This weekend I took a walk along Game Creek in the early afternoon sun. Even though we probably have two months of winter left, spring seemed about to fly in on the next breeze. Earlier in the week, I had read a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins titled "Spring" with the 8th grade. Because the JHCA's virtue of the month is love, the two ideas of love and spring rolled around in my head this week. Here is Hopkins' poem.
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
Hopkins tells us to seize the moment of joy in spring and in youth before it fades. He means by this that we should try to recapture that Edenic state of beauty and the innocence of childhood. Unlike many carpe diem poems that tell us to grasp at the pleasures of youth before we feel their consequences, Hopkins' poem implies that the joy of youth is innocence. One way to preserve this innocence is to love beauty.
I think young children have a good natural sense of beauty. They are scared of ugly things and ugly words. They like harmonious music and, if you give them crayons, produce paintings with explosions of vibrant color. Christ tells us to become like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. While he was primarily speaking about childlike faith, I think he also meant the other childlike qualities that are admirable, such as their instinctual desire for beauty.
Love is the proper response to beauty. We love beauty when we see or hear it. Now very often our school discussions about the virtue of love veer quickly towards agape love, God's selfless love. Perhaps it the easiest of the four loves to theologize about. But as I reflected this week, I thought it would be important to write something the kind of love called Eros.
Eros is the desire of physical beauty. Very often, it is the desire for a beautiful person. Eros is a good thing, but of course, like all good things, easily corrupted. Eros should want to serve the object of its love rather than to use it. To want merely to use beauty is lust.
Eros, related as it is to youth and beauty, makes excellent fodder for poetry. The Song of Songs is perhaps the paragon example, and perhaps one of the oldest recorded. The three-thousand-year-old Hebrew poem is a back-and-forth reverie between a young man and woman--the lover and the beloved. Note the metaphors to nature, themes of spring, and youthful joy.
Songs of Songs 2:8-14
The Bride Adores Her Beloved
The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes,
leaping over the mountains,
bounding over the hills.9
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Behold, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
looking through the lattice.10
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,11
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.12
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing[d]
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.13
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.14
O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
in the crannies of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.
What a beautiful speech! Some early Christian commentators were uncomfortable at the Eros expressed here and immediately tried to create analogies between the lover and Christ. They jumped to the spiritual, forgetting that we are both body and spirit. We are created for beauty and to love beauty, both physical and spiritual.
Let me note a few specific things about this passage. First, there is joy in youth and God's created nature. Second, there is admiration for another person and a longing to be with that person. Unlike hatred, which pushes people apart, love draws them together. The marriage between a husband and wife is the closest kind of human bond, two become one, and is a physical metaphor for the spiritual reality of what love does to the human soul.
And so this spring let us first, enjoy the beautiful spring time. Notice the flowers, the blue sky, the warmth. Second, let us enjoy what health and youth we may have, and use it well. Third, let us love and respect beauty and fill our minds with beautiful things.