It has been some time now since I have shared one of Ruskin’s marvelous passages about some aspect of Nature—those many bits that appear throughout his works–but particularly the earlier ones, that enthralled readers and, as he intended, often inspired them to go out and have looks of their own at wonderful aspects of the world in which they lived which, for reasons too numerous to mention, they had overlooked. Today, with him, albeit briefly, we consider the (not so lowly) grass, a living essence many of us see almosteach day. The passage appears in the third volume of Modern Painters (1854) and seems to be perfectly apt for our thought as our summer wanes and fall gains:
Gather a single blade of grass, and examine for a minute, quietly, its narrow
sword-shaped strip of fluted green. Nothing, as it seems, of notable
goodness or beauty. A very little strength, and a very little tallness, and a
few delicate long lines meeting in a point–not a perfect point neither, but
a point blunt and unfinished, by no means a creditable or apparently much-cared for
example of Nature’s workmanship–made, as it seems, only to be trodden on
to-day, and to-morrow to be cast into the oven; And a little pale and hollow
stalk, feeble and flaccid, leading down to the dull brown fibers of roots.
And yet, think of it well, and judge whether of all the gorgeous flowers that
beam in summer air, and of all strong and goodly trees, pleasant to the eyes
or good for food–stately palm and pine, strong ash and oak, scented citron,
burdened vine–there be any by man so deeply loved, by God so highly
graced, as that narrow point of feeble green… Consider what we owe merely to the
meadow grass, to the covering of the dark ground by that glorious
enamel, by the companies of those soft, and countless, and peaceful spears.
Follow but forth for a little time the thoughts of all that we ought
to recognize in those two words. All spring and summer is in them–the walks by
silent, scented paths–the rests in noonday heat–the joy of herds and flocks, the power of all shepherd life and meditation–the life of sunlight upon the
world, falling in emerald streaks, and failing in soft blue shadows, where
else it would have struck upon the dark mold or scorching dust–pastures
beside the pacing brooks–soft banks and knolls of lowly hills–thymy slopes
of down overlooked by the blue line of lifted sea–crisp lawns all dim with
early dew, or smooth in evening warmth of barred sunshine, dinted by
happy feet–and softening in their fall the sound of loving voices–all these
are summed in those simple words; and these are not all. We may not
measure to the full depth of this heavenly gift in our own land, though still,
as we think of it longer, the infinite of that meadow sweetness…would open on us more and more… Go out, in the spring time, among the meadows that slope
from the shores of the Swiss lakes to the roots of their lower mountains.
There, mingled with the taller gentians and the white narcissus, the grass
grows deep and free; and, as you follow the winding mountain-paths,
beneath arching boughs all veiled and dim with blossom–paths that forever
droop and rise over the green banks and mounds, sweeping down in scented
undulation, steep to the blue water, studded here and there with new-mown
heaps, filling all the air with faint, sweet smell.
Look up towards the higher
hills, where the waves of everlasting green roll silently into their long inlets among the shadows of the pines; and we may, perhaps, at last know the
meaning of those quiet words of the 147th
Psalm, “He maketh grass to grow
upon the mountains.”
Until next time!
Do please continue well out there!