Tag Archives: nature

“Beltane” by Ian Anderson

Image Source: YouTube

Since today is Beltane, I decided to listen to Jethro Tull’s “Songs from the Wood” on my run. Since it is the extended remastered version, it includes the song “Beltane,” appropriate for today. For today’s post, I decided to analyze the lyrics as a poem. For those who are unfamiliar, here is the text:

Have you ever stood in the April wood
And called the new year in?
While the phantoms of three thousand years fly
As the dead leaves spin?
There’s a snap in the grass behind your feet
And a tap upon your shoulder.
And the thin wind crawls along your neck
It’s just the old gods getting older.
And the kestrel drops like a fall of shot and
The red cloud hanging high
Come a Beltane.

Have you ever loved a lover of the old elastic truth?
And doted on the daughter in the ministry of youth?
Thrust your head between the breasts of the fertile innocent.
And taken up the cause of love, for the sake of argument.
Or while the kisses drop like a fall of shot
From soft lips in the rain
Come a Beltane.

Happy old new year to you and yours.
The sun’s up for one more day, to be sure.
Play it out gladly, for your card’s marked again.

Have you walked around your parks and towns so knife-edged orderly?
While the fires are burned on the hills upturned
In far-off wild country.
And felt the chill on your window sill
As the green man comes around.
With his walking cane of sweet hazel brings it crashing down.
Sends your knuckles white as the thin stick bites.
Well, it’s just your groaning pains.
Come a Beltane.

Here is a little background information on Beltane.

Beltane was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (~1 November), Imbolc (~1 February), Beltane (~1 May), and Lughnasadh (~1 August). Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season, when livestock were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were held at that time to protect them from harm, both natural and supernatural, and this mainly involved the “symbolic use of fire”. There were also rituals to protect crops, dairy products and people, and to encourage growth. The aos sí (often referred to as spirits or fairies) were thought to be especially active at Beltane (as at Samhain) and the goal of many Beltane rituals was to appease them. Most scholars see the aos sí as remnants of the pagan gods and nature spirits. Beltaine was a “spring time festival of optimism” during which “fertility ritual again was important, perhaps connecting with the waxing power of the sun”.

Wiccans use the name Beltane or Beltain for their May Day celebrations. It is one of the yearly Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year, following Ostara and preceding Midsummer. Unlike Celtic Reconstructionism, Wicca is syncretic and melds practices from many different cultures. In general, the Wiccan Beltane is more akin to the Germanic/English May Day festival, both in its significance (focusing on fertility) and its rituals (such as maypole dancing). Some Wiccans enact a ritual union of the May Lord and May Lady.

Source: Wikipedia)

OK, now we will look at the poem.

In the first stanza, Anderson evokes a pastoral setting that is on the threshold of seasonal change. But there is some interesting symbolism hidden in here which I feel is a reference to the Yeats’ great occult poem, “The Second Coming.” Anderson’s image of the dead leaves spinning calls to mind the gyres in Yeats’ poem, and the kestrel is a type of falcon, which strengthens the connection to the opening lines of “The Second Coming.”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

The old gods are described as getting older, possibly symbolizing the readiness for rebirth.

In the second stanza, Anderson incorporates the sexual and fertility symbolism associated with Beltane. He expresses the concept of sympathetic magic, where human sexuality and fertility is connected with the fertility of the earth.

The third stanza celebrates the dawn of the new year, and acknowledges the importance of the sun in the continuation of life.

The final stanza forms a unique bridge between the old and the modern, between the wild and the “civilized.” We are presented with images of manicured parks, of towns built in a sterile and uniform fashion. But in the far-off wild country, fires are burning and the green man is ready to strike with his cane, causing our fragile construct of a world to collapse. I see the fire as symbolic of the deep desire to reject the industrial world that we have built and return to a more stable and sustainable way of life in accordance with Nature. And the green man is the embodiment of Nature. Ultimately, if we do not change our ways, the green man will smite us and we will be forced to return to our primal state.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by. If you celebrate, I hope you and yours have a very merry Beltane!

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“Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

"The Kiss" by Gustave Klimt

“The Kiss” by Gustave Klimt

The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?—

See the mountains kiss high heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?

Since it’s Valentine’s Day today, I figured a love poem would be appropriate for today’s post, and what better than one from the romantic Shelley.

