“Imagine . . . Imagine . . . Imagine”
One of the greatest compliments ever bestowed on the Grand Canyon, in our opinion, came from an Englishman, J. B. Priestley, who wrote: “I have heard rumors of visitors who were disappointed. The same people will be disappointed at the Day of Judgment. In fact, the Grand Canyon is a sort of landscape Day of Judgment. It is not a show place, a beauty spot, but a revelation . . . it is the world’s supreme example of erosion. But this is not what it really is. It is, I repeat, a revelation. The Colorado River made it, but you feel when you are there that God gave the Colorado River its instructions. It is all Beethoven’s nine symphonies in stone and magic light. Even to remember that it is still there lifts up the heart. If I were an American, I should make my remembrance of it the final test of men, art, and policies. I should ask myself: Is this good enough to exist in the same country as the Canyon? How would I feel about this man, this kind of art, these political measures, if I were near that Rim? Every member or officer of the Federal Government ought to remind himself, with triumphant pride, that he is on the staff of the Grand Canyon.”‘
Elsewhere, Priestley declares “the Grand Canyon is enough in itself to clear a whole continent from the charge of being dull.”
Some of the shortest Grand Canyon descriptions have been the most picturesque. Consider these:
“It is a land of music,” was Major John Wesley Powell’s journal entry.
“The divine abyss,” John Burroughs called it, and . . .”the very womb of the world . . .” was the way Irvin S. Cobb described it.
“These are the footprints of Creation,” said John C. Van Dyke. At another time he wrote, “It is not the eighth wonder of the world but the first.”
Owen Wister pictured the Canyon “terrible as the Day of Judgment, sublime as the Psalms of David.”2
And McCutcheon, once more, “you . . . get more sightseeing in one glance than is possible any place else in the world”3
A former park superintendent tells of a child — a young girl — who, upon getting her first view of the Canyon, exclaimed, “What happened?”
Charles F. Lummis came at his observations of the Canyon obliquely: “I have seen people rave over it; better people struck dumb with it; even strong men who cried over it; but I have never yet seen the man or woman that expected it. “4
Some of the Hopi Indians, however, perhaps did expect it, at least in the afterlife. According to William Hamilton Nelson, “Hopi Indians say Grand Canyon is an entrance to Heaven, and all we can say is that they have a wonderful sense of location.”
Those who have put their minds and their pens to Grand Canyon portrayals have come up with nearly every approach that literature, science, psychology, or religion could afford.
One writer speculated on the effect the Canyon could exert on political leaders and concluded, “Hitler would have been a vastly different man, too, if he had only seen the Canyon . . . It debunks the ego like nothing else.”5
We have quoted Irvin S. Cobb. This humorist of the early years of this century visited the Grand Canyon even before Francis and his brother went there. His descriptions, and often tongue-in-cheek observations, in his book ROUGHING IT, DELUXE, were classics:
“Imagine . . . imagine . . . imagine . . . and if you imagine hard enough and keep it up long enough you may begin, in the course of eight or ten years, to have a faint, a very faint and shadowy conception of this spot . . .”6
“You are at the absolute jumping-off place. There is nothing between you and the undertaker except six thousand feet, more or less, of dazzling Arizona climate. “7
“If ever Jehovah chose an earthly abiding place, surely this place of awful, unutterable majesty would be it.”8
Edwin Code wrote an entire book, LISTEN, BRIGHT ANGEL, dealing with varied aspects of the Canyon. Anthologist — and later the governor of Arizona, Bruce Babbitt — insisted that Corle “resisted the impulse to paint any visual images at all”9 of this Arizona treasure. If he did not paint images, then he marshalled graphic phrases to depict people’s reactions to the Canyon, or to give helpful advice concerning it. Sprinkled through the leaves of Cork’s book, like refreshing dew on the tree leaves in a forest, are such glistening jewel drops as these:
” . . the music of Beethoven and Varese is to be heard; the painting of El Greco and Klee is to be seen; and the art of the Grand Canyon is to be experienced.”10
“The reactions of people to the Grand Canyon are interesting. Most of them are honest. They just give up.”11
” . . it unbalances most people’s values . . . “12
” . . the Grand Canyon will give you a lot of clues as to the meaning of meaning. It can be just a hole in the earth or it can be a religious experience.’ ’13
In the final chapter of his book about Grand Canyon, Corle, who had perhaps resisted the temptation to describe it in his own words, declares, “In a Wordsworthian sense it has ‘thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.’”14
Through the years we, ourselves, have written whole pages an chapters of descriptive phrases trying to convey the Canyon’s ultimate essence. In a certain sense, we could convey the two most profound characteristics which impress every serious and thoughtful visitor who ponders this enigmatic colossus, with what is probably the shortest description ever given:
? — Wonder — and awe. These two symbols seem to express it all.