Saturday, March 29, 2014

O What Can Ail Thee?

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

John Keats, La Belle Dame sans Merci

Spring has returned! Ducks sing and the sedge is green. I have always cherished Keat's poem. It has sustained me through wintry blues and shivering thoughts. But like our cyclic seasons, I always open my heart to nature's annual restoration. The femme fatale of Keat's epigrammatic lyric is a fairy of sorts, one who stole his heart. The frank allure of a personal pantheism, particularly for me who usually personifies Nature as Goddess-like, is its capacity for supporting a rich emotional fabric of ideas and its poignant stories of Goddess as lover. 

John Ruskin, the 18th century critic, coined the term, "pathetic fallacy", to deride the tendency of Romantic poets to ascribe human feelings to nature--the weeping willow cried. But, as I have often proposed, an emotional-intuitive personifying of nature and her herd of beings not only draws us closer to an ultimate unifying experience, but also helps us pastorally to fathom the ups and downs of relationships and fortune without devising an all-powerful and all-good deity. Life just sucks at times and life invites rejoicing at other moments. Spring follows winter and winter follows spring.

By striking down hierarchical notions of God, we enter a more level playing field, where all beings can aspire to tranquility, not by salvation through grace, but by salvation through effort, love and stillness. Perhaps, as the Jains believe, gods and goddesses are beings who through personal effort have achieved an enduring tranquility and so we emulate them. Maybe even Nature, herself, is temperamentally both balanced and active, having found that perfect, optimal and seasonal regulation of mood in a changing and chaotic realm of experience. Maybe, that is Divine Love.

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