—Gossip —Our Words The Life Which is Tainted by the Habit of Speaking Unkind Words Falls Short of Its Highest Mission. THE LESSON—That the subtle practice of speaking carelessly concerning other people poisons many an ... Read more of The Brook at How to Draw.caInformational Site Network Informational

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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
The First Form Of Contemplation
The Mystical Life
The Preparation Of The Mystic
The Second Form Of Contemplation
The Third Form Of Contemplation
The World Of Reality
What Is Mysticism?
Anaximenes And The Air
Animism, Ancient And Modern
Brooks And Streams
Development And Discipline Of Intuition
Earth, Mountains, And Plains
Fire And The Sun
Heracleitus And The Cosmic Fire
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
The Beautiful And The Ugly
The Charge Of Anthropomorphism
The Expanse Of Heaven--colour
The Immanent Idea
The Moon--a Special Problem
The Ocean
The Waters Under The Earth
Will And Consciousness In Nature
Winds And Clouds

Brooks And Streams

There is a striking passage in Tylor's "Primitive Culture" which
will admirably serve as an introduction to this chapter and the
one which is to follow, on "Rivers and Waterfalls." "In those
moments of the civilised man's life when he casts off hard dull
science, and returns to childhood's fancy, the world-old book of
nature is open to him anew. Then the well-worn thoughts come
back fresh to him, of the stream's life that is so like his own;
once more he can see the rill leap down the hill-side like a child,
to wander playing among the flowers; or can follow it as, grown
to a river, it rushes through a mountain gorge, henceforth in
sluggish strength to carry heavy burdens across the plain. In all
that the water does, the poet's fancy can discern its personality
of life. It gives fish to the fisher, and crops to the husbandman;
it swells in fury and lays waste the land; it grips the bather with
chill and cramp, and holds with inexorable grasp its drowning
victim. . . . What ethnography has to teach of that great element
of the religion of mankind, the worship of well and lake, brook
and river, is simply this--that what is poetry to us was
philosophy to early man; that to his mind water acted not by
laws of force, but by life and will; that the water-spirits of
primeval mythology are as souls which cause the water's rush
and rest, its kindness and its cruelty; that lastly man finds, in the
beings with such power to work him weal or woe, deities with a
wider influence over his life, deities to be feared and loved, to
be prayed to and praised and propitiated with sacrificial gifts."

Tylor has here given a masterly resume of a large group of
facts, and has viewed them from a particular angle--not quite
that of the nature-mystic, though not so far removed as might
appear. He does not make it appear that there was any organic
connection between the phenomena and the mythology, nor
even between the phenomena and the feelings which the
modern man, in certain moods, feels stirring within him at their
prompting. These myths are simply "fancies"; the "feelings" are
simply those of "the poet." The wider view adopted by so many
philosophers and scientists (as was shown in the chapter on
animism) does not seem to have won his adherence--perchance
was not known to him. And yet in sentence after sentence he
hovers on the brink of genuine Nature Mysticism. His sympathy
with the leaping rill and the rushing river is deep and
spontaneous; he is evidently well pleased to open afresh "the
world-old book of nature," and to read it in the light of
"childhood's fancy." The nature-mystic avers that what he
deemed a recurrence of meaningless, if pleasant, "well-worn
thoughts" was really an approach to the heart of nature from
which an imperfect understanding of the place and function of
science had carried him away. Not that the old forms should be
perpetuated, but that the childlike insight should be cherished.

Water in movement in brooks and streams! Have we discovered
the secret of it when we tell of liquids in unstable equilibrium
which follow lines of least resistance? It is a valuable advance
to have gained such abstract terms and laws, so long as we
remember they _are_ abstractions. But it is a deadly thing to
rest in them. How infinitely wiser is Walt Whitman, in his
address to a brook he loved, than the man who coldly analyses,
with learned formulae to help him, and sees and feels nothing
beyond. "Babble on, O brook" (Walt Whitman cries), "with that
utterance of thine! . . . Spin and wind thy way--I with thee a
little while at any rate. As I haunt thee so often, season by
season, thou knowest, reckest not me (yet why be so certain--
who can tell?)--but I will learn from thee, and dwell on thee--
receive, copy, print, from thee."

Is this to indulge in vague anthropomorphic fancies--though not
of the cruder sort, still of subjective value only? The
persistence, the vividness, and the frequency of such
"imaginings" prove that the subjective explanation does not tell
the whole tale. How natural, in the simplest sense of the word,
is Coleridge:

"A noise like of a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June,
That to the sleeping woods all night
Singeth a quiet tune."

How earnest is Wordsworth as he opens out glimpses of
unknown modes of being in his address to the Brook:

"If wish were mine some type of thee to view
Thee, and not thee thyself, I would not do
Like Grecian artists, give the human cheeks
Channels for tears; no Naiad shouldst thou be,--
Have neither limbs, feet, feathers, joints, nor hairs;
It seems the Eternal Soul is clothed in thee
With purer robes than those of flesh and blood,
And hath bestowed on thee a safer good;
Unwearied joy, and life without its care."

Again, what natural feeling declares itself in the delightful
Spanish poem translated by Longfellow:

"Laugh of the mountain! lyre of bird and tree!
Pomp of the meadow! mirror of the morn!
The soul of April, unto whom are born
The rose and jessamine, leaps wild in thee!"

How deep, once more, the note sounded by Brown in his lines
on "The Well":

"I am a spring--
Why square me with a kerb?
. . .
O cruel force,
That gives me not a chance
To fill my natural course;
With mathematic rod
Economising God;
Calling me to pre-ordered circumstance
Nor suffering me to dance
Over the pleasant gravel,
With music solacing my travel--
With music, and the baby buds that toss
In light, with roots and sippets of the moss!"

The longing for freedom to expand the dimly realised and
mystic elements in his soul-life was stirred within him by the
joyous bubbling of a spring. To kerb the artless, natural flow is
to "economise God"--so the limitations and restrictions of the
life that now is artificialise and deaden the divine within us.
There is more than metaphor in such a comparison; there is the
linkage of the immanent idea. His emotion culminates in the
concluding lines:

"One faith remains--
That through what ducts soe'er,
What metamorphic strains,
What chymic filt'rings, I shall pass
To where, O God,
Thou lov'st to mass
Thy rains upon the crags, and dim the sphere.
So, when night's heart with keenest silence thrills,
Take me, and weep me on the desolate hills."

There are indeed but few with any feeling for nature who have
not been moved to special trains of thought, the outcome of
characteristic moods, by the babblings and wayward wanderings
of brooks and rivulets. The appeal, therefore, is to a
wide experience. Can we be satisfied to join with Tylor in his
sense of disillusionment? Or shall we strive to get yet nearer to
the heart of things? If we cling to the deeper view, to us, as to
the men of old, the running stream will sing of the soul in

Next: Rivers And Life

Previous: Springs And Wells

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