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Wisdom and Wisdom

The human mind works by system. It is at infinite pains to construct an immense cabinet with innumerable pigeon-holes and drawers and shelves; it labels all signs and forms and forces of life, and files them away with complacency, as though eternally disposed of.

We stand uncovered before that wisdom which can speak familiarly of orders and species and genera; of crystallization and gravitation, and volts and nebulae.

He who, by the outward circumstances of life, has been denied the opportunity for learning these systems and names by which we classify, is apt to feel himself shut away from Nature herself, as though he cannot come into her presence except he bear as an offering these words that have been said about her.

My friend and I walk forth into this naked nature—through fields and groves, and by the river.

I see the tremulous grasses and nodding flowers, cool green moss and delicate ferns, murmuring leaves and floating clouds, light and shadow, and all the free and happy wild life of field and forest and stream.

The consciousness of self melts away, and the soul without me and the soul within me fuse until I feel the deep calm of the infinite flowing through me—until I am a part of that calm.

My heart beats set to the time of the heartbeats of the Universal, and I know a language that has no words and a love which needs no caresses.

My friend plucks up the plant at our feet. He pulls apart the blossom, naming to me various parts and their functions; shows me the veining and arrangement of its leaves; tells me its class and order, and its place in the economy of nature.

He reads rocks as I read books. The stars, even, he analyses and weighs and measures, and the winds and waves he speaks of with the familiarity and commonplaceness with which I speak of the product of three times three.

I feel myself drawn back into myself, humbled, shamed by my ignorance; and my eyes turn from the world about me and above me to the friend at my side, and my ears are deafened to the hum and murmur and rhythm of nature's voices that I may hear his learned discourse about her.

I want to grow wise, too. l shut myself up in my room with the books in which this wisdom has been written, and while the light dawns and widens and fades, and the petals of the flowers open and fold up again, and leaves tremble and whisper, and birds sing, and the stars shine out, and the clouds are wafted by, I mark them not. I commit to memory long names and difficult classifications, and analyses and theories—that I may enter into the real presence of Nature and lay my ear against her naked, pulsing heart. I am growing wise! I am learning the great secrets of eternity! I am partaking of the real substance and essence of life!

O, vain imaginings of man! what empty wisdom and what darkness! We play at marbles and imagine we are rolling the planets on their courses; we light a candle, and imagine we have struck fire into sun and moon and stars; we eat too much, and dream dreams, and imagine we have received through a divine visitation the interpretation to all life's mysteries.

That which we sometimes call the progress of man may be fittingly symbolized by the picture of the donkey reaching forward after the wisp of hay depending from the end of a stick which is fastened to its own head.

Must I know the composition of light and the constituents of our atmosphere and their properties, and the laws of reflection and refraction, before I can watch the day-dawn paint the sky with the radiance of its light?

Must l understand chemical laws before I can see the glory of autumn when it crowns the hills and fields?

Must I be learned in the terms and science of music before I can hear the songs of birds or feel the waves of harmony wrought from grasses and leaves and waters and winds by the touch of the master hand?

When the first spring flower pushes through the brown earth into a world barren and leafless, and lifts its face to the sun, do I need to know its order and species, or the name of a single part, to read its message of that germ of the beautiful divine in the heart of man that yearns for ever towards the light in which it shall at last unfold—as pure and sweet and perfect as the first spring flower?

We cannot bottle the essence of Life nor tell how many horsepower its force may be, nor define its meaning in words. And though we follow empty wisdom and bow down before symbols and worship idols, the ocean of the Infinite gently bears us on its bosom, and the God within us shall at last prevail.

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Viola Richardson

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