Does nature experience joy? Reflections on Wordsworth

Listen to this lovely spring poem by William Wordsworth:

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sat reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:–
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

We tease my mother-in-law because she regularly gazes wistfully out the window and says, “I love nature.” It isn’t that she wants to be IN nature, but rather to gaze out at it. Snow? So gorgeous! The Beach? Perfect! A good midwest thunder storm? Fabulous! From right here in my chair looking out the window. For a goodly number of years I have looked down my nose at this sort of experience of nature. I mean, seriously, how can you love nature if you don’t really get parched from the wind or walk in a silent snow or sit out in that thunderstorm?

I hope I am less judgmental now. There is an intrinsic goodness to the natural world, not only our particular experience of it. And, there are so many ways to enjoy it. I have joy in simply being in it, in watching it unfold from a distance, and even in imagining it. I would venture a guess that the love of nature is one of those commonalities that rises above culture. Perhaps it should be more central in our peace building efforts. Who has not watched a beautiful sunset or felt renewed by a sunny day or enjoyed the song of a bird? Surely all over the earth people experience this every day.

Further, wouldn’t it be great if nature enjoyed itself? Wordsworth says, “And ’tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes.” Imagine with me for moment that you are sitting outside, say in your back yard or a quiet park. Close your eyes and picture a sunny day in early spring. You are wrapped up in a jacket because there is still a chilliness in  the air. You hear birds singing. There is a spider spinning its web. You can see the first buds of spring quivering in the breeze. A dog barks. A bird hops on a nearby branch. Can you hear or feel joy in the air? Is it our experience which creates joy or is joy something comes to us through the air and creatures themselves? Maybe they are blissfully happy and lucky for us, we get to absorb all of that.

This doesn’t preclude us from experiencing joy from within, but I really like this idea of nature enjoying itself. Maybe it is true insomuch as a living thing can experience a sense of “rightness” about the unwinding of seasons and its relationship with it all – and have an appreciation for the relationships that give it life. There is plenty of life that is all about mystery. I am thinking today might be a good day to test it out.

(In honor of the beginning of spring and Wordsworth’s poem, I want to explore the sadness Wordsworth expresses  – another piece of this poem I resonate with)

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