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
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
The Beautiful And The Ugly
The Charge Of Anthropomorphism
The Expanse Of Heaven--colour
The Immanent Idea
The Moon--a Special Problem
The Waters Under The Earth
Will And Consciousness In Nature
Winds And Clouds
Winds And Clouds
The recognition of the mystic element in external nature has had
its fluctuations in most ages and climes, and not least so in
England. Marvel, in his day, felt the numbness creeping on that
comes of divorce from nature, and uttered his plaint of "The
Mower against Gardens."
"Tis all enforced, the fountain and the grot,
While the sweet fields do lie forgot,
Where willing nature does to all dispense
A wild and fragrant innocence."
And declared of the polished statues made to adorn the gardens,
"howsoe'er the figures do excel,
The gods themselves with us do dwell."
His protests, however, did not avail to ward off the artificiality
of the reign of Pope. Here are two lines from the "Essay on
"Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutored mind
Sees God in clouds, or hears Him in the wind."
"Untutored!" The poor Indian could have taught Pope many
things, and perhaps made a nobler man of him! For the poetry
and mystic influence of the winds were experienced and
expressed with a fullness of experience and feeling to which the
town-bred poet was all too great a stranger. The range, the
beauty and vigour of the myth of the four winds as developed
among the native races of America (says Tylor) had scarcely a
rival elsewhere in the mythology of the world. They evolved
"the mystic quaternion"--the wild and cruel North Wind--the
lazy South, the lover--the East Wind, the morning bringer--and
the West, Mudjekeewis, the father of them all. Outside the
quaternion were the dancing Pauppukkeewis, the Whirlwind,
and the fierce and shifty hero, Monobozho, the North-West
Wind. The spirit of these legends, if not their accurate detail,
can be appreciated in Longfellow's "Hiawatha."
The magnificent imagery of the Hebrew psalmists should have
given to Pope at least a touch of sympathy with "the untutored
mind"; for they love to represent God making "the winds His
messengers," or as Himself "flying on the wings of the wind."
Or the prophet Ezekiel could have brought home to him some of
the deeper thoughts that the winds have stirred in the soul of
man. "Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy,
son of man, and say to the wind: . . . Come from the four winds,
O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." The
Indian undoubtedly lacked tuition, but not exactly of the kind
his would-be tutor could bestow. Man, says Browning,
"imprints for ever
His presence on all lifeless things: the winds
Are henceforth voices, wailing or a shout,
A querulous mutter, or a quick gay laugh."
That is better. But why "lifeless"? Why "imprints"? Best is the
Hebrew apostrophe--"come from the four winds, O breath, and
breathe--that we may live. Give us of the life that is in you."
And that is the mystic's prayer.
The winds of heaven were bound to make indelible impressions
on the primitive mind. But few will be prepared for Max
Mueller's statement that the wind, next to fire, is the
most important phenomenon in nature which has led to the
conception of a divine being. But our surprise ceases when we
realise how manifest and universal are the parts played by the
wind in relation to man's weal or woe--they bring the rain, they
drive the storm, they clear the air. The landsman knows much--
the sailor more. Guy de Maupassant makes the sailor say, "Vous
ne le (vent) connaissez point, gens de la terre! Nous autres, nous
le connaissons plus que notre pere ou que notre mere, cet
invisible, ce terrible, ce capricieux, ce sournois, ce feroce. Nous
l'aimons et nous le redoutons, nous savons ses malices et ses
coleres . . . car la lutte entre nous et lui ne s'interrompt
Wind-gods and wind-myths are practically of world-wide
diffusion. Those of the American Indians have already been
noted. Similar, if less striking and poetical, are those which
prevail among the Polynesians and Maoris. Those of the Greeks
and Romans are best known, but have abundant parallels in
other lands. The Maruts of the Vedic hymns are unequivocally
storm-gods, who uproot forests and shatter rocks--strikers,
shouters, warriors--though able anon to take the form of
new-born babes. The Babylonians had their wind-gods, good and
bad, created in the lower part of the heaven, and joining at times
in the fateful fight against the dragon. And our Teutonic fathers
had their storm-gods who were brave warriors, Odin, or Wodin,
being the chief. Grimm thus sums up Wodin's characteristics.
