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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

Poetry And Nature Mysticism

What a charm the nature deities of Greece and Rome can still
exercise! How large the place they still occupy in poetry, art,
and general culture! At times some of our moderns are tempted
to look back with a very real measure of regret to the golden age
of mythology, feeling that in comparison the present is often
sadly dull and sordid. Wordsworth's great sonnet gives classical
expression to this mood, and rises to a white heat of

"Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,--
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn."

It may be said that the poet is carried away by the feeling of the
moment. It finds expression, however, more calmly, though no
less decidedly, in a less well-known passage:

"O fancy, what an age was that for song!
That age, when not by laws inanimate,
As men believed, the waters were impelled,
The air controlled, the stars their courses held;
But element and orb on _acts_ did wait
Of Powers endued with visible form instinct,
With will, and to their work by passion linked."

Clearly mythology and nature-poetry are closely allied though
centuries come between: they breathe the same air though
"creeds outworn" have yielded place to deeper faiths. And we are
driven to ask--Is poetry in its turn to go?--poetry, at any rate,
of the old, simple, direct sort? Reflective reason is asserting
itself: critical methods play havoc with the spontaneous
creations of imagination. Coleridge, in one of his moods, would
almost persuade us so. In his "Piccolomini" Max is conversing
with the Countess:

"The intelligible forms of ancient poets,
The fair humanities of old religion,
The power, the beauty and the majesty,
That had their haunts in dale, or piny mountain,
Or forest by slow stream, or pebbly spring,
Or chasms and wat'ry depths; all these have vanished;
They live no longer in the faith of reason."

And yet Coleridge did not allow that the outlook was wholly
sad. His young soldier continues:

"But still the heart doth need a language, still
Doth the old instinct bring back the old names."
. . . and even at this day
'Tis Jupiter who brings whate'er is great,
And Venus who brings everything that's fair."

No, poetry is not dead, and never will die. Certain stages in
human progress may favour its spontaneity more than others--
critical reflection may cloud over the naive and fresh directness
of experience--but behind each natural phenomenon is the
immanent idea, the phase of cosmic will and consciousness,
which science, and logic and critical analysis can never exhaust.
The intuition has its rights as well as the syllogism, and will
always ultimately assert them. Whereas science reduces the
world to mechanism, poetry intuits and struggles to express its
inner life; and since this inner life is inexhaustible, poetry is
immortal. Emerson seized upon this truth with characteristic
keenness of perception allied with feeling.

"For Nature beats in perfect time
And rounds with rhyme her every rune,
Whether she work in land or sea,
Or hide underground her alchemy.
Thou canst not wave thy staff in air,
Or dip thy paddle in the lake,
But it carves the bow of beauty there,
And the ripples in rhymes the oar forsake.
The wood is wiser far than thou;
The wood and the wave each other know
Not unrelated, unaffected,
But to each thought and thing allied
Is perfect Nature's every part,
Rooted in the mighty heart."

And again in his "Ode to Beauty," he rejoices in the

"Olympian bards who sung
Divine Ideas below,
Which always find us young
And always keep us so."

Thank Heaven, we have not yet come to think that the highest
form of wisdom is enshrined in the _sesquipedalia monstra_ of
chemical formulae, still less in the extreme abstractions of
mathematics. Not that such formulae have not a beauty, and
even a Mysticism of their own; their harmfulness comes from
the exclusiveness of their claims when they are advanced as an
adequate description (sometimes explanation!) of existence at
large and of life in particular. The biological formulas, based on
mathematics, at which Le Dantec, for instance, has arrived, if
taken at their author's valuation, and if consistently applied,
would make the sublimest poetry to be greater folly than the
babble of a child. The nature-mystic may, or may not, allow
them a relative value according as he considers them to be valid
or invalid abstractions from observed facts; but he knows that
the most valid of them are exceedingly limited in their scope
and superficial in their bearing: and it remains a standing
wonder to him that any trained intellect can fail to realise their
miserable inadequacy, in view of the full rich current of living

One of the chief merits of genuine nature-poetry is that it keeps
us in close and constant touch with sense experience, and at the
same time brings home nature's inner life and meaning. It is not
a mere string of metaphors and symbols based on accidental
associations of ideas, but an expression and interpretation of
definite sensations and intuitions which result from the action of
man's physical environment upon his deepest and most delicate
faculties. "High art" (says Myers) "is based upon unprovable
intuitions; and of all arts it is poetry whose intuitions take the
brightest glow, and best illumine the mystery without us from
the mystery within."

