34: The Good Earth


During my usual reading of a bit of Mr. Ruskin this morning, I came across the paragraph below, read to his Oxford audience on his birthday (51 years before), 8 February 1870. Stunning I thought: in its central truth, sociological insight, promise, and hopefulness. But who, I next thought, in this cynical age would believe such words and embrace the life-accepting, life-affirming sentiment which flows through them like the fresh streams of spring? Here his words are. As a sociologist, I should note that I would read words “noble” and “innate” a little differently than I am sure he meant them (he meant them to signify “intrinsic”). I would read the first as describing “the elevated character of a particular group” and the second as “absorbed as a result of living in a loving society.” (Important differences I think, but not the heart of this matter.) Demeter, by the way, is the Greek Goddess of the harvest. She also presides over the sacred laws of life and earth and over the cycle of life and death. In short, she is a most important person. Migrating to Rome, she became “Ceres,” whose name, appropriately, given this passage, points to our “cereal.”

In the children of noble races, trained by surrounding art, and, at the same time, in the practice of great deeds, there in an intense delight in the landscape of their country as memorial, a sense not taught to them, nor teachable to any others, but in them, innate, the seal and reward of persistence in great national life; the obedience and the peace of ages having extended gradually the glory of the revered ancestors to the ancestral land until the Motherhood of the dust, the mystery of Demeter–from whose bosom we came, and to whose bosom we return–surrounds and inspires everywhere the local awe of field and fountain, the sacredness of landmark that none may remove, and that men cannot pollute–which records of proud days, and of dear persons, make every rock monumental with ghostly inscription, and every path lovely with noble desolateness.

What do you think about this? Can anyone believe in such a vision today? Certainly Ruskin lived in an age (almost) as cynical as ours, and yet, in spite of being surrounded by disdain and dismissal of such sentimental sentiments, believed that every word he set down was literally true of our good earth; believed further that, if we could be see the eternal blessedness of all that we walk on and live within, the sensibilities he describes would be ours, automatically.

During which thinking you might like to consider this modern version of Ceres by the American sculptor, John Raimondi. 🙂 Jim (If you’d like to have a look at more of Raimondi’s remarkable monumental sculptures, you can visit his website: jrsculptor.com)

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