In keeping with the theme of my last post (flying and literature), I thought to share my favorite (or should I say favourite?) F.W. Boreham essay. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
The Wings of the Morning
From “The Golden Milestone” by F.W. Boreham
first published October 1914
I AM sitting here at the open window with my fountain-pen for company. It is one of those delicious evenings that so often follow upon the heels of a hot and trying day. My window faces the west, and the giant form of Mount Wellington towers up before me. It seems only a few moments ago that I came to this very window on rising, just to look at the mountain and see what kind of a day it was going to be. It was morning then. It is evening now. But where has that morning gone? It was here a few hours ago. It is here no longer. It must be somewhere. Give me its latitude and longitude. Where is it? Ah, to be sure, yonder it flies! Mount Wellington stands out bravely against a glowing sky. The clouds above its head are a moving pageant of purple and gold. There goes my morning! Away over there the sun is rising upon some other scribbler, whilst he leaves me here in the gloaming. If only I could follow, skipping over the ranges and leaping across the seas, I should see him at this very minute lighting up the old familiar scenes that I know so well. He is gilding the windows of the dear old home; he is sending the bees from the hives under the wall to the roses over the door and the lavender down the garden. He is looking down, too, on the school that will presently buzz with the same old drone of lessons, and upon the playground that holds wondrous secrets if only it could speak! Yes, the sun is vanishing over the mountain, but he is taking my morning to the old folks at Home. I am left here in the dark. In a few moments I shall have to light the gas, draw down the blinds, and leave the open window. My morning, that seemed so fair and fresh and invigorating, is gone, gone, gone; but it is pleasant to think that it is over there, and that those I know so well are revelling in its radiance.
Sitting here and losing myself in a lazy reverie like this, it occurs to me that it was this selfsame beautiful phenomenon that gave us one of the loveliest phrases in our literature. For I am not the first man since the world began who has sat watching the sunset and wondering what had become of his morning. The Jews used to do the same thing thirty centuries ago. They watched the glowing sun sink slowly into a crimson sea, and wondered upon what strange lands its beams now shone. The morning had flown. It had taken wing. It was away over there, over there, over there! And, in a fine transport of poetic rapture, one of their poets fancied himself flying after it and gazing upon the wilds where now it rested. ‘ If I take the wings of the morning,’ he cried ecstatically, ‘if I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.’ As I sit here tonight thinking of the morning that has so soon left me and flown to other lands, and as I wish that I could borrow its wings—the wings of the morning— and follow in its wake, it adds a fresh charm to the cool of the evening to reflect that exactly the same sentiment surged through the soul of Israel’s sweetest singer one summer’s evening many, many years ago. Like me, he longed for the wings of the morning; and, by some strange magic, our very longing seems to give us wings more powerful than those we yearned for, and we cross, not the seas but the centuries, and enter into very pleasant fellowship
We have all smiled at the old story of the boy who set out to find the pot of gold that was said to be hidden at the foot of the rainbow. The beautiful bow eluded him as he clambered up the hills and scampered down the valleys. And although he never came upon the jar of precious metal, it was wonderful how much he gained in the course of his quest. We have smiled, I say, at the story; but it is the history of the world in miniature. It is Herodotus and Caesar, Grote and Gibbon, Carlyle and Freeman, Hume and Macaulay, all condensed into the compass of an exquisite picture. For, when you come to think of it, what is the difference between looking at the rainbow and then setting out to find the pot of gold, and looking at the sunset and starting off to find the vanished morning? And, ever since our little race began, men have watched their mornings receding over the horizon each evening, and have felt their fancy stirred beyond endurance by the thought of the unknown lands to which that departing dawn had flown. And, like the boy in search of the foot of the rainbow, they have pushed their little vessels out into the tossing western seas in their effort to follow the dying gleam and track the retreating daybreak. The mind of man loves to be teased and taunted by such things. I knew a little maiden, years ago, whose brother left home on a long holiday. At length the day arrived when Arthur was to come home, and Jessie was to go to meet him. As soon as it was light, the little maid was wide awake, clapping her hands in her excitement.
‘Whatever is wrong with you, Jessie?’ her mother asked. ‘Why don’t you lie down and go to sleep?
‘Oh, I can’t go to sleep, mother,’ Jessie replied; ‘Arthur’s coming home!’
‘But that’s nothing,’ the mother reasoned; ‘Arthur teases you, you silly girl!’
‘Oh, yes, mother,’ Jessie admitted, ‘but I love to be teased’
I am inclined to think that poor artless little Jessie was speaking, not for herself alone, but for the whole wide world; only she had more candour and less reserve than characterizes most of us. If, like her, we blurted out the whole truth, we should confess that we dearly love to be teased. We love the mountains that dare us to scale them; we love the seas that challenge us to cross them; we love the Poles that proudly defy our approach. These are the things that have teased the fancy of Man and lured him to his finest exploits. We owe more than we can tell to the wings of the morning. ‘Westward the course of empire takes its way!’ exclaimed Bishop Berkeley two centuries age. But why? Why has civilization always moved towards the sunset? Why did it pass from Asia to Europe, from China to Persia, from Persia to Assyria, from Assyria to Greece, from Greece to Rome, from Rome to Britain, and spread from Britain across to America?
It was simply because men were lured round the world in pursuit of the vanishing mornings. ‘After the morning!’ they cried, and pursued the setting sun. They could not bear to think in the summer evenings that the morning now played on lands which they had never seen. And so they took the wings of the morning and set out for the West. And thus it came about that the morning, moving westward, across sea and land, drew men on and on and on until the entire globe had been girdled and the whole world won. The moon may draw the tides in her train; but the morning leads the nations on. Civilization has marched through the ages to the watchword of ‘Westward Ho!’. Man has always been hunting the morning.
