The Voice of Nature (Bridges)

The Voice of Nature (Bridges).JPG

Acrylic on card, 29.7 x 42 cm. 2020.

This painting is based on a poem by Robert Bridges, in which he complains that the meaning of the natural world is confused and dissonant. Nature has two aspects or 'voices': one sublime, invigorating; the other beautiful, calming; one that spurns happiness and spurs us to heroic activity, another that invites peaceful enjoyment. In Bridges' poem, the former is represented by the British coast, the latter by the banks of the river Thames. Each on its own would be easy enough to understand, would have a definite mood or impulse, but together they are disorientating. The poem is in four stanzas:

I stand on the cliff and watch the veiled sun paling
   A silver field afar in the mournful sea,
The scourge of the surf, and plaintive gulls sailing

   At ease on the gale that smites the shuddering lea:
Whose smile severe and chaste
   June never hath stirred to vanity, nor age defaced.
In lofty thought strive, O spirit, for ever:
In courage and strength pursue thine own endeavour.

Ah! if it were only for thee, thou restless ocean
   Of waves that follow and roar, the sweep of the tides;
Wer't only for thee, impetuous wind, whose motion
   Precipitate all o'errides, and turns, nor abides:
For you sad birds and fair,
   Or only for thee, bleak cliff, erect in the air;
Then well could I read wisdom in every feature,
O well should I understand the voice of Nature.

But far away, I think, in the Thames valley,
   The silent river glides by flowery banks:
And birds sing sweetly in branches that arch an alley
   Of cloistered trees, moss-grown in their ancient ranks:
Where if a light air stray,
   'Tis laden with hum of bees and scent of may.
Love and peace be thine, O spirit, for ever:
Serve thy sweet desire: despise endeavour.

And if it were only for thee, entranced river,
   That scarce dost rock the lily on her airy stem,
Or stir a wave to murmur, or a rush to quiver;
   Wer't but for the woods, and summer asleep in them:
For you my bowers green,
   My hedges of rose and woodbine, with walks between,
Then well could I read wisdom in every feature,
O well should I understand the voice of Nature.

 

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