This month we look at the archetype of the nature mystic – the ones who see the presence of the divine in nature, expressed in their poetry and writings.
The Poetry of Nature
John Ruskin (1819 – 1900)
There is religion in everything around us,
a calm and holy religion
in the unbreathing things of nature.
It is a meek and blessed influence,
stealing in as it were unaware upon the heart;
It comes quickly, and without excitement;
It has no terror, no gloom,
It does not rouse up the passions;
It is untrammeled by creeds….
It is written on the arched sky,
It looks out from every star,
It is on the sailing cloud and in the invisible wind;
It is among the hills and valleys of the earth
where the shrubless mountaintop
pierces the thin atmosphere of eternal winter,
Or where the mighty forest fluctuates before the strong wind,
with its dark waves of green foliage;
It is spread out like a legible language
upon the broad face of an unsleeping ocean,
It is the poetry of nature,
It is that which uplifts the spirit within us…
And which opens to our imagination
a world of spiritual beauty and holiness.
I am the dust in the sunlight, I am the ball of the sun . . .
I am the mist of morning, the breath of evening . . . .
I am the spark in the stone, the gleam of gold in the
metal . . . .
The rose and the nightingale drunk with its fragrance.
I am the chain of being, the circle of the spheres,
The scale of creation, the rise and the fall.
I am what is and is not . . .
I am the soul in all.
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love, 80
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.–That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur, other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompence. For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes 90
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels 100
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
Dogen Kigen (circa 1265)
Japan, Zen Buddhist
The ocean speaks and the mountains have tongues –
That is the everyday speech of the Buddha.
If you can speak and hear such words,
You are one who truly comprehends the universe.
The whole earth is a thurible heaped with incense, afire with the divine, yet not consumed. This is the most spiritual of earth’s joys–too subtle for analysis, mysteriously connected with light and with whiteness, for white flowers are sweetest–yet it penetrates the physical being to its depths. Here is a symbol of the material value of spiritual things. If we washed our souls in these healing perfumes as often as we wash our hands, our lives would be infinitely more wholesome.
I liked the solitude and the silence of the woods and hills. I felt there a sense of a Presence, something undefined and mysterious, which was reflected in the faces of the flowers and the movements of birds and animals, in the sunlight falling through the leaves and in the sound of running water, in the wind blowing in the hills and the wide expanse of earth and sky.