My readers must have guessed by now that I love poetry. 😊 A couple evenings ago I was just glancing through one of my favorite books, Edith Holden's Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady and started reading a poem which I've probably seen dozens of times, but suddenly the full meaning and beauty of the words jumped out at me and it has been going through my mind ever since. The poem is by Robert Louis Stevenson and I found out that the title is The House Beautiful. Anyway, it has set me thinking hard about something that has been on my heart for some time...the beauty and romance that lies in the simplest everyday occurrences, if only we open our eyes and see! I learned this some time ago and it truly changed my whole outlook on life. Poetry has helped me to see things even more clearly. I especially love the New England "Fireside Poets" (Bryant, Longfellow, Lowell, Whittier, and Holmes), as well as a few more obscure American poets, because they write of the scenes so familiar to me, but many of the English poets are beautiful too and can be applied to daily life here as well, like this one by Mr. Stevenson. I was just going to illustrate the poem with a few pictures like I usually do and share it, but it got me thinking so much, I had to say something, and then I found this wonderful essay by Anne Bryan McCall entitled The Romance of Life. She puts all my feelings into words so perfectly, I thought I would share it along with the poem...
"...First of all, we must give up the idea that romance is the unusual; that it is set apart from the great mass of common happening; that it is bestowed in large measure on only a few individuals. It is never in the unusual or individual experience that the romance of life lies; it lies in the general, the usual.
"Perhaps it surprises you to have me say this. But you have only to look and see. Our own small circle of individual living is generally uninteresting enough, dull enough in itself; but outside this small circle lies the larger world, 'beyond the parson's garden,' and beyond that as far as the mind can reach, and farther; all life itself, the wonderful and the daily; and those experiences of life common to all men; all those daily happenings which I think might, without irreverence, be called God's great commonplaces. Let us take only a few of them and consider them: dawn, and twilight and the stars at night; and life, and death, and joy, and spring, and the glorious varied seasons, and the marvels of love—not your individual love or mine, but love itself—and the wonders of birth, and the passing of Time with all its gifts, its rich and unceasing opportunities. Every one of these is a daily commonplace thing shared by everybody; and when, ever, were these things dull? When, ever, were they without meaning?
"We fix our eyes on some small page of our own lives, which we ourselves, or our family or friends, have written, and we complain that it is without beauty or romance, that it makes dull reading. Perhaps, yes. But when, if we look into the great volume of life itself, reading here or there, however stumblingly, when did we ever come upon a paragraph that lacked interest?
"Our attention is too much engaged by the unusual, the personal, the individual, immediately about us. These little brick-and-mortar houses of our own lives shut us away from the larger dome of life itself—life which with its varied and unchanging majesty is like the sky over us; not the unusual, but the usual, the one great abiding reality, common to all places.
"More of life is what we need if we want more romance. Let us have less of the individual, more of
the general and 'commonplace.'
"This is easier said than done, you think. Your own experience and interests have raised walls about
you and you cannot so readily get beyond them. I am sorry, but you must get beyond them; that is, if
you want more of the romance of life. There is no other way.
"Get away from your own interests, if it be only for ten minutes a day. Have some system about the matter at first. Appoint a time for it, and then observe the commonplace. Cultivate the habit of
observing. That is one of the first steps toward cultivating the mind's larger vision. Remember that
you are to look for wonder and romance, but you are to look for them among the commonplace things. Agassiz found them in rocks and stones; Audubon in birds; Turner in the light that falls changefully over the landscape; another finds them in fern or flower. When we observe these common things carefully, with eye and mind both, we have stepped away from our own narrow world into God's world of wonder and romance, as surely as though a door had closed and latched back of us.
" I have not spoken of the romance of books; here is a world—if not quite, yet nearly—as wonderful as the natural world. No one pretends, of course, that the story of a human being is so wonderful as the human being himself is, or a tale of love so marvellous as love; but to have the romance of life in miniature form conjured into a book which one may carry around in one's pocket is, after all, like a piece of romance itself, and highly to be recommended to those who find life dull and monotonous.
"And if our eyes are at first dull, and we cannot see the romance everywhere in the natural world, there are the books of scientists and poets ready to teach us.
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance—
"We look at the cloudy sky and say 'It is likely to rain.' But the two lines I have quoted tell us how
much more the mere clouds suggested to Keats, who saw them as a poet sees them; the very clouds that you and I see again and again without perhaps realizing or recognizing their daily wonder and their beauty.
"There are so many lines of Keats that make vivid suddenly the romance of something we have been witness to a hundred times yet in the full sense have never really seen, or grasped. In one of his sonnets, he summons in only a few words, supposedly spoken by a little brown-feathered creature, wisdom, beauty, romance. The thrush it is that speaks and says:
O, fret not after knowledge—I have none,
And yet the evening listens.
