Monday, May 28, 2007

Wordsworth and Hume

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)
The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window 1794
Pencil and watercolour on paper
support: 358 x 255 mm
Tate Britain, London

In Jesus Christ today (1998), the late Cardinal Basil Hume OSB spoke of experiences on his spiritual journey.

Here is one of them:

"This leads me to the last of the five experiences I would like to describe. This was my personal discovery, through the poetry of Wordsworth, of the role of beauty as a way of contemplating God.

I was still at school. The syllabus required, in addition to the main subjects in the Higher Certificate Examination, two additional subsidiary subjects. One of these covered some aspects of English literature. It was fashionable then in the Sixth Form for the cleverer boys to read and enjoy T S Eliot. It was less fashionable to admit to enjoying Wordsworth. I did.

Discovery that he was able to sense the presence of God in nature quite transformed my attitude to all created beings. In Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey (13 July 1798), Wordsworth described in enthralling terms his realisation that nature could disclose the presence of God:

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

I realised, at first only dimly no doubt, that God was not, of course, part of his creation but that nonetheless all that exists not only owes its origin to him, but in some manner also reflects him just as a work of art speaks of the artist who created it. Thus in all that is good and beautiful some glimpse is given of those qualities in God - in a manner which is of course different but, as the theologians tell us, is analogous.

We are given some idea of his glory, a hint only, but precious indeed."

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