Epiphany #5: The Emersonian Epiphany

emerson You knew it had to show up sooner or later, reader. What better way to conclude a series on epiphanies than with the one thing that has inspired countless poets over centuries? Nature, when all else fails, returns us to our basest and most earnest humanity. In nature, we find a little of what has motivated all those poets who have come before us. Moreover, who can resist the mesmerizing wonder of a spider repairing a dew-dropped web, or a leaf reflecting with the orange of seasonal light? Nature, for certain, holds both scientific mysteries and spiritual inspiration, even for the most adamant cynic.

Why else would so many poets “go for a walk” when words fail them? Why is it that, when we wish to “escape” our civilized routines, we inevitably turn to remote greener locales as our getaway? Yes, the view in wilderness is different from our common existence, but there’s also a matter of instinct at work here: As living, breathing organisms, we have an inchoate desire to connect with the raw and unmodified elements of a more primal, unspoiled world. I know. Some of you are shaking your heads, yelling “Just give me my Ritz-Carlton, my Starbucks, my iPhone and my Land Rover!” That’s okay. Deny it all you want, metropolitan, but deep within you, beyond that glossy, technology-loving veneer, you too have a drive to connect with nature. We all do.

Poets, of course, have historically been more susceptible to this drive than others less sensitive. Every crackle of a branch, every rustle of a leaf, every soft flit in the brush is amplified to the artist, and so, nature becomes a sense-heightening experience. This fact drives the plethora of residencies, fellowships, and conferences held in splendorous locations amid mountains, forests, lakes, and canyons. Knowing full well that artists, and especially poets, cannot resist the draw of God’s inimitable creation, organizers and program developers often choose serene vistas for optimum imagination engagement. It just makes sense.

The writer’s versions of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau embodied the Naturalist aesthetic, and in so doing, fathered a movement followed even today. We can look at formalists, modernists, post-modernists, Language poets, or the broad spectrum of other “schools” that exist out there, but within each one, there is influence that stems from the natural world, no matter how slight. Some may justify this influence by stating the obvious: The world is all around us; of course it’s going to drive artistic work! True, but in a world dominated by steel, circuits, satellites, and fiber optics, why would we continue to devote our attentions to things less shiny, less electronic, or less progressive? You, reader, know why. Whether you believe evolution and adaptation are to credit, or whether you believe in a more supernatural cause, the truth is undeniable — nature is as much a part of us as our flesh, our blood, our very DNA. To get outside our limited perspective, we must literally and figuratively get outdoors.

As I draw this series to a close, I would ask my followers and readers to respond to one simple question: What is it that gives you revelation? How do you generate or receive epiphanies of your own? Your thoughts and comments, as always, are appreciated. And until next time, get outside!

 

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