Who has not heard of the psychological phenomenon known as Conversion? Well! just as the secular life of contemplation celebrates its own natural Mass, so there must come sometimes to a crowd-poisoned personality a startling moment of awakening that is exactly like a religious Conversion. We suddenly feel as if we had never beheld the actual face of the world before. In shame we recognize how many suns, how many moons, have come and gone, without one real flash of conscious awareness transporting our heavy souls. And we remember in a rush of remorse like the prodigal’s weeping with what a hard, corrupt, averted eye we have caught without catching, and noted without noting, that labouring moon, that melting and liquid landscape, those enchanted hedgerows. It is not merely the aesthetic or the poetical reaction to these things that I have in mind. What I am thinking of is an eternal necessity of human nature, like the eating or drinking of some sort of planetary sacrament, which is neglected at our peril. Yes, you can be as thick-skinned and unpoetical as you please; but there is a primeval necessity, harsh, inhuman, rugged, formidable–not in the least “artistic” or sentimental–about keeping our eye upon sun, moon, earth, sky, sea, and letting our nature grow “native and indued” to these solemn powers.
The religion of poetry rests to-day, as it did in the time of Homer, on an impassioned appreciation of appearances. It is an austere religion that demands a certain detachment, a certain selfless dedication. When once, however, we have become initiates, how rich is our reward! Never again, not for a single moment, can we become submerged by the importunities of unillumined reality; the least favourable daily incident finding a place in our particular poetic perspective, in this inspired perspective that never loses sight of our lot upon this planet, a planet dancing in sunlit space, inhabited by animals grown wise; by a breed of dreamers malign and magnanimous, sturdily camped in their generations upon a corn-bearing tilth, and covetous of an unending spirit life.
Let two persons go out for a walk; the one a good sketcher, the other having no taste of the kind. Let them go down a green lane. There will be a great difference in the scene as perceived by the two individuals. The one will see a lane and trees; he will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect, but that the trees make the lane shady and cool; and he will see an old woman in a red cloak; c’est voilà tout!
But what will the sketcher see? His eye is accustomed to search into the cause of beauty, and penetrate the minutest parts of loveliness. He looks up, and observes how the showery and subdivided sunshine comes sprinkled down among the gleaming leaves overhead, till the air is filled with the emerald light, and the motes dance in the green, glittering lines that shoot down upon the thicker masses of clustered foliage that stand out so bright and beautiful from the dark, retiring shadows of the inner tree, where the white light again comes flashing in from behind, like showers of stars; and here and there a bough is seen emerging from the veil of leaves, of a hundred varied colours, where the old and gnarled wood is covered with the brightness,–the jewel brightness of the emerald moss, or the variegated and fantastic lichens, white and blue, purple and red, all mellowed and mingled into a garment of beauty from the old withered branch. Then come the cavernous trunks, and the twisted roots that grasp with their snake-like coils at the steep bank, whose turfy slope is inlaid with flowers of a thousand dyes, each with his diadem of dew: and down like a visiting angel, looks one ray of golden light, and passes over the glittering turf–kiss, kiss, kissing every blossom, until the laughing flowers have lighted up the lips of the grass with one bright and beautiful smile, that is seen far, far away among the shadows of the old trees, like a gleam of summer lightening along the darkness of an evening cloud.
Hat tip:Brain Pickings.