Unreal Nature

November 26, 2016

A Simple Emotional Hunger

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… Disguise after disguise has been lifted away from the landscape …

This is from Richard Wilbur’s essay ‘Poetry and the Landscape’ found in The New Landscape in Art and Science by Gyorgy Kepes (1956; 1967):

… “They’re millows,” he [Wilbur’s three-year-old son] told me. “Look at all the millows.” No hesitation; no bravado; with a serene Adamite confidence he had found a name for something nameless, and brought it under our verbal control. Millows they were.

I, of course, was aware that there must be a right name for those plants, and was not wholly easy until I had got it from a Harvard botanist. The right generic name was Lycopodium (the vulgar term was club-moss).

… I was left with two versions of one plant on my hands. On the one hand there was the millow, a plant named on a certain day in April in the Lincoln woods, and involved, for me with my feeling for my son, and with all the thoughts and sensations I was having on that day. On the other hand there was a plant of the genus Lycopodium, a pteridophyte distinguishable from the mosses through its possession of well-developed stems and leaves and true roots; a plant of a certain description and presumptive history, which bore no necessary relation to any place, day, person, thought, or feeling.

It is the millow with which we are more familiar; it is the Lycopodium which we are more disposed to believe. So that however personally we may take the landscape, however much sympathy and meaning we may discover in it, there is always a suspicion that our words are not anchored in the objects at all — that the word tree does not harpoon and capture the tree, but merely flies feintingly towards it and, like a boomerang, returns to hand.

… we are a long way from Isis; from the shield of Achilles, with its organic view of man-and-nature; from the myth of Chiron’s mentorship; from the landscape conceived as a book in which to read divine truths — “sermons in stone”; from the vaguer and more diluted analogical thought of the German romantics, of Shelley, Poe, Baudelaire, Emerson, Thoreau … . Disguise after disguise has been lifted away from the landscape; its latest disguise, but surely not its last, is a naked irrelevance.

… In various ways, all of the arts have now “received” the industrial revolution. It would now seem one important need of our culture to repair its relations with the natural world — to feel our surroundings as an ensemble and to take them personally. (I assume that any sensitive person feels this as a simple emotional hunger, and I don’t propose to argue with anyone who does not.)

… If I write of the landscape as it ribbons past the train window, fusing it with my thoughts and feelings and interpreting it through my human senses, it does not trouble me that my words do not essentialize it. What I write, as my words energetically unravel and shape themselves, is a part of the truth of things, and a gesture toward the sources of form and energy.

My most recent previous post from Kepes’s book is here.

-Julie

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