Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Cathedral

I was talking with a good friend the other day who was looking for some inspiration that had to do with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I am familiar with the poems about Hiawatha ( who wouldn't want to go to a lake called Gitche Gumee?) but did not know much of his other work. In reading through some of his poetry I was struck by his deep connection to nature, his romantic outlook on life and sadness about the loss of "simpler" life. I also appreciated his direct references to specific plants, and feelings he experienced when in the landscape during certain periods of the year. I was truly struck by his poem "My Cathedral"

Like two cathedral towers these stately pines
  Uplift their fretted summits tipped with cones;
  The arch beneath them is not built with stones,
  Not Art but Nature traced these lovely lines,
And carved this graceful arabesque of vines;
  No organ but the wind here sighs and moans,
  No sepulchre conceals a martyr's bones.
  No marble bishop on his tomb reclines.
Enter! the pavement, carpeted with leaves,
  Gives back a softened echo to thy tread!
  Listen! the choir is singing; all the birds,
In leafy galleries beneath the eaves,
  Are singing! listen, ere the sound be fled,
  And learn there may be worship with out words.

Having been an avid John Muir reader and fan in my teens, a reference to nature as a cathedral was familiar to me. But, Hawthorne was doing it 50 + years before Muir! Thinking about his context, and accounts of New England being nearly deforested by the beginning of the nineteenth century, one can see why he'd be moved so. But, more than that, Longfellow was his own man, forsaking family tradition, in going to Bowdoin (my alma mater too) and not Harvard, making his own way. That applied to his beliefs - in puritan New England it must have been revolutionary to find eternity in a forest! Longfellow was also one of the first in the United States to make his way as a celebrated writer. True, there are others before him, but to me he stands out as an important figure who cleared the way for other literary geniuses of our country - Whitman, Dickinson and Hawthorne. His example of making his way as an artist is relevant today as are his deeply moving verses.

The following images are from my local cathedral. I go there often. I am looking forward to seeing even bigger trees when I head out to Oregon next week to install the plants component of "the Tarriance"  in Bend. I also included some photos of mushrooms. They've been a big inspiration lately and I think they may turn into some big paintings this fall as the rains come.

self portrait

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