Dernière mise à jour : 25 sept. 2022
The Pleasures of Life
THE BEAUTIES OF NATURE
The love of Nature is a great gift, and if it is frozen or crushed out, the character can hardly fail to suffer from the loss. I will not, indeed, say that a person who does not love Nature is necessarily bad; or that one who does is necessarily good; but it is to most minds a great help. Many, as Miss Cobbe says, enter the Temple through the gate called Beautiful.
There are doubtless some to whom none of the beautiful wonders of Nature; neither the glories of the rising or setting sun; the magnificent spectacle of the boundless ocean, sometimes so grand in its peaceful tranquillity, at others so majestic in its mighty power; the forests agitated by the storm, or alive with the song of birds; nor the glaciers and mountains -- there are doubtless some whom none of these magnificent spectacles can move, whom
"all the glories of heaven and earth may pass in daily succession without touching their hearts or elevating their minds."
Such men are indeed pitiable. But, happily, they are exceptions. If we can none of us as yet fully appreciate the beauties of Nature, we are beginning to do so more and more.
For most of us the early summer has a special charm. The very life is luxury. The air is full of scent, and sound, and sunshine, of the song of birds and the murmur of insects; the meadows gleam with golden buttercups, it almost seems as if one could see the grass grow and the buds open; the bees hum for very joy, and the air is full of a thousand scents, above all perhaps that of new-mown hay.
The exquisite beauty and delight of a fine summer day in the country has never perhaps been more truly, and therefore more beautifully, described than by Jefferies in his "Pageant of Summer."
"I linger in the midst of the long grass, the luxury of the leaves, and the song in the very air. I seem as if I could feel all the glowing life the sunshine gives and the south wind calls to being. The endless grass, the endless leaves, the immense strength of the oak expanding, the unalloyed joy of finch and blackbird; from all of them I receive a little.... In the blackbird's melody one note is mine; in the dance of the leaf shadows the formed maze is for me, though the motion is theirs; the flowers with a thousand faces have collected the kisses of the morning. Feeling with them, I receive some, at least, of their fulness of life. Never could I have enough; never stay long enough ....
The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time.... These are the only hours that are not wasted-these hours that absorb the soul and fill it with beauty. This is real life, and all else is illusion, or mere endurance. To be beautiful and to be calm, without mental fear, is the ideal of Nature. If I cannot achieve it, at least I can think it."
Wordsworth was an intense lover of nature; yet does he not tell us, in lines which every Londoner will appreciate, that he knew nothing in nature more fair, no calm more deep, than the city of London at early dawn ?
"Earth has not anything to show more fair;
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep !
The river glideth at its own sweet will:
Dear God ! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still !"
Milton also described London as
"Too blest abode, no loveliness we see
In all the earth, but it abounds in thee."
But after being some time in a great city, one feels a longing for the country.
"The meanest floweret of the vale,
The simplest note that swells the gale,
The common sun, the air, the skies,
To him are opening paradise."
Here Gray justly places flowers in the first place, for when in any great town we think of the country, flowers seem first to suggest themselves.
"Flowers," says Ruskin, "seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity. Children love them; quiet, tender, contented, ordinary people love them as they grow; luxurious and disorderly people rejoice in them gathered. They are the cottager's treasure; and in the crowded town mark, as with a little broken fragment of rainbow the windows of the workers in whose heart rest the covenant of peace."
But in the crowded street, or even in the formal garden, flowers always seem, to me at least, as if they were pining for the freedom of the woods and fields, where they can live and grow as they please.
There are flowers for almost all seasons and all places. Flowers for spring, summer, and autumn, while even in the very depth of winter here and there one makes its appearance. There are flowers of the fields and woods and hedgerows, of the seashore and the lake's margin, of the mountain-side up to the very edge of the eternal snow. And what an infinite variety they present.
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty; violets, dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes,
Or Cytherea's breath; pale primroses,
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bright Phoebus in his strength, a malady
Most incident to maids; bold oxlips and
The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds,
The flower-de-luce being one."
Nor are they mere delights to the eye; they are full of mystery and suggestions. They almost seem like enchanted princesses waiting for some princely deliverer.
Wordsworth tells us that
"To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."
Every color again, every variety of form, has some purpose and explanation.
And yet, lovely as Flowers are, Leaves add even more to the Beauty of Nature. Trees in our northern latitudes seldom own large flowers; and though of course there are notable exceptions, such as the Horse-chestnut, still even in these cases the flowers live only a few days, while the leaves last for months.
Every tree indeed is a picture in itself: The gnarled and rugged Oak, the symbol and source of our navy, sacred to the memory of the Druids, the type of strength, the sovereign of British trees; the Chestnut, with its beautiful, tapering, and rich green, glossy leaves, its delicious fruit, and to the durability of which we owe the grand and historic roof of Westminster Abbey.
The Birch is the queen of trees, with her feathery foliage, scarcely visible in spring but turning to leaves of gold in autumn; the pendulous twigs tinged with purple, and silver stems so brilliantly marked with black and white.
The Elm forms grand masses of foliage which turn a beautiful golden yellow in autumn; and the Black Poplar with its perpendicular leaves, rustling and trembling with every breath of wind, towers over most other forest trees.
The Beech enlivens the country by its tender green in spring, rich green in summer, and glorious gold and orange in autumn, set off by the graceful gray stems; and has moreover, such a wealth of leaves that in autumn there are enough not only to clothe the tree itself but to cover the grass underneath.
If the Beech owes much to its delicate gray stem, even more beautiful is the reddish crimson of the Scotch Pines, in such charming contrast with the rich green of the foliage, by which it is shown off rather than hidden; and, with the green spires of the Firs, they keep the woods warm in winter.
Nor must I overlook the smaller trees: the Yew with its thick green foliage; the wild Guelder rose, which lights up the woods in autumn with translucent glossy berries and many-tinted leaves; or the Bryonies, the Briar, the Traveler's Joy, and many another plant, even humbler perhaps, and yet each with some exquisite beauty and grace of its own, so that we must all have sometimes felt our hearts overflowing with gladness and gratitude, as if the woods were full of music -- as if
"The woods were filled so full with song
There seemed no room for sense of wrong."
On the whole no doubt, woodlands are less beautiful in the winter: yet even then the delicate tracery of the branches, which cannot be so well seen when they are clothed with leaves, has a special beauty of its own; while every now and then hoar frost or snow settles like silver on every branch and twig, lighting up the forest as if by enchantment in preparation for some fairy festival.
I feel with Jefferies that
"by day or by night, summer or winter, beneath trees the heart feels nearer to that depth of life which the far sky means. The rest of spirit found only in beauty, ideal and pure, comes there because the distance seems within touch of thought."