"Faith Hope Love", abstraction ad infinitum, beauty, Beauty Goodness Truth, beauty in nature, being, concept / abstraction, Gretel Ehrlich, immanence and transcendence, Jim Craig, John Tarrant, Justin Lee, Lew Sarett (1888 - 1954), meaning, Michael McCarthy, nature and health, ontology, perception, UNCAP, verse in iambic pentameter
O molten dewdrop, trembling in the light
Of dawn, and clinging to the brookmint-blade–
A pendent opal on a breast of jade–
How came your splendor, so limpid and so bright?
How your clear symmetry? And what weird sleight
Of art suffused you with each rainbow-shade,
Captured your evanescent hour, and made
A quivering soul from fire and mist and night?
Fleeting your span! Yet I shall be content
To let the Cosmic Power that built in you
Such frail wet beauty, such luster opulent,
And such immortal life as lies in dew,
Fashion the fragile moment of my soul
In what frail shape It deems a perfect whole.
From the 1925 collection, Slow Smoke, by Lew Sarett (1888 – 1954); his third (of five) volume of poems. He was born Lewis Zaratzsky, in Chicago, to parents recently immigrated from Eastern Europe. He led a simple yet brightly-hued life: university athlete and orator; forest ranger; professor of English and Public Speaking (his first non-poetry volume, Personal Power Through Speech, was published in 1932); advisor on Indian affairs to the Department of the Interior, horticulturalist. A lifelong lover of the natural world, he spent a decade of the new century living among the Chippewa of the Lake Superior region, the “North Country”—the forests of the land of K’cheegamee—where he worked as woodsman and guide: here he grew fully into his identity as an interpreter and poet of the wilderness. His first book of poetry, Many Many Moons, was published in 1920, with an introduction by his friend, Carl Sandburg. In 1922 a second volume, The Box of God, was published; its poems further reflect the life, legends and customs of the Chippewa.
In an article published in the Ironwood (Michigan) Daily Globe on July 7, 1926, he wrote: A civilization that makes a man unable to live with himself and his family, unable to find contentment in simple, wholesome home life close to the soil, that makes a man dependent on an artificial, hectic jazz life outside of his home – a civilization like that is tragically defective somewhere.
(Most of the above description is based on articles on two fascinating sites: UNCAP (Uncovering Chicago Archives Project), a project of University of Chicago Libraries, is “a model for discovering primary sources across collections and institutions”; Under Every Tombstone, a blog by Jim Craig, who writes, “There is a story under every tombstone . . . While photographing graves for Find A Grave or genealogy research, I have come across many interesting stories about the people buried under those tombstones. In this blog I will share some of the most interesting of these stories with you. Why? So these people will not be forgotten.”
Here are the link addresses:
But, speaking of . . . beauty.
There’s a passage in Michael McCarthy’s The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy (2015 memoir/science/cri de coeur), in which he muses upon this “peculiar property of the earth, that it offers us beauty as well as the means to survive . . . a wondrous property, and it greatly moves us—as behaviourally modern humans, anyway”. (156)*
Isn’t this eminently worthy of our wonder! Are we the only species on this earth who, in our capacity to abstract, to conceptualize, to step outside of our experience, as it were, are we alone in perceiving/apprehending beauty?
And is this beauty extant outside us, “or” does it actually form within us as we look about . . . and this nexus, of course, is where my sometime obsession with objective and subjective realities springs afresh and rejoices: an ever-renewed mystery, beautiful in itself.
But as for this moment, beauty beckons to us: behold! Behold!…for the sake of your body and the sake of your soul.
* McCarthy goes on to sadly observe that with the advent of modernism (late 19th century, into 20th) in philosophy and the arts, and the emerging, later, of cultural tides which reject concepts such as excellence in favour of an envisioned egalitarianism, “in more recent decades the process has gone even further, and beauty has become suspect . . . has in some quarters become bound up in ideology, it has become associated with privilege, it is seen as the plaything of those who have greater advantages, and I have found myself wondering (only in idle moments, of course) if the day might not come when to express open and unqualified admiration for an orchid, say—I mean for its beauty, its elegance and its glamour, all qualities many orchids undeniably possess—might be thought inappropriate . . .” (156-7).
