Six Degrees of Symbolism

John Wayne in Rio Bravo

Watched Rio Bravo the other night. You remember. The story that just wouldn’t die for Howard Hawks. Good film, made three times. Rio Bravo; El Dorado; and Rio Lobo. Added backstory each time. Complications. As John Wayne aged, the younger characters gained more importance. From Ricky Nelson, to James Caan, to Christopher Mitchum, son of Robert, who starred in the second film. The cast grew over time, and the core story of “The Exchange” was embellished, nearly hidden.

Why bring Poe into all of this? Well, because James Caan’s character recites part of Poe’s poem. Possibly because he thinks of Wayne’s character as the person in the poem:


Gaily bedight,
   A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,   
   Had journeyed long,   
   Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.


   But he grew old—
   This knight so bold—   
And o’er his heart a shadow—   
   Fell as he found
   No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.


   And, as his strength   
   Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow—   
   ‘Shadow,’ said he,   
   ‘Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?’


   ‘Over the Mountains
   Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,   
   Ride, boldly ride,’
   The shade replied,—
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’
Charles Baudelaire

Of course, Baudelaire comes into all of this because he translated Poe–not sure about Eldorado in particular. He translated Poe and gave birth to the Symbolist Movement, which begets Arthur Symons, Yeats, Pound and Eliot. And they beget modernist poetry in English. All but.

 So, the degrees link and lock and connect and confuse and the essence of all of this has to be that . . .

John Wayne, AKA, John T Chance, Cole Thornton (Sean Thornton in The Quiet Man), and Cord McNally . . . is the grandfather of Modern Poetry in English. He boldly rode to symbolism’s gate, between the silver of the screen and the golden metaphor. Made The Exchange. Cast his lot with the common people of the sun, and a woman or two of the moon. With Maureen O’Hara and Angie Dickenson. Athena and Aphrodite.

Which leaves me mystified still. Walter Brennan is Hephaestus, Nestor or Homer?


Six Degrees of Symbolism
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