As is typical with the English Romantic poets, Shelley looks to Nature for metaphors to express his love. In the first stanza, he cites the interconnectedness of things in Nature, as well as duality in the natural world, as the reason why his spirit longs for the connection with the woman of his desire. And the loving connection between two people is not just something natural; for Shelley, it is something divine and spiritual. The wholeness which is attained through the passionate connection with your significant other is something that transcends this world and elevates us spiritually.

In the second stanza, we get a sense that all the beauty that we perceive in Nature is only a reflection of human love. And this begs an interesting question: If a person never experienced the joy and beauty of love, would that person be able to recognize beauty in the world around? It reminds me of the lyrics from one of my favorite George Harrison songs:

Some things take so long
But how do I explain
When not too many people
Can see we’re all the same
And because of all their tears
Their eyes can’t hope to see
The beauty that surrounds them
Isn’t it a pity

(from “Isn’t It a Pity”)

Myself, I lean toward the romantic philosophy here. I think that love helps us to see beauty in the world around us, and likewise, the beauty in Nature reminds us of the joy of sharing a deep connection with another person.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 28” by Lao Tzu

YinYang

Know the masculine,
Keep to the feminine,
And be the Brook of the World.
To be the Brook of the World is
To move constantly in the path of Virtue
Without swerving from it,
And to return again to infancy.

Know the white,
Keep to the black,
And be the Pattern of the World.
To be the Pattern of the World is
To move constantly in the path of Virtue
Without erring a single step,
And to return again to the Infinite.

Know the glorious,
Keep to the lowly,
And be the Fountain of the World.
To be the Fountain of the World is
To live the abundant life of Virtue,
And to return again to Primal Simplicity.

When Primal Simplicity diversifies,
It becomes useful vessels,
Which, in the hands of the Sage, become officers.
Hence, “a great tailor does little cutting.”

The key to understanding this passage is to understand the basic symbolism of the yin and yang. The yin is the dark part of the symbol, while the yang is the light half. Yin is feminine and passive, while yang is masculine and active. While both aspects are requisite to be whole, Lao Tzu stresses the importance of focusing on the yin rather than the yang.

It is important to understand the audience to whom Lao Tzu was writing. He was writing to the leaders of China at a time when there was instability, and the usual way to deal with this would have been to attack it aggressively. Lao Tzu recommends the opposite approach. The sage leader does not rule with an iron fist, but is nurturing, calm, in tune with Nature, and at one with the flow of life through the world. A wise leader must understand strength, but rule from a place of compassion. That is the primary message contained within this passage.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a blessed day.

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“A Winter Eden” by Robert Frost

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.

It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year’s berries shining scarlet red.

It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree’s young tender bark,
What well may prove the year’s high girdle mark.

So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.

A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o’clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life’s while to wake and sport.

This poem is about the place of winter in the cycle of the seasons, and how winter symbolizes the point in the cycle of life that marks the transition to rebirth.

We generally imagine Eden as a lush green paradise; but here, Frost presents us with a version of Eden that is stark white, lacking in rich verdure. But as one looks closer, the seeds of life become apparent. Images of buds and berries abound, all symbols of rebirth.

I had to look up what conies are, and learned that they are rabbits. This immediately reinforced the rebirth imagery for me, since rabbits are often used as symbols for birth and fertility, and associated with spring.

I suppose it is no coincidence that I read this poem after listening to a guided meditation about rebirth today. As we are now officially in winter and moving toward the end of a challenging year, I look forward to a symbolic rebirth in the spring. In the meantime, I will nurture the seeds of light and enjoy the beauty of winter.

Thanks for stopping by, and may you have a blessed holiday season.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 22” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Bend and you will be whole.
Curl and you will be straight.
Keep empty and you will be filled.
Grow old and you will be renewed.

Have little and you will gain.
Have much and you will be confused.

Therefore, the Sage embraces the One,
And becomes a Pattern to all under Heaven.
He does not make a show of himself,
Hence he shines;
Does not justify himself,
Hence he becomes known;
Does not boast of his ability,
Hence he gets his credit;
Does not brandish his success,
Hence he endures;
Does not compete with anyone,
Hence no one can compete with him.
Indeed, the ancient saying: “Bend and you will remain whole” is no idle word.
Nay, if you have really attained wholeness, everything will flock to you.

