Fortunately for us, the beautiful particulars of the World are boundlessly and endlessly merciful. Every day, without fail, they gently shake us by the shoulders and whisper in our ear: "Wake up! Look over here. Listen to this." Not in so many words, of course. The World is wordless. Yet it is not reticent. Nor is it impassive. Hence, immanence.
I walked a nut-wood's gloom. And overhead
A pigeon's wing beat on the hidden boughs,
And shrews upon shy tunnelling woke thin
Late winter leaves with trickling sound. Across
My narrow path I saw the carrier ants
Burdened with little pieces of bright straw.
These things I heard and saw, with senses fine
For all the little traffic of the wood,
While everywhere, above me, underfoot,
And haunting every avenue of leaves,
Was mystery, unresting, taciturn.
. . . . .
And haunting the lucidities of life
That are my daily beauty, moves a theme
Beating along my undiscovered mind.
John Drinkwater, Loyalties (Sidgwick & Jackson 1919). The ellipses appear in the original.
George Allsopp, "Wharfdale Landscape" (1960)
My daily walk takes me past a row of a dozen or so big-leaf maples that stand along the edge of a large meadow. Old, tall, and stately, several of them have trunks that are three- to four-feet in diameter. I have been walking past the maples for more than twenty years. However, it was not until earlier this spring that I noticed how beautiful their thick grey trunks are when set against the deep green of the wild grasses that cover the meadow.
I have been seeing that grey-against-green for years now. Yet the beauty of it had eluded me. Where had I been all that time? Ah, but the World is patient with sleepwalkers and daydreamers. For that I am grateful. Those trees and that meadow will now never be the same for me.
At the top of the house the apples are laid in rows,
And the skylight lets the moonlight in, and those
Apples are deep-sea apples of green. There goes
A cloud on the moon in the autumn night.
A mouse in the wainscot scratches, and scratches, and then
There is no sound at the top of the house of men
Or mice; and the cloud is blown, and the moon again
Dapples the apples with deep-sea light.
They are lying in rows there, under the gloomy beams;
On the sagging floor; they gather the silver streams
Out of the moon, those moonlit apples of dreams,
And quiet is the steep stair under.
In the corridors under there is nothing but sleep,
And stiller than ever on orchard boughs they keep
Tryst with the moon, and deep is the silence, deep
On moon-washed apples of wonder.
John Drinkwater, Tides (Sidgwick & Jackson 1917).
As is always the case with the beauty and truth of the World, one thing leads to another. A few days ago, I walked past another spring meadow, newly-mown and bright green, sloping upward toward a grey stone wall. Seven black crows were scattered across it. Black-against-green, grey-against-green . . . and so it goes while we are here.
The one looking --
he also lends some color
to the moonlight.
Shinkei (1406-1475) (translated by Steven Carter), in Steven Carter, Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology (Stanford University Press 1991), page 295.
Samuel John Birch, "Nancledra: Old Cornish Village" (1931)
These revelations of beauty and truth necessarily occur within the time in which we find ourselves. And each modern age is contrived to turn us into somnambulists, whether the "modern age" is today, a century ago, or a millennium ago. Thus, William Wordsworth in 1802:
"For a multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor. The most effective of these causes are the great national events which are daily taking place, and the increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies."
William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1802).
Or John Drinkwater in 1921:
"The breaking down of all barriers of space has opened up imposing vistas of imperial activity, of which the benefits are well known to Ministers of State; it has also, we learn, shown us the way to a brotherhood of man, on the principle, it may be supposed, that the domestic virtue of brotherly affection is best fostered by not staying at home. Of these rhetorical blessings I do not feel that I am qualified to speak; I see them in misty prospect, and am unmoved. From the manner and character of their prophets they are, at least, suspect in my mind.
"But as to one result of this merely mechanical extending of an horizon I am clear, and clear that it is spiritually injurious to man. The growing tendency of a world where means of instantaneous communication and rapid transit and the ever-widening ramifications of commercial interests more and more make everybody's business everybody's business, is to breed a shallow and aimless cosmopolitanism in all of us at the expense of an exact and intimate growth in our knowledge of ourselves and our neighbours and the land of our birth."
John Drinkwater, "The World and the Artist," The Bookman's Journal and Print Collector, Volume V, No. 1 (October 1921), page 8.
As for us? Long-time readers of this blog know my feelings about the false gods of our own time: Progress, Science, and disingenuous, malevolent, and dehumanizing utopian political schemes. I will not rehearse my objections again.
Nothing ever changes, does it? But, withal, the beauty and truth of the World abide within the chimerical emptiness of each successive "modern age." The choice is ours.
Sometimes, when walls and occupation seem
A prison merely, a dark barrier
Between me everywhere
And life, or the larger province of the mind,
As dreams confined,
As the trouble of a dream,
I seek to make again a life long gone,
My mind's approach and consolation,
To give it form's lucidity,
Resilient form, as porcelain pieces thrown
In buried China by a wrist unknown,
Or mirrored brigs upon Fowey sea.
Then to my memory comes nothing great
Of purpose, or debate,
Or perfect end,
Pomp, nor love's rapture, nor heroic hours to spend --
But most, and strangely, for long and so much have I seen,
Comes back an afternoon
Of a June
Sunday at Elsfield, that is up on a green
Hill, and there,
Through a little farm parlour door,
Of red tiles and blue,
And the air
Sweet with the hot June sun cascading through
The vine-leaves under the glass, and a scarlet fume
Of geranium flower, and soft and yellow bloom
Of musk, and stains of scarlet and yellow glass.
Such are the things remain
Quietly, and for ever, in the brain,
And the things that they choose for history-making pass.
John Drinkwater, Loyalties.
Hubert Wellington, "Overhanging Branch, Frampton Mansell" (1915)
At this time of year, at the tip of each pine tree twig, bright yellow-green tufts of new needles emerge. The needles are delicate, and soft to the touch. After the spectacular spring show of the fruit tree blossoms, with all of its bittersweet beauty, all of its passing and vanishing, there is something endearing and reassuring about the simple loveliness of these unfolding tufts.
What are we to make of these wordless communions?
I do not think that skies and meadows are
Moral, or that the fixture of a star
Comes of a quiet spirit, or that trees
Have wisdom in their windless silences.
Yet these are things invested in my mood
With constancy, and peace, and fortitude,
That in my troubled season I can cry
Upon the wide composure of the sky,
And envy fields, and wish that I might be
As little daunted as a star or tree.
John Drinkwater, Tides.
William Birch (1895-1968), "Morning in June, the Vale of Dedham"