Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets
1900-1930


 

 

Selected Essays and Reviews

by Bliss Carman

Edited by Terry Whalen


 

The Growers*


 

We have had, The Seekers, The Spenders, The Spoilers, The Sowers, treated of and explained in fiction, but as yet, so far as I know, no one has written of The Growers.

The subject is a suggestive one. Even the title gives a fillip to thought. The growers are all those fortunate ones who, whether consciously so or not, have kept themselves truly and persistently in harmony with great nature. They have carefully cherished the mysterious seed of aspiration, which is the secret of growth, neither allowing it to atrophy unsown by hoarding it away in the dark closet of discouragement, nor impoverishing it through spendthrift dissipation. Normal growers are not priggish nor niggardly, neither are they ignobly wasteful of what is more precious than gold. They are endowed with the instinct, the impulse, the curiousity, which only constant development and a measure of lawful freedom can satisfy, and which must die if continually thwarted or repressed. The Growers are all those natural children of the earth, whether simple or complex, who have cultivated the most fundamental principles of responsible living-a capacity for improvement and a hunger for perfection. And it is this trait of rational painstaking that lends the most sterling distinction to personality and differentiates leaders from followers, helpfulness from dependence, and the individual from the mass.

For Growers there can be neither stagnation nor decay. They are like thrifty trees in the forest, deep rooted in the common soil of life from which they spring, deriving nourishment from the good ground of sympathy, stimulation and refreshment from the free winds of aspiration, and producing perennially the flower and fruitage of gladness and well-being proper to their kind and enriching the earth. They are the normal ones, at once the exemplars of all that is best in their species and the perpetuators of all that is most valuable. Between the growers of the human and the forest worlds, however, there is this distinction: that while the monarchs of the woods grow only to the limit of their prime, the spiritual and mental growth of mortals may be unarrested throughout a lifetime. That is the glory of our human heritage and the encouragement to our faith in our own venturesome essay. The power of growth is our talisman against being baffled and dismayed, so that we can confront old age with interest, circumstance with equanimity, and the unknown without fear. And perhaps it may be impossible to bring the extreme bound of our lifetime any more warrantable satisfaction than to have been a grower all one's days.

The Growers are like the trees in that they make use of such means as they have to further their life. A tree may sprout in ground far from congenial to it, and among conditions that are largely disadvantageous. Still it neither sulks nor despairs. It proceeds to grow with as much determination as if it were the most favourable environment. True, its difficult position or inappropriate soil may hamper and mar its growth, so that it will never reach the fine perfection which belongs to its type, but it will grow nevertheless. It does the best it can with its life, taking advantage of every possible opportunity, and making the most of whatever air and light and soil it can reach.

Just so with human growers. They use their wits to cultivate their aspirations and powers. They employ to the utmost such powers as they have, and fret themselves not at all over faculties or talents or opportunities that are not theirs. They are too busy benefiting by what is, to speculate idly on what might be, or repine wastefully for what is not. Aspiration is the seed of growth, but it must be farmed carefully like any other crop. It is not enough to have lofty ambitions and ideals, if we do nothing about them. They must be put in practice, or they will not contribute to our growth. It is in making our ideals actual that we attain success in life, and experience growth of personality. Many a well-endowed mortal has failed for lack of effort, while less fortunate ones have reached splendid heights of achievement and growth by dint of cultivating the modicum of powers that belonged to them. Making use of the advantages at hand, to the very utmost in every moment and place, is the secret of the seemingly magic process of success.

Thus The Growers live in conformity with the universal trend of life, having a working faith that its mighty laws are friendly and benign. They overcome obstacles not by antagonism but by utilization. Having done their utmost to harmonize their living with immutable laws, they feel secure in the beneficence of life, and have no fear of destiny. Here is ground for contentment quite unlike the dulness of stagnation, a basis of buoyant well-being, and a perennial interest in all that influences development. Growers can never be hesitating, fretful, distracted or unlovely for long since some new truth, some unlooked-for beauty, some fresh spring of emotion, is sure to touch their interest, refresh their sympathy, re-inspire their enthusiasm, and re-quicken their whole being to gladder activity once more. To their ears it must always sound like sober philosophy to say,

The world is so full of a number of things,
I am sure we should all be happy as kings,

since hardly anything can exist or happen that is not capable of being transmuted into food for growth in their wise conduct of life.

