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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

Still Waters

Tiefer Stille herrscht im Wasser,
Ohno Regung ruht das Meer,
Und bekuemmert sieht der Schiffer
Glatte Flache rings umher.

Keine Luft von keiner Seite!
Todesstille fuerchterlich!
In der ungeheuern Weite
Reget keine Welle sich.

Thus does Goethe, in this little poem of two verses, with a
masterly ease that carries conviction, suggest to us the subtle
power of a calm at sea. The mountain tarn, alone with the sky,
has a charm that is all its own. The shining levels of the lake, in
the lower hollows of the hills; the quiet reaches of a river where
the stream seems to pause and gather strength for its onward
course; even the still pool that hides in the meadows among the
alders and willows: each of these has its own peculiar charm--a
charm which is hard to analyse but almost universal in its range
of appeal. But potent above them all is this Meeresstille, this
calm at sea--when, as Bowring finely translates Goethe's second

"Not a zephyr is in motion!
Silence fearful as the grave!
In the mighty waste of ocean
Sunk to rest is every wave."

Turner, in his "Liber Studiorum," attempted to depict a calm at
sea. The picture is not one of his most successful efforts: but so
great an artist could not fail to seize on the essential features of
his subject. The sun is heralding his advent by flinging upward
athwart the mists and cloudlets a stream of diffused light which
fills the scene with a soft pervading glow. The surface of the
water is glassy, not much more substantial than the haze which
floats above it. But deep as is the calm, old ocean cannot quite
forget his innate restlessness; he gently urges onward a
succession of slow risings and fallings, with broad ripples to
mark their boundaries, and to tell of spent billows and
far-heaving tides. The movement of the waters is, as it were,
subconsciously felt rather than perceived; or, if perceived, it is
lost in the pervading sense of placid spaciousness. The boats
and their occupants, so far from disturbing the sense of calm,
are made to enhance it. And the unruffled surface of the water is
rendered palpably impalpable by the magic of reflections.

Morris has given us a word-picture of similar import.

"Oh, look! the sea is fallen asleep,
The sail hangs idle evermore;
Yet refluent from the outer deep
The low wave sobs upon the shore.
Silent the dark cave ebbs and fills
Silent the broad weeds wave and sway;
Yet yonder fairy fringe of spray
Is born of surges vast as hills."

Jefferies gives us a companion picture of a calm sea in full
sunshine. "Immediately in front dropped the deep descent of the
bowl-like hollow which received and brought up to me the faint
sound of the summer waves. Yonder lay the immense plain of
the sea, the palest green under the continued sunshine, as
though the heat had evaporated the colour from it; there was no
distinct horizon, a heat-mist inclosed it, and looked farther away
than the horizon would have done."

In each of these seascapes, the same essential features find a
place--the calm expanse without any defined boundary--the
silence--the play of delicate colour--the suggestions of rest after
toil, of peace after storm--and chiefest of all, the strangely
moving contrast of power and gentleness, the suggestion of
hidden strength. Doubtless we have in these the secret of much
of the mystic influence of the mighty ocean in its serenest
moods; doubtless we have in these the manifestations of
immanent ideas which have subtle power to subdue the human
soul to pensive thought and unwonted restfulness.

Not unlike them in general character and function, save for the
element of vastness, are the influences immanent in the calm of
evening or night landscapes. Goethe has an exquisite fragment
which is a fitting pendent to his Meeresstille:

Ueber alien Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spuerest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Voegelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

Thus translated by Bowring:

"Hush'd on the hill
Is the breeze;
Scarce by the zephyr
The trees
Softly are pressed;
The woodbird's asleep on the bough.
Wait, then, and thou
Soon wilt find rest."

Who does not sympathise, in the measure possible to him, with
Wordsworth's interpretations and premonitions?

"It is a beauteous Evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven is on the sea."

And a less well-known passage:

"Thine is the tranquil hour, purpureal eve,
But long as godlike wish, or hope divine,
Informs my spirit, ne'er can I believe
That this magnificence is wholly thine!
--From worlds not quickened by the sun
A portion of the gift is won."

