As I look up,
all I see is deep blue,
deep blue for days.
Spring weather has been especially gracious this year and the sun is shining brightly and stands as lonely in the blue sky as some of us might feel down here.
Ever since humans have told stories and fables, have written books and poetry or engaged in the arts and culture, a blue sky has served as a metaphor, as something with more than a literal meaning. For example, renowned American writer E. B. White includes the blue sky in his book ‘Once More to the Lake’. He writes,“Summertime, oh, summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade-proof lake, the woods unshatterable, the pasture with the sweetfern and the juniper forever and ever . . . the cottages with their innocent and tranquil design, their tiny docks with the flagpole and the American flag floating against the white clouds in the blue sky, the little paths over the roots of the trees leading from camp to camp. This was the American family at play, escaping the city heat.” A quote attributed to Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh states “I never get tired of the blue sky.”. The troubled painter must have had quite positive associations of it.
One of the most obvious and probably most common metaphors originating from nature as a place for imaginary or illustrious narrative has been the blue sky as a symbol for optimism, a zest for life and good days. A blue sky means the absence of clouds and gray, rainy weather, which in turn have continuously served as a metaphor for dimness and hard times in the lives of humans, often even crises, catastrophe and despair. A popular quote that has been floating around the internet for a while states “Above the clouds, the sun is shining”, from which we can also infer that clouds are objectified as troublemakers, something temporal, the bad guys that hinder sunny days full of energy, warmness or joyous activities.
Similar to many other paradoxes that have become evident during these months of the ongoing pandemic, the tables have turned. For many people in Europe, especially here in Germany, the gorgeous blue sky has accompanied us since the onset of the coronavirus spreading throughout Europe and arriving pretty much in all corners of our country. As a consequence, this loyal blue sky these days has adopted a meaning drastically different from its romanticized image coming out of conventional literature, pop culture and artistry. A blue sky now reminds us of the absence of planes – since for the first time in decades, vapor trails are now missing along with the associated dull noise caused by aircrafts – and hence visualizes quite plainly the degree of mobility that we from the industrialized world have lost in a matter of weeks.
It is a daily reminder of the economic and social consequences arising from the global health crisis with a virus that, like many citizens and economies of the postmodern Western world, knows no borders and has been amplified through global networks and the maximum speed that characterizes this age. In a wider sense, the empty blue sky is a testament to the vulnerability and interdependencies arising out of the global web we have spun throughout the past two centuries as well as the glaring drawbacks of international supply chains and heightened economic trade, which have turned into dangerous transmission channels for the virus to spread.
For many regions in Europe that usually know March and April to be much more rain-heavy and clouded months, the current chronic nature of the blue sky also serves as an attestation and warning sign of the changing climate, indicating the looming dryness that will continue to hamper harvests and increases the chance of destructive wild fires along with dying landscapes.
A blue sky for some now also represents solitude, in many cases resulting in the feeling of all encompassing loneliness. Being isolated for weeks or months, socially distanced, many ask themselves where to look if left and right there is no one to be found and talked to, being confined to one’s own four walls and after people have run out of activities to keep themselves busy beyond sheer mania. Well, one could longingly look up to the sky, and yet again be reminded of the self-isolation state. In light of the current situation, van Gogh’s statement of how he would never get tired of a blue sky almost seems bold. And thinking back to E. B. White’s illustrations, this time a blue sky is no escape.
Instead, the blue sky is now associated with quarantine caused by a global pandemic which has markedly shown us the limits of our human existence and brutally demonstrated how we – even after decades of technological progress – are still at the mercy of nature, a cold hard truth that will remain forever. The literature and narrative around the metaphor of the bright blue sky might be altered and expanded by these perspectives. It is an interesting case to show how symbolisms can evolve over the course of centuries in an ever-changing world. Some enlightened fella once supposedly said “the only constant in life is change” and oh boy are we experiencing this truism first-hand, through a blue sky and many other symbols that were once so romantically and innocently reminding us of the delight that lies in being human.