But more especially, poetry is essentially animistic. It produces
its characteristic effect by creating in the mind the sensuous
images which best stimulate the mind to grasp the immanent
idea, and it presents those images as instinct with life and
movement--sometimes it goes so far as to personify them. This
is what Matthew Arnold meant when he declared poetry to be
"simple, sensuous, passionate." Coleridge has a good illustration
(quoted by Nisbet). He observes that the lines:

"Behold yon row of pines that shorn and bowed
Bend from the sea-blast, seen at twilight eve"--

contain little or no poetry if rearranged as a sentence in a book
of topography or description of a tour. But the same image, he
says, rises into the semblance of poetry if thus conveyed:

"Yon row of black and visionary pines
By twilight glimpse discerned! Mark how they flee
From the fierce sea-blast, all their tresses wild
Streaming before them."

The difference in the two presentations consists in this, that in
the second of them there is a suggestion of life and movement
which is lacking in the first. But why the different effect upon
the mind? Nisbet answers--"the visual and motor centres
contribute to the creation of the image"--an answer admirably
typical of the fashionable psychology of the day, not necessarily
wrong in itself, but so curiously incomplete! Nisbet holds that
man himself is a machine, and thus could not easily go farther--
especially as his own machinery evidently would not work any
farther. The nature-mystic begins at the other end. He holds that
even the inorganic world is more than machinery--that it is
instinct with life and meaning. When, therefore, life and
movement are attributed to seemingly inert or motionless
objects, there is a responsive thrill caused by the subconscious
play of primitive intuitions that are based on the facts of
existence. Spirit realises more vividly than in normal experience
that it is in touch with spirit.

Contrast with the psychological dictum the proud claim
advanced by Emerson.

"The gods talk in the breath of the woods,
They talk in the shaken pine,
And fill the reach of the old sea-shore
With melody divine.
And the poet who overhears
Some random word they say
Is the fated man of men,
Whom the ages must obey."

There are two claims presented here--one directly, the other
indirectly. The direct claim is that there are seers and
interpreters who can catch the mystic words that nature utters.
The indirect is that the general mass of humanity have the
capacity for sharing the experiences of their poet leaders. The
one class are endowed to an exceptional degree with receptivity;
the other are also receptive, but are dependent on those who can
give expression to the intuitions which are, though in varying
degrees, a possession common to humanity at large. As Sir
Lewis Morris puts it:

"All men are poets if they might but tell
The dim ineffable changes which the sight
Of natural beauty works on them."

He, too, recognises the mediating function of the poet.

"We are dumb,
Save that from finer souls at times may rise
Once in an age, faint inarticulate sounds,
Low halting tones of wonder, such as come
From children looking on the stars, but still
With power to open to the listening ear
The Fair Divine Unknown, and to unseal
Heaven's inner gates before us evermore."

And what is this but to claim for the mass of men, in varying
but definite degrees, a capacity for the experiences of the
nature-mystic? Poetry and Nature Mysticism are linked together
in an imperishable life so long as man is man and the world is
the world.

It will have been apparent that in what has been said about the
relation of poetry to science, there has been no shadow of
hostility to science as such, but only to the exclusive claims so
often preferred on its behalf. Let a French philosopher of the
day conclude this chapter by a striking statement of the
relationship that should exist between these seemingly
incompatible modes of mental activity. In a recent number of
the "Revue Philosophique," Joussain writes as follows:

"On peut ainsi se demander si le savant, a mesure qu'il tend vers
une connaissance plus complete du reel, n'adopte pas, en un
certain sens, le point de vue propre au poete. Boileau disait de la
physique de Descartes qu'elle avait coupe la gorge a la poesie.
La raison en est qu'elle s'en tenait au pur mecanisme et ne
definissait la matiere que par l'etendue et le mouvement. Mais la
physique de Descartes n'a pu subsister. Et, avec la gravitation
universelle que Leibniz considerait a juste titre, du point de vue
cartesien, comme une _qualite occulte_, avec les attractions, les
repulsions, les affinites chimiques, avec la theorie de
l'evolution, la science tend de plus en plus a penetrer la vie reele
des choses. Elle se rapproche, bon gre, mal gre, de la
metaphysique et de la poesie, en prenant une conscience plus
profonde de la force et du devenir. C'est qu'au fond la pensee
humaine est une, quelle que soit la diversite des objets auxquels
elle s'applique, art, science, poesie, metaphysique, repondant,
chacun a sa facon au meme desir, chacun refletant dans la
conscience humaine les multiples aspects de la vie

Next: The Beautiful And The Ugly

Previous: Mythology

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