The beauty of the world about us is only according to what we
ourselves bring to it.
Shaker saying (United States)
There are many ways of conveying this idea that we are inescapably and inextricably bound up with the world around us, but this simple Shaker saying will do.
The other day my husband and I were talking about the Green Belt, where we live, and how it is constantly degraded, albeit in an insidious way. People put up ramshackle sheds (often ugly old shipping containers) for their horses, and divide fields with white plastic tape, and grub out old hedges and put up nasty fencing instead. It amazes me that they don’t seem to care about how things look, how they are kept.
So what they are ‘bringing to’ this environment is lazy carelessness. Nothing else. In the end the result can only be despoliation. And it’s then that the planners says, ‘Well, it’s not very beautiful is it? Not really worth saving, so now we must build on it.’
The other day my husband decided to go on a litter pick. His haul included the inevitable cans chucked from cars, sweet and crisp wrappers, and so on. The worst thing was an old-style computer chucked over a bridge by our field and into the river. Dumping the heavy thing would have taken effort – but not as much as bothering to take it to the proper civic dump. In the river it would have polluted water inhabited by fish and a myriad other creatures, and the haunt of kingfisher and otter – if Robin hadn’t donned waders to haul it out and dispose of its properly.
Outrageous. I detest and despise the vandals for threatening the beauty of this precious green space. Increasingly, these days, I value deer, foxes, kingfishers, badgers, otters (and all the rest) rather more than mucky mankind. Truly, I never thought I would write such a thing. But the animals bring their own beauty with them.
But there’s another side to the quotation – to do with mood. In Coleridge’s great poem, ‘Dejection – an Ode) encapsulates that lowness of spirits which afflict most of us from time to time, when you gaze bleakly at beauty, and see it, but not feel it. So what you are ‘bringing’ is…nothing. Here are the lines:
And still I gaze—and with how blank an eye!
And those thin clouds above, in flakes and bars,
That give away their motion to the stars;
Those stars, that glide behind them or between,
Now sparkling, now bedimmed, but always seen:
Yon crescent Moon, as fixed as if it grew
In its own cloudless, starless lake of blue;
I see them all so excellently fair,
I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!
I long for a mood of calm mindfulness that would enable me to forget the things that annoy me – the man-made uglification on a small scale, and the trashing of the planet (and therefore animal habitats) on a large scale. On the other hand, calmness isn’t necessarily vigilant. And sometimes beauty needs the flame of anger to burn bright, in order that it can be protected.