There are many different ways of growth, spiritual, mental, material- all beneficent, all leading to ultimate perfection when rightly followed, and all necessary for symmetrical development. We all admit that it is hardy enough, in the history of any individual, that there should be a progress in material affairs alone. One may steadily improve one's worldly condition through life, and remain but little bettered at the close. The advancement in circumstances must be accompanied, pace for pace, by an advance in intelligence and feeling. Every day "to earn a little and to spend a little less," as Stevenson says, is good proverbial philosophy, and if it be paralleled in matters of the mind and heart, becomes an invaluable word of wisdom. To grow a little more reasonable and a little more kindly day by day is an essential part of the truest prosperity.

The material value of this salutary thrift goes without saying, and one need only recall the riches of character in one's most stimulating friends to be convinced of its equal desirability in the less tangible realm of personal culture and influence.

To our complex human nature symmetrical growth seems the fittest ideal-a balanced development that prevents the limitations of distortion and the friction of discord, and secures the freedom of poise. The lack of an ideal of symmetrical culture is to blame for such imperfect maturity as we find for example in persons who exhibit an over-insistent instinct for self-preservation, protecting and furthering their own animal indulgence regardless of cost to others; in those who are so greedy of mind that they neglect the care of practical things; and in those again who are over-developed emotionally through uncontrolled avidity of sentiment and feeling.

The best Growers are those rare and fortunate mortals who have divined the incomparable value of a symmetrical culture, and take constant care to utilize the avenues of growth in each of these three directions with equal solicitude. They know, or at least they instinctively feel, that any stultification in the development of one part of that composite miracle called personality means an inevitable injury to the other two, and that none must be preferred or forced singly at the cost of the others, but that they can only be brought nearer to the measure of perfection by being helped and freed and cultivated harmoniously. This is the law of perfect growth.

Growers are the only people for whom we need feel no anxiety. If they are our friends, no matter for how long they may drop out of sight, it is certain that at our next meeting we shall not find them deteriorated nor worsted by life, whatever adversities or sorrows they may have had to face. For all fortune, both ill and good, is converted into means of growth by some secret chemistry of the soul, known (if not actually understood) by all personalities that are intelligently alive. However often they may change their address or their philosophy they can never be worse off. They move their belongings from place to place, only to better their estate; they transfer their convictions and enthusiasms "from creed to larger creed," only to widen their outlook and refresh their faith.

Again, Growers are the only people who never need be afraid-neither of misfortune, sorrow, defeat, unkindness, nor the shadow of death; for deterioration is the only veritable evil that can befall a personality. There is neither injury nor fault that cannot be out-grown. But when we cease to grow, it is a calamity indeed, and just cause for human dread. Fear and despair and anger and ignorance and worry and meanness are fatal, because they arrest growth, arrest spiritual and mental activity, even arrest digestion, and so are inimical to life and happiness. Any one of them may be truly called a partial death, since it causes a dissolution of some glad and natural emotion, beclouding the mind and involving the vital processes in temporary disaster. When the mind is unhinged by terror, or the heart is frozen by grief, the body can neither eat nor sleep, and our whole being is torn from its proper environment of rational and kindly sensibility, beginning at once to wither and die like a wounded sapling or a broken flower.

And who so well as the Growers can afford to drift? They need have no fear of being carried out of their course, for they are in the main current of life, and not in an eddy or by-water. Wither the mighty river of existence may be carrying them perhaps they never inquire. They only know that they are being borne onward by its titanic sweep, in some glad, free, lawful way that makes for ever-widening horizons of happiness.


"The Growers," Smart Set, April 1908 [back]