Which thoughts, in turn, bring to mind something James Hillman wrote in 1992, quoted by John O’Donohue in his 2003/4 book, Beauty:
The arts, whose task once was considered to be that of manifesting the beautiful, will discuss the idea only to dismiss it, regarding beauty only as the pretty, the simple, the pleasing, the mindless and the easy. Because beauty is conceived so naively, it appears as merely naive, and can be tolerated only if complicated by discord, shock, violence, and harsh terrestrial realities. I therefore feel justified in speaking of the repression of beauty.
An occasional personal thought detour through the back country of my mind. Currently in need of some serious editing.
Beauty, Truth, Goodness: do these refer to absolute or to relative realities?
Is there such a thing as an objective reality? If we answer, “Yes”, how do we know this? Can we ‘prove’ it? Doubtful that we might prove it; anything we perceive is through a subjective lens.
And, how are they related: ‘absolute’,’objective’ realities; and ‘relative’, ‘subjective’ realities? I imagine a coin, with two sides: on one side, the objective/subjective tension; on the other, the absolute/relative dichotomy. (Alternatively, the absolute/objective on one side, the subjective/relative reality on the other.
And, the ‘coin’ of Perception: the one side, the perceiver, the subject of the perception, the response to the object; the flipside, the perceived, the object of perception, the given.
the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being
I easily lose my way in the terminology of philosophy, but a couple of days ago I stumbled through a piece by Justin Lee online which makes reference to “a participatory ontology that does not reduce Being to mere immanence, but appeals to the irreducible unity of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in the perfect simplicity of transcendent being” . . . This was at:
And it occurs to me about these ‘things’, these peradventure objective realities, these “Truth, Goodness, Beauty”: perhaps they (or our idea of, our faith (or not) in, at least, their existence) are signposts granted us (by God, or the universe, or natural selection—however you conceive the source / generation of our life and consciousness) to vouchsafe with us handholds of meaning (“meaning”!) on our journey; perhaps to awaken in us (in our grateful—or desperate—response) another trio, that of “Hope, Faith, Love” . . . which, in turn, provide further strength and courage to face what is not true, not good, not beautiful in our lives. (Please don’t imagine that I would attempt to define any of these concepts; try to provide your own definition, it will be of greater value to you.)
(I’ve not yet posted T. S. Eliot on the pages of this blog, but I clearly recall him writing that hope would be hope for the wrong thing . . . Perhaps these three virtues might be subsumed by another concept . . . personal kindness? Another ‘coin’ of our lives, this one, the ‘coin’ of an individual’s human Being, would have volition, capacity, choice on the one side, and awareness and kindness on the other: the given, the response.)
Concepts, concepts, yes—but a concept wouldn’t exist unless it reflected our experience and our need to share it.
‘Time’ is a concept. ‘Life’ itself is a concept.
Other creatures/beings create concepts, too; bees’ dances, whales’ songs, and all the other infinitely varied forms communication takes on in the natural world . . . but the concepts we humans might consider uniquely human are actually concepts about concepts, or concepts on top of concepts . . . which, evidently, we need to engage in our lives, to a greater or lesser extent. Hence, life, death; reality; action, repose; the true, the false; the good, the bad; the beautiful, the ugly; hope, faith, love, fear, suffering, despair, courage, gratitude, apathy; the secular, the sacred; awareness, ignorance; meaning, no-meaning; the absolute, the relative; the objective, the subjective; thinking, feeling, intuition; etc., etc., ad infinitum.
And then there is math, humor, art, music, all ‘conscious’ form-giving of the creative impulse.
In Women Food and God Geneen Roth quotes John Tarrant: “All wanting—for love, to be seen for who we are, for a new red car, is wanting to find and be taken into this mysterious depth in things.”
When we are in nature, aware of the here and now of that in which we’re immersed, we forget that we ‘want’: there is enough here; now suffices. Gretel Ehrlich: “To trace the history of a river or a raindrop…is also to trace the history of the soul, the history of the mind descending and arising in the body. In both, we constantly seek and stumble upon divinity, which like feeding the lake, and the spring becoming a waterfall, feeds, spills, falls, and feeds itself all over again.” (Islands, the Universe, Home, 1991)