The Friendship of Art

by Bliss Carman



    THE lover of rose-gardens doubtless is master of a blameless joy. He is a leisurist first of all, delighting in the quiet life and silently acquiescing in the great law of the unimportance of the individual. He has his pleasure of life behind his garden walls, in sunshine and seclusion, while the pageant of the world goes by with all its drums and pennons. With shouts and cheers and martial strains the concourse is parading down the road; but your rose lover only sees the dust, only feels the confusion, and turns to his flower-beds with a happy heart. Let others do what they will, his soul prefers peace and the quietude of his own small plot of earth. [Page 60]

    Yet he is no idler. With diligence he tends his beloved companions — trims and waters, shelters and weeds, with untiring zest. And all his reward is beauty, the generous responsive beauty of the earth — the soul of the ground made visible in roses. At nightfall, I doubt not, he had dreams of his own. In the silent silver moonlight, sifting through the tall elms, he broods among his sumptuous beauties slumbering on their stalks. He devises new varieties to be evolved in time; he lays out new domains for crimson favourites, and brings wild corners under cultivation for his lovely friends. His mind is not idle, you may be sure, as he paces to and fro in the warm air under the stars. He is an artist and a labourer in one; to the labourer’s rewards of careless health and freedom of mind, he adds the artist’s joy.

    The elements are kind to the lover of flowers; sun and rain and air conspire to second the toil of his hand; and while he sleeps his [Page 61] designs are being accomplished. Of what other craft can so much be said?

    It was not really the compensations of gardening, however, that I had in mind when I began these notes this morning, but the pleasures and rewards of a different sort of culture, which gardening only symbolizes. I mean, of course, the culture of ourselves. For every one of us is a garden. I may be full of nettles and pigweed; you may be full of lilies and lavender. You may have a rich, deep soil; mine may be sandy and dry. You may bask toward the south in the sun of circumstance, while I have to front the north of dreary adversity. Still, here we are awaiting the gardener’s care. Let us go in and cultivate ourselves. For, if you think we can lie here in the weather waiting for some fabulous divine gardener to come along and do all the weeding, and digging, and sowing, and scuffling for us, while we have only to bloom and absorb moisture, you are sadly in error. There is no gardener but oneself. And you may [Page 62] construct a fine esoteric poem on the subject, concluding with the line:

                                   “Myself the weeder and the weed.”

    This is a mystery, but it is sober truth, too. And the garden in which we are placed may be divided, for convenience, into two or three parts. There is the garden of the mind, for instance, which we are sent to college to cultivate. And there is the garden of the body, which we too often shamefully neglect. Indeed, some misguided folk would have you believe that one is a rose-garden, while the other is only a despised vegetable patch. But this is not true, as every man who has tried faithfully to cultivate his body knows. If you have never made the attempt, why not take up the care of your body for one year. Find where it needs attention. Lavish upon it all the thoughtful consideration you would give to the culture of your mind. Tend it with patience, enrich it with understanding. Work with all the science and enthusiasm [Page 63] of a true horticulturist. And watch for the flowers of grace and strength to grow and prosper under your care.

    Very likely your body is sadly neglected. You must overlook the whole ground, first of all, to see where there is the greatest need of attention. You will probably have to have some advice at first, for an instinct for perfection is apt to be blunted from long disuse. But, once aroused, it will soon revive to its normal function; you will begin to know intuitively what food are good, for instance, and what exercises most helpful.

    If your wrist is stiff and your arm unlimber, take some exercise that will correct the fault. Then diligently practice that gymnastic, and watch the results. You will begin to see perfection of arm movement and wrist motion gradually spring into life like fair, unfolding blossoms. You will be capable of beauties of graceful exertion which you have never dreamed you could possess.

    If your voice is weak and unmusical, learn [Page 64] to breathe; then learn to produce tones; then learn the right conformity of the mouth for the production of the legitimate sounds of speech; then learn to add expression. You will find you have acquired a beautiful torso and a fine carriage, better possessions than we often buy.

    And so on through all the muscles and members; let none be neglected, for none are despicable or useless, and all are needed for the final perfection. Your great reward will come, when (long after you have cast off all harmful and absurd restrictions of fashion) your cultures begins to show itself in perfect mobility and poise, and when, as a last test of normal being, you begin to be aware of the rhythms of your own body. Most of us pass our lives without ever being once awake to this sense of divine joy, this rapture of musical motion. And yet rhythmic mobility is a source of happiness, a means of health and a magical creator of beauty.

    It cannot surely be very long before we [Page 65] amend our standards of education, so as to place the body on an equal footing with the mind. We are suffering for our neglect. If we make body culture as important as mental and spiritual culture, we should be much happier, for we should be much better balanced and much more normal. All the attention we have come to give to sports and out-of-door pastimes is itself evident of our instinctive tendency to better things, to a completer culture; and still we are only beginning to learn the possibilities of bodily culture, and its imperative necessity as a factor in human perfection. [Page 66]