Flavin’s Corner
5-25-01

Voyaging

The untold want by life and land ne'er granted,
Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.
“The Untold Want,” from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, 1871/1891. 

Sailing metaphors have always worked great in cultures familiar with the sea and will, perhaps, continue to in the future as well.  Maybe landlocked traditions allow a desert, forest, or a mountain range to become the necessary other place.  Whitman’s way short poem above, “The Untold Want,” inspired the title of Irving Rapper’s 1942 film, Now, Voyager, starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains, thereby giving the metaphor shaved legs, as the “untold want” has often been used by legions of Bette Davis fanatics.  Because the Demiurge napped through much of the 1980s, Barry Gibb, of Bee Gees infamy, released a song, “Now Voyager,” in 1984, with backing vocals by Olivia Newton John, Roger Daltry, and Harry Casey (KC, of KC and the Sunshine Band).  Something was never granted and Whitman suggests trying to find it.  Metaphors and their interpretations are always tricky, yet voyaging forth we won’t know what we’ll find until we try.  If we try at all.

Whitman infused much of his Leaves of Grass with sailing metaphors.  Sure, pieces of paper may be regarded as leaves, but are also referred to as white sails, unfurled, and ready to transport one away.  With the ending of the Star Trek: Voyager series ("Endgame," Production #271), it’s a shame Whitman’s related “Now Finale to the Shore” poem wasn’t used, as the sailing metaphors are better illustrated and appropriate: 

NOW finale to the shore! 
Now, land and life, finale, and farewell!
Now Voyager depart! (much, much for thee is yet in store;)
Often enough hast thou adventur’d o’er the seas,
Cautiously cruising, studying the charts,
Duly again to port, and hawser’s tie, returning:
—But now obey, thy cherish’d, secret wish,
Embrace thy friends—leave all in order;
To port, and hawser’s tie, no more returning,
Depart upon thy endless cruise, old Sailor!
“Now Finale to the Shore,” from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, 1871/1891.

The Star Trek imagined future holds that the U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656 was named after Voyager 1 and 2, Earth’s first extra-solar system missions (both, now billions of miles away from Earth), though these early spacecraft were probably themselves named after the Whitman reference.  The Starfleet Registry plaque aboard the U.S.S. Voyager bears dedicatory lines suggesting its mission statement, but the poet is not Walt Whitman.

For I dipt into the future, far as the human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be.
Locksley Hall,” lines 119-120, from Alfred Tennyson’s Poems, 1842.

Star Trek: Voyager is the third spin-off from the original Star Trek television show, which aired from 1966-1969.  I missed the first several episodes of Star Trek, as my father was stationed in Germany, and we didn’t return stateside until mid-season.  I remembering watching a couple of shows with my father on Thursday nights (probably as summer reruns), before he shipped out for Vietnam.  When he returned a year later, Star Trek had been moved by NBC to Friday at 8 PM, then for its final season, to a 10 PM time-slot.  Then, Star Trek was gone.  Then, my dad. Star Trek has, of course, come back in movies and spin-offs (a fifth series, Star Trek: Enterprise is due this Fall).  My dad continues to be gone, but perhaps next week when I return to the Midwest, I’ll get a chance to visit his grave.

Am I a Trekkie?  No, not really.  I’ve had many wonderful experiences involving Star Trek, to be sure.  The summer of 1973, on crutches at a comic-book convention in Chicago with my older brother, Tom, we saw a preview of the opening sequence for the animatedStar Trek series (1973-1974) which would appear that Fall.  Tom thought a bearded fellow seated behind us, arms drapped on the shoulders of two babes, was Walter Koenig (“Pavel Chekov,” from Star Trek: The Original Series).  Maybe, probably not, but the cartoon was cool.  Two years later, in Detroit, there was that older woman I met during an all-night Trek-a-thon.  Oh, it wasn’t Pon Farr, however my behavior was less than logical.  It’s not about Star Trek, per se, but the future it promises. 

There was that time, a few of years ago, when I was staying over at a friend’s house in the Allston neighborhood of Boston.  A few surviving families are left, but it’s almost all college students in that section of Allston.  Folks at a large apartment building on Brighton Avenue, were having one of those wonderful, quaint, block-party events with live bands and hundreds of people in the street waiting their turn to squeeze up the stairs, that are so common in college areas.  It’s called something to do on a Friday night and such happens all the time.  However, on this occasion, the apartment building was next to my friend’s brother’s home, which also contained his sister on one floor, and his ninety-something year old mother on another floor.  My friend lives a couple of houses away, the call was received, I had laundry in and was wearing only socks, exercise shorts, and an old black tee-shirt, yet I left immediately to resolve the problem.  Yeah, this slightly overweight, balding, poorly dressed fellow squeezed through the crowds, up the stairs, into an apartment featuring a band having a fine time, stood in front of the band, my back to a couple of hundred happy students, and told them to shut up and grow up.  I said there was an old Italian woman next door who used to give Leonard Nimoy food, when Lenny was willing to cheat on his kosher regulations.  I told them their noise was bothering a woman who used to feed Mr. Spock.  I was wearing bad shorts and didn’t have any shoes on.  The band didn’t play anymore, the party continued, and I returned to my friend’s house and my laundry.  There’s something about Star Trek that reaches across conventional barriers.  Optimism.

Many critics decry Star Trek: Voyager, as with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, because Gene Roddenbury, Star Trek’s creator, had passed and wasn’t involved with the productions.  Roddenbury had a hand in putting together the first spin-off, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and those nasty critics, while supporting selected elements of Star Trek: The Next Generation, even trekked as far as to fault the last seasons of the series, because Gene was gone and critics criticize.  The Kirk/Picard fiasco aside, I have personal reasons for supporting a bald, older captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, at some point.

Star Trek: Voyager was okay.  Getting over Geneviève Bujold storming off the set and her replacement being Kate Mulgrew, Mrs. Columbo, was difficult to accept at first, but like the previous spin-offs, the series got better and stayed better.  The elfin Kes, the Ocampa crew-member on Voyager, held my interest when other aspects of the series were not as charming.  Okay, Kes came back after a few years and had put on twenty pounds, but still held my interest.  Star Trek: Voyager’s introduction of the character, Seven-of-Nine, boldly went where it’s best if I don’t discuss times, places, fluids involved, and other extraneous data..  Right, back to the finale of Star Trek: Voyager.  It was okay.

That Voyager made it back to Earth with casualties, that’s its do-the-right-thing commander, Capt. (in the far-future time-line, Admiral) Janeway, breaks the rules to go back, change time and history, is standard Star Trek stuff.  It’s what the good guys, and some good gals, do.  Make things happen.  Their voyage is over and I’m happy for them.

I’ve got a voyage to make tomorrow morning.  It’s about optimism.  It’s okay to say hello to tomorrow.

Staying the course,
Rick

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