such thing as The Book of Urizen.

Featured Image: © Katharina Hagen

Sources

  • Smith, Adrian, Harris, Steve and Bruce Dickinson. “Starblind.” Iron Maiden. The Final Frontier. EMI, 2010.
  • Thomas, Dylan. “Do Not Go Gentle into that Night.” https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night [03/03/19]
  • Blake, William. The [First] Book of Urizen (all copies available, as they all differ!): http://www.blakearchive.org/work/urizen (2017) [03/03/19]
  • Dickinson, Bruce. The Chemical Wedding. Sanctuary, 1998.
  • . Scream for me, Brazil. Sanctuary, 1999.
  • Dickinson, Bruce and Roy Z. “Omega.” Bruce Dickinson. Accident of Birth. CMC International, 1997.
  • —. “Accident of Birth.” Bruce Dickinson. Accident of Birth. CMC International, 1997.

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