It is getting darker now, and I can scarcely see to write. But as I watch the last faint tints die away from the leaden clouds about the mountain, I find it good to reflect that my sunset means some other’s sunrise. The morning is over there, and somebody is revelling in its sweetness and saying that it is good to be alive. And here am I in the dusk. And so, all unsuspecting, I stumble upon something substitutionary, something vicarious, something like a sacrament, in these fading, flickering hues about the mountain’s brow. I am plunging into darkness that some one else may enjoy the day. I am feeling it chilly and cold that some one else may laugh in the glorious sunshine. I am about to lie down and abandon myself to sleep, Death’s own twin sister, that some one else over there in the land of the morning may wake up and feel the rush and riot of new life surging tumultuously through every vein. If only I can manage to remember this, it will often cheer me in the darkness. Have I lost my beautiful morning? It is bathing some other face in sunshine. Is my day waning? Some other is waxing. The old leaves fall off only because the new buds are pushing their way through. ‘I must decrease,’ cried John the Baptist bravely, ‘but He must increase!’ And that fine philosophy, if only I can make it my own, will help me, even when my last sun sets, to greet the unseen with a cheer.
Yes, to greet the unseen with a cheer. For God is the God of the unseen, the unknown, the unexplored. That is what David saw in the sunset thirty centuries ago, although I am so gross that I fear I should never have noticed it. Follow the morning; and to whatever barren rock or coral reef or sylvan isle or spreading continent it may lead you, you will discover Jesus standing as of old upon the shore; ‘If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me.’ What a comfort that has been to all our pioneers and pathfinders. There lies before me an ancient map of the world, which an old pilot showed to King Henry VII in the year 1500. All over the unexplored territory I find written ‘Here be dragons,’ ‘Here be demons,’ ‘Here be sirens,’ ‘Here be savages that worship devils,’ and so on. But David wrote across the whole of the unexplored, ‘Here is God!’ And David’s version has proved, after all, to be very much nearer to the truth. I have had the great honour of holding two pastorates—one in New Zealand and one in Tasmania. In New Zealand no name is more honoured than that of Bishop Selwyn; in Tasmania none is more cherished than that of Sir John Franklin. Now here is a striking and impressive coincidence! When young Selwyn landed in New Zealand, that country was the land of the Maori, and the Maori had the reputation of being the most ferocious of cannibals. The youthful Bishop looked around upon a land of volcanic wonders and of the most unusual vegetation. When Sunday came, he conducted his very first service in the new land. Turning for a moment from the natives to his white companions, he exclaimed, ‘A great change has taken place in the circumstances of our natural life; but no change which need affect our spiritual being. We have come to a land where not so much as a tree resembles those of our native country. All visible things are new and strange; but the things that are unseen remain the same.’
And he took as the text of that first sermon in New Zealand these very words: ‘If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me!’ He had found the land on which the sun shone after it had set in England; he had reached the land of his long-lost mornings; and he discovered to his delight that, whenever the morning broke on those strange scenes, Jesus invariably stood on the shore.
And now for Sir John Franklin! Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, away in Arctic seas, found a boat-load of bones, representing all that remained of Sir John Franklin and his gallant companions. And with the bones there were Bibles. And in one of those Bibles these same words were marked and underlined: ‘If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me.’ The wings of the morning took Selwyn to the far South, and the wings of the morning took Franklin to the far North, but whenever a morning broke on those new and strange horizons Jesus was in His old place. ‘When the morning was come Jesus stood on the shore.’ You may steer your craft to what land you will, but you will always find Him there.
I was reading the other day the Life of Andrew Fuller, by his son. One of the most affecting pages relates to the great man’s prodigal son, Robert. To the unspeakable grief of his father, Robert ran away to sea, and died off Lisbon in 1809. In a sermon preached on the Sunday after the receipt of the mournful news, the good man seemed to take great comfort from the words, ‘If from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find Him.’ ‘Some,’ he said, ‘are far from home, and have no friend in their dying moments to speak a word of comfort, but He is near. When Jonah was compassed about by the floods, when the billows and the waves passed over him, he prayed to the Lord, and the Lord heard him.’ Here Mr. Fuller gave vent to his feelings, and many who knew his dark secret wept with him. Later and fuller intelligence proved that the father had been speaking almost prophetically, for, during his last days, Robert was known to all his shipmates as a sincere and devout Christian man. Robert had taken the wings of the morning and flown to the uttermost parts of the sea; but he saw the Saviour walking on the waves, and, whenever he drew near to land, Jesus stood on the shore.
One of these days I shall set out on my own great voyage of exploration. I shall see my last sun sinking, and shall set out for the land that is mantled with the flush of morning. I shall leave behind me all the old familiar things, and shall sail out into the unknown, the unseen, the unexplored. I shall be surrounded on every hand by the wonders that here were beyond me, by the mysteries that here baffled my comprehension. I shall see strange sights and hear unwonted sounds. But it will be all right. For when I take the wings of the morning, and fly out into the uttermost of the uttermost, even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me! In a little Cambridgeshire churchyard there stands a tombstone whose epitaph is more than a century old. It records the names of two aged sisters, and the text that follows their names is simply this: ‘When the morning was come, Jesus stood on the shore!’ And, really, it would be very difficult to find a passage more cheering or appropriate. But there is no tinge of gold in the scudding clouds now; it is too dark for writing; they are lighting the gas behind me; I must draw the blinds and go~