Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
The seasons and the months, especially those of the temperate
zones--how saturated with mysticism! The wealth of illustration
is so abounding that choice is wellnigh paralysed. Poets and
nature lovers are never weary of drawing on its inexhaustible
supplies. Take these verses from Tennyson's "Early Spring":
"Opens a door in Heaven;
From skies of glass
A Jacob's ladder falls
On greening grass,
And o'er the mountain-walls
Young angels pass.
For now the Heavenly Power
Makes all things new
And thaws the cold and fills
The flower with dew;
The blackbirds have their wills,
The poets too."
Or take these exultant lines from Coventry Patmore's
"'Twas when the spousal time of May
Hangs all the hedge with bridal wreaths,
And air's so sweet the bosom gay
Gives thanks for every breath it breathes;
When like to like is gladly moved,
And each thing joins in Spring's refrain,
'Let those love now who never loved;
Let those who have loved, love again.'"
Recall the poems that celebrate in endless chorus the emotions
stirred by the pomp and glory of the summer; by the fruitfulness
or sadness of the mellow autumn; by the keen exhilaration or
the frozen grip of winter. Some poets, like Blake, have written
special odes or sonnets on all the four; some like Keats, in his
"Ode to Autumn," have lavished their most consummate art on
the season which most appealed to them. Each month, too, has
its bards; its special group of qualities and the sentiments they
stimulate. Truly the heart of the nature-mystic rejoices as he
reflects on the inexhaustibility of material and of significance
And what of the flowers? Once again the theme is inexhaustible.
The poets vie with one another in their efforts to give
to even the humblest flowers their emotional and mystic
setting. Some of the loveliest of the old-world myths are busied
with accounting for the form or colour of the flowers.
Wordsworth's Daffodils, Burns's Daisy, Tennyson's "Flower in
the Crannied Wall," these are but fair blooms in a full and
dazzling cluster. Flowers (said a certain divine) are the sweetest
things God ever made and forgot to put a soul into. The
nature-mystic thankfully acknowledges the sweetness, but he questions
the absence of the soul! The degree of individuality is matter for
grave debate; but to assume its absence is to place oneself out of
focus for gaining true and living insight into nature's being.
How much more deep-founded is Wordsworth's faith "that
every flower enjoys the air it breathes."
Let us bring this matter to the test in regard to the big brothers
of the flowers--the trees. Passing by the ample range of striking
and beautiful myths and legends (packed as many of them are
with mystic meaning), let us turn to the expressions of personal
feeling which the literature of various ages provides in
abundance--limiting the view to certain typical examples. The
Teutonic myth of the World-tree was dealt with fully in the
chapter on Subterranean Waters. But it is well to mention it now
in connection with the far-extended group of myths which
centre in the idea of a tree of life, which preserved their vitality
in changing forms, and which even appear in Dante in his
account of the mystical marriage under the withered tree. Virgil
was a lover of trees; the glade and the forest appealed to him by
the same magic of suggested life as that which works on the
modern poet or nature-lover.
It is generally supposed that, in England, the loving insight of
the nature-mystic was practically unknown until Collins,
Thomson, and Crabbe led the way for the triumph of the Lake
This may be true for many natural objects--but it is not true for
all. How fresh these lines from an address to his muse by
"By the murmur of a spring,
Or the least bough's rustelling;
By a daisy whose leaves spread,
Shut when Titan goes to bed;
Or a shady bush or tree,--
She could more infuse in me
Than all Nature's beauties can
In some other wiser man."
Surely this is the voice of Wordsworth in Tudor phraseology.
Still more startling is this passage from Marvell, out of the
midst of the Commonwealth days: so remarkable is its Nature
Mysticism and its Wordsworthian feeling and insight, that it
must be given without curtailment. It occurs in the poem on the
"Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas,
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade,
Here at the fountain's sliding foot,
Or at some fruit-tree's mossy root,
Casting the body's vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide:
There, like a bird, it sits and sings,
Then whets and combs its silver wings,
And, till prepared for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light."
Every line of this extract is worthy of close study--not only for
its intrinsic beauty, but for its evidence of the working of the
immanent ideas, and the vivid sense of kinship with tree life.
The two lines
"Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade,"
are justly famous. But more significant are the three less known
"Casting the body's vest aside
My soul into the boughs does glide:
There like a bird it sits and sings."
Did Wordsworth, or Tennyson, or Shelley, ever give token of a
more vivid sense of kinship with the life of the tree? Is it not
palpable that the same essential form of intuitive experience is
struggling in each and all of these poets to find some fitting
expression? For Marvell, as for Wordsworth,
"The soft eye-music of slow-waving boughs"
seemed to fluctuate with an interior life and to call for joyous
Or, finally, study these passages from Walt Whitman, the sturdy
Westerner; his feeling for the mystic impulses from tree life is
exceptional, if not in its intensity, at any rate in his
determination to give it utterance. If trees do not talk, he says,
they certainly manage it "as well as most speaking, writing,
poetry, sermons--or rather they do a great deal better. I should
say indeed that those old dryad reminiscences are quite as true
as any, and profounder than most, reminiscences we get."
