I’m most pleased that more than a few of you thought that Mr. Ruskin’s trenchant thought about the vital and continuing importance of Antarctica’s famous fowl was helpful, not to mention funny. Today, we go, I think truly, from the very useful ridiculous to the astonishing and inspiring sublime.
Sometimes in the busy-ness of the day you chance on something which softens, something which you suddenly realize has put you in touch with what Michel de Certeau has called the “deserted places of our memory.” (A phrase I learned today in an e-mail sent by a dear friend. For more on Mr. Certeau, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_de_Certeau.)
But, before I type in Mr. Ruskin’s words, I’ve noticed that I have already said in a past post that another passage of Ruskin’s was my favorite. This is part of the trouble with him. There is so much of wonderment and truth and loveliness in what he writes that one finds oneself astonished and gratefully overwhelmed time and again. I suppose its not unlike having two very fine wines to choose from at dinner, a good thing. Actually, Ruskin “suffered” from this overabundance of wonder too. If you read his works, it won’t be long before you read a phrase like, “That was the most beautiful sunset I ever saw.” Then, in another volume or essay, you’ll find this sentence: “That was the most beautiful sunset I ever saw”! And then, in a third volume or essay, you’ll find….Well, you get the idea. And he means what he says each and every time. But, for him, as for us all these years later, it’s a good thing, much better, in the end, than having those two fine wines to choose from at dinner–for those, however delicious they may be, are transitory, delighted in for a half hour, then forever gone. Ruskin’s finest words, on the other hand, are eternal, especially when they are about the eternal, as they are today. In fact, these particular words are an outgrowth of those many beautiful sunsets seen, those thousands of flowers cherished, those thousands of faces taken in carefully by gentle eyes: each and all together creating, day by day, a growing sense of the blessedness of life and this world in which we live.
Which is a way of saying (I may say it again!), that, among my very favorites of his remarkable paragraphs, this is one of my very, very favorites. It is so astonishingly beautiful and right it would probably be good if, like a couple of others we have read, it were emblazoned in a place where, daily, we could re-read the words and recall those deserted places of our memory so often that they are no longer deserted.
He was speaking to his Oxford students in the early 1870s. The title of the lecture was, “On the Relation Between Art and Religion.” What a treat it would have been to have been there.
This is the thing which I KNOW–and which, if you labor faithfully, you shall also know: That in Reverence is the chief joy and power of life; Reverence for what is pure and bright in your own youth, for what is true and tried in the age of others; for all that is gracious among the living, great among the dead, and marvelous in the powers that cannot die.
Be well out there.