"He is the all-pervading and formative power, who bestows
shape and beauty on man and all things, from whom proceeds
the gift of song, and the management of war and victory, on
whom at the same time depends the fertility of the soil, nay,
wishing and all the highest gifts and blessings." We have here a
typical transition. The abstract conception of "the all-pervading
creative and formative power is evidently later than that of the
storm-god, rushing through the air in the midst of the howling
tempest--later even than that of the god who quaffs the draught
of inspiration and shares it with seers, bards, and faithful fallen
warriors. The idea of life or soul emerges, and frees itself
from its cruder elements; the tempest god yields place to the
All-Father, sitting on the throne of the world. The same evolution
is seen in the case of the cloud-compelling Zeus. Nay, Jehovah
Himself would seem to have been originally a god of storms,
sitting above the canopy of the aerial water-flood, "making the
clouds His chariot," and "walking upon the wings of the wind,"
His voice the thunder, His shaft the lightning. How strange and
unexpected the transformations of these immanent ideas! Yet
there is organic continuity throughout. So large is the place
filled by the phenomena of the winds, that human imagination
has not always stopped short at their mere personification or
deification. In many American languages, we are told, the same
word is used for storm and for god; so, too, with certain tribes
in Central Africa. That is to say, the name for the storm-wind
has become the general name for deity!
But how about the present? Can it be said that in the present
day, among civilised peoples, the phenomena of the winds have
any important part to play? An appeal to literature is decisive on
the point. No description of open-air life, or even of life within
doors where nature is not altogether shut out, can pass over the
emotional influences of the winds. They sob, they moan, they
sigh; they rustle, roar, or bellow; they exhilarate or depress;
they suggest many and varied trains of thought.
"Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude"--
the connection here is not altogether based on fancy--the biting
winds of winter have their own emotional "tone" for susceptible
minds, just as truly as the spanking breeze "that follows fast,"
or the balmy zephyr of summer, and have moulded modern
thought in manifold and unsuspected modes. Shelley, who has
been called the great laureate of the wind, contemplating the
coming storm and the wild whirling of the autumn leaves, is
profoundly moved and exclaims:
"O wild West-Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being--
. . . Be thou, spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one,
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth."
Alexander Smith, with a spirit rendered buoyant by the blast,
"The Wind, that grand old harper, smote
His thunder harp of pines."
Guy de Maupassant, in the passage already partly quoted, shows
that the modern sailor can still personify. "Quel personnage, le
vent, pour les marins! On en parle comme d'un homme, d'un souverain
tout puissant, tantot terrible et tantot bienveillant. . . .
Aucun ennemi ne nous donne que lui la sensation du combat, ne
nous force a tant de prevoyance, car il est le maitre de la mer,
celui qu'on peut eviter, utiliser ou fuir, mais qu'on ne dompte
jamais." Kingsley breaks forth:
"Welcome, wild North-Easter!
Shame it is to see
Odes to every zephyr;
Ne'er an ode to thee.
. . .
Come as came our fathers,
Heralded by thee,
Conquering from the eastward,
Lords by land and sea.
Come, and strong within us
Stir the Viking's blood,
Bracing brain and sinew;
Blow, thou wind of God!"
No, the power of vision is not dim, on man's part; nor, on the
part of the winds of heaven, is abated their natural power to rule
men's moods as they rule the responsive ocean. Those whose
mystic insight is undulled by the materialistic tendencies of the
age can still have glimpses of
"heaven's cherubim, hors'd
Upon the sightless couriers of the air."
The untutored mind of the Indian, says Pope, sees God not only
in winds, but in clouds. Clouds are, so to speak, the creations of
the air, and share its mystic fortunes. Even Keble could respond
to their suggestion of life, and asks:
"The clouds that wrap the setting sun,
Why, as we watch their floating wreath,
Seem they the breath of life to breathe?"