Farther on, speaking of evening lights and shades on foliage
grass, he says, "In the revealings of such light, such exceptional
hour, such mood, one does not wonder at the old story fables
(indeed, why fables?) of people falling into love-sickness with
trees, seiz'd ecstatic with the mystic realism of the resistless
silent strength in them--strength which, after all, is perhaps the
last, completest, highest beauty." In another place, he says, "I
hold on boughs or slender trees caressingly there in the sun and
shade, wrestle with their inmost stalwartness--and _know_ the
virtue thereof passes from them into me. (Or maybe we
interchange--maybe the trees are more aware of it all than I ever
thought.)" And once again, speaking of a yellow poplar tree,
"How strong, vital, enduring! How dumbly eloquent! What
suggestions of imperturbability and _being_, as against the
human trait of _seeming_. Then the qualities, almost emotional,
palpably artistic, heroic, of a tree; so innocent and harmless, yet
so savage. It _is_, yet says nothing. How it rebukes by its tough
and equable serenity all weathers." All this is unconventional!
So much the better! The identity of underlying sentiment comes
out the more clearly. Trees are not only alive (and yet how
much that fact alone contains!) but they have a character, an
individuality of their own; they can speak directly to the heart
and soul of man, and man can sympathise with them.
As for the animal world in the widest sense, it is plain that its
study, from the mystical point of view, forms a department to
itself. Granted that the transition from the mineral to the
organism is gradual, and that from the vegetable to the animal
still more gradual, the broad fact remains that, when we reach
the higher forms of the realm of living matter, we definitely
recognise many of the characteristics which are found in the
human soul--will, emotion, impulse, even intellectual activities.
Not only primitive man, but those also who are often far
advanced in mental development, attribute souls to animals, and
find it difficult to believe otherwise--as witness the totemistic
systems followed by theories of metempsychosis. And
Darwinism, far from destroying these old ideas, has simply
furnished a scientific basis for a new totemism.
As was remarked at the outset, this subject of what we may call
Animal Mysticism, lies outside our present province.
Nevertheless, a word or two showing how the physical, the
vegetable, and the animal are linked together in living mystical
union may fittingly bring this chapter to a close. Many of our
deepest and most original thinkers are feeling their way to this
larger Mysticism. Here are two examples taken almost at
random. Anatole France, in one of the many charming episodes
which render his story of the old savant, Sylvestre Bonnard, at
once so touching and so philosophic, takes his old hero under
the shade of some young oaks to meditate on the nature of the
soul and the destiny of man. The narrative proceeds thus: "Une
abeille, dont le corsage brun brillait au soleil comme une armure
de vieil or, vint se poser sur une fleur de mauve d'une sombre
richesse et bien ouverte sur sa tige touffue. Ce n'etait
certainement pas la premiere fois que je voyais un spectacle si
commun, mais c'etait la premiere que je le voyais avec une
curiosite si affectueuse et si intelligente. Je reconnus qu'il y
avait entre l'insecte et la fleur toutes sortes de sympathies et
mille rapports ingenieux que je n'avais pas soupconnes jusque
la. L'insecte, rassasie de nectar, s'elanca en ligne hardie. Je me
relevai du mieux que je pus, et me rajustai sur mes jambes--
Adieu, dis-je a la fleur et a l'abeille. Adieu. Puisse-je vivre
encore le temps de deviner le secret de vos harmonies. . . .
Combien le vieux mythe d'Antee est plein de sens! J'ai touche la
terre et je suis un nouvel homme, et voici qu'a soixante-dix ans
de nouvelles curiosites naissent dans mon ame comme on voit
des rejetons s'elancer du tronc creux d'un vieux saule."
"May I live long enough to solve the secret of your harmonies!"
There is the spirit of the true nature-mystic! But how will it be
solved? By intuition first--if ever the intellect does seize the
secret, it will be on the basis of intuition. It is with this
conviction in his mind that Maeterlinck meditates on the same
theme as that which arrested Anatole France. "Who shall tell us,
oh, little people (the bees), that are so profoundly in earnest,
that have fed on the warmth and the light and on nature's purest,
the soul of the flowers--wherein matter for once seems to smile
and put forth its most wistful effort towards beauty and
happiness--who shall tell us what problems you have resolved,
but we not yet; what certitudes you have acquired, that we have
still to conquer? And if you have truly resolved these problems,
acquired these certitudes, by the aid of some blind and primitive
impulse and not through the intellect, then to what enigma,
more insoluble still, are you not urging us on?"
Such is the leaven that is working in much of the foremost
thinking of our time. The reign of materialism is passing--that
of mysticism waxing in imperative insistence and extent of
sway. And the heart of the nature-mystic rejoices to know that
his master-principle of kinship universal is coming to its own.
Anatole France and Maeterlinck are striving to seize on the
harmonies between the physical, the vegetable, and the animal
spheres--the air and sunshine, the flowers, and the bees; add the
moral and spiritual harmonies, and Mysticism stands complete--
it strives to read the secret of existence as a whole, of the "_elan
vital_" in this or any other world.