Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
‘To Autumn’, John Keats
Works praising the joys of nature, such as Keats’ ‘To Autumn’, strike a chord with me. I read articles such as
Alas, rarely, since pre-pubescence, when my parents would take my siblings and me for a serene post-Sunday lunch walk, have I spent an afternoon thus. After all, I have things to do and places to be, people to meet and sport to watch: I don’t have time to waste rambling on the moors of the British countryside, like some aristocratic 18th century Romantic poet.
And yet, when I chance across an article such as that mentioned, I am reminded of the pleasure of doing just that: I am reminded of the wistfulness, the beauty and the deep sense of grandeur that a gust of wind or a beam of sunshine can imbue in me. I am reminded of my school English classes, when I read the poetry of Shelley and Wordsworth and I heard their naturalistic sighs of contentment; they seemed to speak to me through the centuries, urging me to forsake the life in the City that represents success in the modern age. They made me long for the days of England as a green and pleasant land, long to live in the scenes recorded for our benefit by the likes of Constable and Turner.
Those glorious landscapes remain, if we know only where to look for them. We are fortunate enough to reside in a country that, despite initializing the Industrial Revolution, has preserved some of its attractiveness. Even those living in the bastion of urbanization that is London need travel only a mile or two outside the M25 to witness scenes similar to those described to us by the Romantics.
But we don’t. We continue to live our atomized lives, surviving on ready meals, working from home and listening to our own personalised music collections. Instead of turning to nature and literature to enhance our lives or alleviate our sorrows, we turn to alcohol, vomit and violence. We prefer to spend a day trawling our Facebook News Feed, discovering what our acquaintances ate for breakfast, than outdoors, experiencing the wonderful aesthetics of the natural world.
Here I must pause, for fear of turning a reflection on the many virtues of Mother Nature into a political polemic against the errant motivations of our 21st century world; for nature is a positive: something that can be enjoyed whatever path one chooses in life. It is not something that must come at the cost of personal liberation and choice, and nor is it something that is inconsistent with rampant consumerism or technological advancement.
That is the crucial point. One can live the high life, driving fast cars and making millions, but there is always time for a stroll through the local forest, or to take a hike along the coastline. Taking some time out from the pressures of modern life and the stresses of the testosterone-driven working world give one a sense of perspective, as well as an enduring notion of peacefulness. Our ephemeral lives will all end some day, but spending a smidgeon of our time on our planet with nature is not a waste; if anything, we should enjoy our surroundings while we still have the chance. Otherwise, what is the point? Make £10 million by the age of 40, retire…and what then?
In the natural world, unlike the financial world, there is something for everyone. Even a sighting of the smallest and meanest animal can give one immense pleasure and satisfaction. My favourite Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, even found the time to write an ode to a single bird in ‘To a Skylark’, the beginning of which reads as follows:
HAIL to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert—
That from heaven or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.
Without performing a full literary analysis of his work, the description is glorious, and gives an extraordinary and touching insight into the effect one small part of nature has on him.
This appreciation, however well-hidden by a façade of soullessness, is present in everyone, even if the ability to record the sensation quite so articulately is not. So let us use what is given freely to us: let us enjoy our surroundings. Let us be at peace with the world, and rejoice in the gratification of serenity. Let us indulge in the joie de vivre.