Wordsworth could not fail to have this experience:
"I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills."
These are genuine echoes of primitive feeling. Needless to
elaborate the evidence of the ancient myths or of the beliefs of
primitive peoples. Not that the evidence will not amply repay
study, but that for the purpose of grasping general principles,
that just adduced in the case of the winds has sufficiently served
our turn. The following old Finnish prayer, however, is so
fraught with significance that it would be unpardonable to pass
it by. It is addressed to Ukko, the Heaven-god:
"Ukko, thou, O God above us,
Thou, O Father in the heavens,
Thou who rulest in the cloud-land,
And the little cloud-lambs leadest,
Send us down the rain from heaven,
Make the drops to drop with honey,
Let the drooping corn look upward,
Let the grain with plenty rustle."
This beautiful little poem-prayer places us about midway in the
development of the conscious expression of the mystic
influences exercised by cloud-land. We see how, as with the
winds, the clouds have played a severely practical role among
the conditions which have rendered human life possible upon
the globe. The original animistic conception of the clouds as
themselves personal agents has yielded to that of a god who
rules the clouds, though the animistic tendency still remains in
the expression, "the little cloud-lambs." Now we have passed to
the stage of modern animism which regards the clouds as a part
of a vast system, the essential being of which must be described
The chief of the ideas immanent in cloud scenery would seem to
be the vagueness and unsubstantiality of its ever-changing
pageantry, prompting dreams of glorious possibilities which our
earthly environment is yet too gross to realise. At any rate, it is
safe to assert that this constituted its main charm for the
passionately visionary soul of Shelley. Study this description of
a cloud-scape--one among a host which could be gathered from
"The charm in which the sun has sunk, is shut
By darkest barriers of enormous cloud,
Like mountain over mountain huddled--but
Growing and moving upwards in a crowd,
And over it a space of watery blue,
Which the keen evening star is shining through."
Or study that poem, unsurpassable of its kind, devoted wholly
to this theme--especially the stanza which closes it:
"I am the daughter of earth and water,
And the nursling of the sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain, when with never a stain
The pavilion of heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams,
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb
I arise and unbuild it again."
How crammed are these lines with the purest Nature Mysticism
as moderns understand it! The sense of living process reigns
supreme. They are the offspring, not of fancy, nor even of
imagination as ordinarily conceived--but of insight, of vision, of
living communion with a living world.
It is tempting, while dealing with the airy realms of cloud-land,
to dwell at length on the mystic influence of the queen of aerial
phenomena--the rainbow. That influence in the past has been
immense; it still is, and ever will be, a power to be reckoned
with. Science cannot rob it of its glories. The gold-winged Iris
of Homer, swifter-footed than the wind, has passed. The
Genesis story of "the bow in the cloud" may dissolve in the
alembic of criticism--but the rainbow itself remains, still a
sevenfold bridge of souls from this solid-seeming earth to a
rarer land beyond. Who is there who cannot sympathise with
"My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky.
So was it when I was a child;
So it is now I am a man;
So let it be when I am old--
Or let me die."
Tempting is it also to treat of the birds--the denizens of the air--
to comment on the exquisite trio of bird-poems, Wordsworth's
"Cuckoo," Shelley's "Ode to a Skylark," and Keats' "Ode to a
Nightingale." For assuredly it is the medium in which these
delicate creatures pass their lives that gives them the chiefest
share of their magic and their mystery. But this gem from
Victor Hugo must suffice for all the tuneful choir:
"Like a songbird be thou on life's bough,
Lifting thy lay of love.
So sing to its shaking,
So spring at its breaking,
Into the heaven above."
The dome of air thus expands into the dome of heaven with its
eternal fires, and bids us turn to the third of the ancient sages
whose speculations are aiding our steps in this tentative study.
Next: Heracleitus And The Cosmic Fire
Previous: Anaximenes And The Air