- Maunder Minimum:The Sun King
Louis XIV, Versailles, 1670, and E. J. Maunder, Cambridge, 1893
Although that year was his last in the role of God,they continued to evoke his dancing walk,his sober style and his decorous steps on the ground.
Although he retired to his green Versailles,they took his entrées graves to the capital's stages. [End Page 81] They mimicked his dress from the dance of the Sun—the stiff-rayed spurs from the muscular calves,his torso, gold as the wide-buckled shoes,and, cresting the tumbling, ebony wig:a corolla of gilded ostrich plumesthat nodded with his long pas graves and seemedto be haunted by the airs of their colonies.
Although that role would become his name,Copernicus-like, he hoped to displacefor a second time the revolving worlds—and the nobles, too—with his clockwork spheresof Trianon fountains, promenades, mirrored halls.
Fomenting feuds gave way to courtiersvying for the honor of a candlestickto light his way to the nightly room.His grave branles gave way to the courantes'lighter steps. Then to ballets. Minuets.
Yet all over Europe, the winters raged.The Baltic froze, and the Thames—ice paved—held revelry's weight, with its horses and cauldroned fires.None would forget how he brought to earththe lofty cuts of the virtuosic,a dance that would pass for natural graces.From the slow return of the ankle's risecame a curving, sliding step like a scythe,as the measures tempered his power; or the frenziedbeat of his trifling heels, subduedby his steady torso, steady neck,and his eye like a pacified rage.
Meanwhile, from the vantage of Greenwich hill,Flamsteed noted that the sun lacked flaws,one single sunspot flared, in an eight-year span.The royal engineer of Versailles' fountains [End Page 82] built vaulted grottoes for reservoirs of waterthundering in circuits through nozzle-blown sprays,tongues, bubbles, and blades. He would use this samemathematics when he parsed the finite speedof light itself. But the King held faithin Aristotle's theory: all radiance remains,unmoved. Such speed (if the case were true
that light is a traveling host) would surpassour powers of thought. Would it end? Would it never?Nothing could surpass his capers, cross-capers,steps from the ground, or his starts and saults,his lithe address, as the hand that agreeswith foot lunges down at the bow's stoccata,then rising with the hand on the semi-quaver.He was Phaeton reined to the westward-galloping sun.
As the gangrene claimed him, his dying words:"Lord, hasten to help me." The Wars of Successionwent poorly—Blenheim, Turin, Oudenarde—yet only what ambition had claimed would be lostin the end. In his memory, dancers kept reachingto achieve the way that he drew their gaze,till the famous Dupré would tower from the footlights."Watch how he grows!" From the hinges of his body,in a mute crescendo, lengthening, growinglike a late shadow looms and bleeds through the gold of day.
And so it was the case, until Maunder discoveredthat the sun, without cause, during Louis's reign,had halted its cycles of spots and flares;and until it was found that the solar spinitself had slowed and the sun's size swelled,and that frozen seas and snows were replyto that clear, charmed face of the glowing orbbecalmed as a mirror—in its swell, coming nearerand nearer to earth, as its heat, by expansion [End Page 83] waned—and until it had been decidedthe limits of light were the limits of matterin flight from the source,and that God was a guise,whole centuries would circle as pairs in Apollo's Hall.
Avery Slater's work has recently appeared in Raritan, Slate, Poetry London, and Literary Imagination. She is a PhD student in English at Cornell University where she co-curates the experimental poetry reading series SOON.