Like any simulation of noble savagery by members of the middle-class, nature mysticism is always an amusing spectacle. I was led to this site by its misguided reference to Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditation. The author also refers to that well-known spiritual adept Lord Byron:
“The words of Byron express the oneness with nature, which has, since Rousseau, been the obsession of nature mystics: `I live not in myself, but I became a portion of all around me, and to me high mountains are a feeling...’”
No, high mountains are very large rocks. When poets go slumming in nature they tend to turn into windbags. The phrase “oneness with nature” reminds me of the old joke:
Q: “What did the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?”
A: “Make me one with everything.”
Few writers are so densely ironic and deeply funny as the late J.F. Powers. His wit was not a matter of verbal pyrotechnics. His prose is colloquial, precise and highly polished, and he’s often mistaken for a satirist. I’ve asked this question before but never received a satisfactory explanation: Why are so many of the funniest fiction writers – Joyce, Waugh, Flann O’Brien, Flannery O’Connor, Powers – Roman Catholic?
I’m rereading the first of Powers’ two novels, Morte D’Urban, published in 1962. Father Urban, a sort of Babbitt-as-Roman-Catholic-priest, has been exiled from Chicago to the frozen prairies of Minnesota. Shortly after his arrival he tours the grounds of the former sanitarium occupied by the Order of St. Clement:
“Later that afternoon, he pulled himself together and took a walk around the grounds, keeping an eye out for wildlife (and seeing none), and trying to get interested in the trees, which were numerous. They could be broken down into three main groups, red oaks, evergreens, and trees. Here his investigations ended, on account of the cold.”
Out of boredom and hurt pride, Father Urban, no mystic, briefly seeks solace in nature. What he gets instead is a head cold and a lecture on long underwear.