Miracles and Metaphors



    NOT the spring only is the time of miracles in the natural world, but the year round, day and night. The moon comes up behind the spruce-trees like a great bubble of crimson glass, swelling and rolling slowly southward, until it is detached ever so imperceptibly from the edges of the dark hill-caldron where it was born, and floats away toward the bluish roof of stars. When the trees have done their gracious tasks of summer, gradually they suffer change from one glory to another, put off the green, put on the festal liveries of autumn, sanguine and yellow and bronze. How is the transformation accomplished? And all the teeming ephemeral creatures of marsh and twilight, what becomes of them [Page 35], when the time of croaking and buzzing and zizzing is over? Where do they go and how do they return?
    Theses are child’s questions. Science knows many things about them, and by and by will tell us more. But always, even to science, there is a margin of unknown which makes the known seem to wear the guise of the miraculous; while for the humbler eyes of the toiling world the lovely ordered rotations of nature must keep their actually miraculous seeming still.
    It is a religious feeling, this special love of the natural world, and entirely modern. Perhaps it is our contribution to the evolution of spirit through spheres of religion, our step in the long process of emancipation, as little by little we grow toward that service which is perfect freedom. Lanier has a significant paragraph in one of his lately published papers, which bears on this consideration.
    “Nothing strikes the thoughtful observer of modern literature more quickly or more [Page 36] forcibly than the great yearning therein displayed for intimate companionship with nature. And this yearning, mark, justifies itself upon far other authority than that which one finds in, for example, the Greek nature-seeking. Granted the instinctive reverence for nature common to both parties: The Greek believed the stream to be inhabited by a nymph, and the stream was wonderful to him because of this nymph, but the modern man believes no such thing. One has appeared who continually cried love, love, love – love God, love neighbours, and these ‘neighbours’ have come to be not only men-neighbours, but tree-neighbours, river-neighbours, star-neighbours.”

    I am not quite sure that the Greek’s personification of the stream was so different from our own; I fancy his imaginary divinity in it was much the same as ours; but we are glad to extend that universal gospel of love to our patient fellows in the sub-human dominions and to the half-animate and inanimate [Page 37] apparitions of beauty in a still lower realm.
    Then there are the miracles of art, not so common as those of nature, more clouded by failures and mistakes, but just as marvellous, just as potent, and more significant as well. There comes a master, unheralded, from an obscure corner of the globe; the clay is living in his hands, or the colours take life at his touch, or he marshals the tones and syllables of sound, and at once a new creation springs into almost immortal existence for our delighted senses. The tune or the story spreads across two continents like the sun, and every mortal heart beats faster for keen zest, renewed and invigorated as at some miracle of nature. Our enjoyment of art is a religion, too, for it is the worship of the manifestations of spirit taking shape in forms of beauty, just as our enjoyment of nature is the worship of spirit manifested in the plasticity of sap and cell, – the lovely forms of the outer world.
    These two religions are the worship of nature [Page 38] and the worship of art, – the reverence of the form and the adoration of the spirit behind the form. Art, if you care to say so, is all made of metaphors, – is itself the universal metaphor of the soul. And who shall prove that nature is not a metaphor, too? The metaphor of miracles in nature is only supplemented by the miracle of metaphors in art. To each this striving, diligent, eager soul in us gives allegiance [Page 39].