"And is this romance? A thrush singing in the twilight, is that a thing to wonder at? Is that anything so unusual? Is it not a happening that could be duplicated a hundred times in a thousand places? Yes, assuredly. Perhaps the romance lies half, more than half, in the sensitive eye and ear, the alert and
the seeing mind, and the eager and sympathetic spirit that recognizes.... And these themselves, you see, become the almost magic means of pleasure and delight and romance to others. A thrush singing in the twilight! It might have been only that! But because a poet forgot himself and lent himself to the
larger romance, you and I have called up before us, by his spirit, all the deep beauty and meaning that
these lines imply; and our own spirits fare forth in their turn to carry the knowledge further. For you
and for me, wisdom is deepened and beauty exalted and truth summoned by these simple lines of a poet who knew and loved the romance of life. In the city, yonder, men fret and toil to lay by store of learning, and compete as to who shall amass the greatest amount, and burn with desire to be deemed the most learned; but in the quiet places of each day's ending, the thrush, like a sure, glad spirit, gives its whole heart to song; and no one speaks, and the world remains quiet in a wonderful peace and contemplation; and the wise evening waiting for the stars, hears and remembers and listens.
"Here is indeed romance in its true, wise meaning. Or, if you would have the romantic vision brought nearer home, there are poets who will guide us in that, too. Stevenson is a far less romantic poet than Keats, yet you shall find that he also has the clear romantic vision. He is one who finds beauty and romance in the simplest near-by and humble things. Do you recall that poem of his called, 'The House Beautiful.' The first lines of it describe a naked house and moor, a garden shorn of flower and fruit, summer gone by, a place bleak and bare. Then, the poet's vision! Bare as it is, yet this naked moor shall receive 'the incomparable pomp of eve,' and the 'cold glories of the dawn' be drawn behind these bare shivering trees. Here the 'wizard moon' shall ascend the heavens, and here 'the army of the stars appear.' Though daisies have gone, the winter frosts shall 'silver the simple grass.' Here the fairy wheel and thread of cobweb shall hang dew-diamonded; and here 'autumnal frosts enchant the pool and make the cart ruts beautiful.'
"Read it over, line for line, and see how the beauty and romance and wonder appear and grow and spread and pervade:
A naked house, a naked moor,
A shivering pool before the door,
A garden bare of flowers and fruit
And poplars at the garden foot;
Such is the place that I live in,
Bleak without and bare within.
Yet shall your ragged moor receive
The incomparable pomp of eve,
And the cold glories of the dawn
Behind your shivering trees be drawn;
And when the wind from place to place
Doth the unmoored cloud-galleons chase,
Your garden gloom and gleam again,
With leaping sun, with glancing rain.
Here shall the wizard moon ascend
The heavens, in the crimson end
Of day's declining splendour; here
The army of the stars appear.
The neighbour hollows dry or wet,
Spring shall with tender flowers beset;
And oft the morning muser see
Larks rising from the broomy lea,
And every fairy wheel and thread
Of cobweb dew-bediamonded.
When daisies go, shall winter time
Silver the simple grass with rime;
Autumnal frosts enchant the pool
And make the cart-ruts beautiful;
And when snow-bright the moor expands,
How shall your children clap their hands!
To make this earth, our hermitage,
A cheerful and a changeful page,
God's bright and intricate device
Of days and seasons doth suffice.
~R. L. Stevenson
"So the most commonplace things are found to be things of beauty by him who really sees them. It is the real world, the intensely real world, this world of Stevenson's; no different from the one that you and I see, only—when it comes to that—most of us do not see it after all! Nine times out of ten we do not see it, though our glance rests on it again and again day by day. But he does; and, lo, there revealed to him, and, because of him, to us, simple and beautiful and usual, quiet and gracious and without acclaim, is a part of the very romance of life.
"A good many of us bring a sense of duty rather than a sense of joy to the living of our lives. We
think the day must be got through with as creditably as possible, and some of us say a good many prayers to that end. Yet I wonder if it might not be a better thing to pray as Stevenson did that we might not remain dull to the wonder and beauty and meaning of the commonplace things all about us.
In my great task of happiness;
If I have moved among my race
And shown no glorious morning face;
If beams from happy human eyes
Have moved me not; if morning skies,
Books, and my food, and summer rain
Knocked on my sullen heart in vain—
"I remember when I first read that how it touched into reality for me all the world of my fellow beings, all the world of real life around me. When I see "beams from happy human eyes," they move me now as they used not always to do. Nor is my heart ever too sullen, now, to answer the knock at the door of it, too preoccupied to respond to some beauty, some simple loveliness, which comes to rouse it and bids it rejoice.
"It is the same world that it always was, this world the poets describe, only they have called our attention to it as poets will, and have pointed out to us all that beauty, that true meaning and romance of life which we have overlooked."