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QUINTESSENCE

The Humble Ordinary


PIED BEAUTY
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins

I love this poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins, written in 1918. It is full of openness, an awareness that drinks the world in just as it is. Nature inspires awe. Not merely the grand and majestic aspects of the natural world, but its humble and ordinary character. In exposing the world as it is, "counter, original, spare, strange," the poet exposes us to the beauty of what is real and worn. Glory is not in the impossible or the astonishing so much as it is found in the amazing mundane.

Today, a wonderful day for those of us palindrome fans {01-02-2012}, I find myself paying attention to the world of speckled trout and finches wings as I plough through the obligatory year end sort and toss in my office, a ritual that sets the table for the fresh work of the new year. What needs to go, what gets carried over, what is iconic of my own history? Here in my hand is a museum card - a photograph of a Ruth Bernhard nude - a small beauty of light and shadow framed by my own hand. There in the inbox, found on a bluff hike with McDuff, is a turkey feather, bent, striped and flecked. And beside the writing books, a bit of molten copper wire fused into glass by a lightning strike on a telephone pole bursting into flames on my 43rd birthday. Yet to be dusted is the glass zebra, all curves of sass-infused muscle. In the shredder, the business of bills and commerce.

It's important for me to note the ordinary. To appreciate the most simple of tasks and objects. They are objects of astonishment, that they exist at all. As the poet observed, our world is a dazzle with form, the sparkle of life, nature whose beauty is past change. We dwell within the inexpressibly precious.
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