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 natur
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,

tells how

"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

as consciousness.

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

his poems:

"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.