Yes, the nature-mystic might well be content to rest his case on
the influences of a calm at sea or a peaceful sunset. These will
maintain their power as long as there are human eyes to see and
human emotions to be stirred.

Not the least of the charms of still water is one which was
mentioned in the description of Turner's picture--the charm of
reflections. And here we discover a fresh vein of Nature
Mysticism. As Hawthorne says, there is "no fountain so small
but that heaven may be reflected in its bosom." Nay, as painters
well know, the very puddles in a country lane, or in a London
street, may be transfigured by thus reflecting lights and colours,
and become indispensable factors in a composition.

The phenomena of perfect reflection are often of exceptional
beauty. How perfect the effect of Wordsworth's lines:

"The swan on sweet St. Mary's Lake
Floats double, swan and shadow."

And, more generally, of another lake:

"The mere
Seems firm as solid crystal, breathless, clear,
And motionless; and, to the gazer's eye,
Deeper than ocean, in the immensity
Of its vague mountains and unreal sky."

So on the broad, slowly moving waters of peaty rivers, the
reflections of sky and landscape seem almost to exceed the
originals in lustre and delicate detail. Some of the Tasmanian
rivers possess this reflecting quality in an exceptional degree.

Nor are the phenomena of broken reflections inferior in beauty
and suggestion. Instead of motionless repetition of given detail,
there are flickering, sinuous, mazy windings and twistings of
colour, light, and shadow--a capricious hurrying from surface to
surface. Knowledge of optics cannot rob them of their marvel
and their glamour. And if such be their effect on the modern
mind, what must it have been on that of primitive man! No laws
of reflection came within his ken. He looked down on the still
surface of tarn, or pool, or fountain, and saw, sinking
downwards, another world, another sky, losing themselves in
mystery. Mere wonder would yield place to meditation. Ah!
what secrets must lurk in those crystal depths, if only one could
surprise them--wrest them from the beings who inhabit that
nether realm! Possibly even the world-riddle might so be
solved! And thus it came to pass that most water spirits were
deemed to be dowered with prophetic gifts.

The Teutonic water-gods were "wise"--they could foretell the
future. In classical mythology, Proteus, the old man of the sea,
presents himself as a well-developed embodiment of this belief.
Old Homer knew how to use the material thus provided, and
Virgil, in his choicest manner, follows the lead so given. In the
fourth book of the Georgics, Aristaeus, who had lost his bees, in
despair appealed to his mother, the river-nymph, Cyrene. She
bids him consult Proteus, the old prophet of the sea. He follows
her counsel, captures Proteus, and compels him to tell the cause
of his trouble. "The seer at last constrained by force, rolled on
him eyes fierce-sparkling with grey light, and gnashing his teeth
in wrath, opened his lips to speak the oracles of fate."

Once more the transient must be allowed to fall away, and the
central intuition be recognised and grasped. The sense of a
secret to be gained, of a mystery to be revealed--of a broken
reflection of some fuller world--has been nurtured by the
reflections of form and light and colour in nature's mirror. The
older, simpler impressions made by such phenomena persist
with deeper meanings. The "natural" emotion they stimulate
affords the kind of sustenance on which Nature Mysticism can
thrive. Longfellow, in his poem, "The Bridge," strikes the
deeper note. The rushing water draws the poet's reflections
away from a world of imperfection to the sphere of the ideal.

"And for ever and for ever,
As long as the river flows,
As long as the heart has passions,
As long as life has woes;

The moon and its broken reflection
And its shadows shall appear,
As the symbol of love in heaven
And its wavering image here."

And thus the mountain tarn, the placid lake, the quiet river
reaches, the hidden pool, and the ocean at rest, have each and all
their soul language, and can speak to man as a sharer of
soul-nature. Well might the Hebrew psalmist give us one of the
marks of the Divine Shepherd--"He leadeth me beside the still

Next: Anaximenes And The Air

Previous: The Ocean

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