The Wonder That Hoists Men Aloft

Published:July 27, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

Yesterday we posted our entry on William Strachey. If you’re not already familiar, Strachey was aboard the Sea Venture, a ship bound for Jamestown in 1609 that almost sank in a storm and instead washed up on the Bermudas. Strachey’s account of that adventure is believed to have been important source material for Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. I’m a big fan of this particular performance, beginning at the one-minute mark. And I’ve always been convinced that Joe Banks is a latter-day William Strachey:

That said, not everyone agrees. Which is fine. But even before his famous shipwreck, Strachey was into the mystical nature of storms. In 1604, he appended a prefatory sonnet to his friend Ben Jonson’s Sejanus His Fall, a play first performed a year earlier at the Globe by Shakespeare and company. In it, Strachey writes:

And as lightning comes behind the thunder

From the torn cloud, yet first invades our sense,

So every violent fortune, that to wonder

Hoists men aloft, is cleere evidence

Of a vaunt-curring blow the fates have given

There’s more about thunder and lightning, but you get the gist. The journalist John St. Loe Strachey (no relation) later called the poem “one of the most cryptic things in Elizabethan literature,” just as another critic once called Joe Versus the Volcano “unredeemable.”

What’s the matter with these people? This is about fate! And wonder!

IMAGE: The Tempest (1886) by Ivan Aivazovsky