This passage is brimming with wisdom, so much so that I read it multiple times, gaining deeper insight with each pass.

The first thing that came to me was the importance of humility to the sage. The sage leads by example, choosing to humbly walk the path and abstaining from boasting about his or her wisdom. As a westerner, I am well aware of the dangers of hubris and how this leads to the inevitable fall of an individual. By following the simple (yet not easy) steps outlined in this passage, one avoids the pitfalls of hubris and self-importance.

I noticed that the phrase “Bend and you will remain whole” appears twice in this passage, at the beginning as well as at the end. Clearly, Lao Tzu wanted to emphasize this. On the surface, it appears that he is asserting that one should be flexible, to bend and “go with the flow” instead of fighting and resisting the inevitable changes which occur in life. But I feel that there is more here, especially when you consider that Lao Tzu states that this “is no idle word.” I think that many people consider flexibility and non-resistance to be the opposite of striving, hence being idle. But this is not so. The opposite of striving is not-striving; it’s acceptance; it’s bending; it’s making a conscious decision to not struggle against the forces of nature and to accept the way that is being presented. Bending to the way of the One is an act—it is not being passive. And when you do this, you move a little closer to attaining wholeness and a connection with the One.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 20” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Have done with learning,
And you will have no more vexation.

How great is the difference between “eh” and “o”?
What is the distinction between “good” and “evil”?
Must I fear what others fear?
What abysmal nonsense this is!

All men are joyous and beaming,
As though feasting upon a sacrificial ox,
As though mounting the Spring Terrace;
I alone am placid and give no sign,
Like a babe which has not yet smiled.
I alone am forlorn as one who has no home to return to.

All men have enough and to spare:
I alone appear to possess nothing.
What a fool I am!
What a muddled mind I have!
All men are bright, bright:
I alone am dim, dim.
All men are sharp, sharp:
I alone am mum, mum!
Bland like the ocean,
Aimless like the wafting gale.

All men settle down in their grooves:
I alone am stubborn and remain outside.
But wherein I am most different from others is
In knowing to take sustenance from my Mother!

This was the perfect passage for me to read today. I was talking with someone today about the democratization of information. While a veritable universe of information is only a Google search away, so is a universe of misinformation and lies. This plethora of misinformation and opinion results in fear for many individuals. People read a Facebook post or an op-ed article and it stokes the flames of fear and anxiety. But how true is what I read, and do I really need to be afraid because someone else tells me I should be concerned? As Lao Tzu puts it: “Must I fear what others fear?”

I have chosen not to go down this path of fear. Fear is only a perspective, a mental construct of possibilities that may not even come to pass. All I know for certain is what is happening in my life right now. This is what I choose to focus on.

Like Lao Tzu, I also “take sustenance from my Mother.” When I step out into my garden, or walk around my neighborhood, or commune with Nature, or meditate, I am drawing energy from the divine source. This puts my mind in a state of happiness and tranquility. The stress and noise of everyday life tends to melt away. I am much more content when I am in this space as opposed to worrying about some news story or what another person is thinking.

As things get crazier in our society, it would do you good to take a step back, breathe, and shift your perspective. I suspect that when you do so, you will find some much-needed serenity.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 19” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Drop wisdom, abandon cleverness,
And the people will be benefited a hundredfold.

Drop humanity, abandon justice,
And the people will return to their natural affections.

Drop shrewdness, abandon sharpness,
And robbers and thieves will cease to be.

These three are the criss-cross of Tao,
And are not sufficient in themselves.
Therefore, they should be subordinated
To a Higher principle:
See the Simple and embrace the Primal,
Diminish the self and curb the desires!

This passage appears to be related to Chapter 18. The difference appears to be that this chapter seems to be directed at leaders and how to apply the Taoist principles when governing.

By imposing one’s wisdom and cleverness upon others, you deny people the chance to learn and develop on their own.  By forcing one’s ideas of humanity and justice upon others, you deny them the chance to develop compassion and empathy. Finally, when ruling shrewdly and with sharp discipline, people will become resentful and will ultimately steal from you or openly rebel.

It seems counterintuitive that doing things which seem positive will foster negative results, but this is what the Tao teaches. Everything balances itself, and there must always be equal amounts of positive and negative energy. So, “diminish the self and curb the desires” and allow nature to guide individuals as it deems fit.

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