Sunday 6 November 2016


2016-45  John Cowper Powys: Culture and Nature

John Cowper Powys [1872-1963]
JohnCowper Powys [1872-1963] was a British novelist, lecturer, philosopher, literary critic, and poet.

Powys's first published works were poetry: Odes and Other Poems (1896), Poems (1899), collections which have "echoes of Tennyson, Arnold, Swinburne, among contemporaries, and of John Milton and Wordsworth and Keats". 

While he was a famous lecturer and published a variety of both fiction and non-fiction regularly from 1915, it was not until he was in his early fifties, with the publication of Wolf Solent in 1929, that he achieved critical and financial success as a novelist.

He was influenced by many writers, but he has been particularly seen as a successor to Thomas Hardy. Wolf Solent, A Glastonbury Romance, Weymouth Sands and Maiden Castle are often referred to as his Wessex novels. As with Hardy's novels, the landscape plays a major role in Powys's works, and an elemental philosophy is important in the lives of his characters. 

by John Cowper Powys

No refining of one's taste in matters of art or literature, no sharpening of one's powers of insight in matters of science and psychology, can ever take the place of one's sensitiveness to the life of the earth.  This is the beginning and end of a person's true education
The cultivation in one's innermost being of a thrilling sensitiveness to Nature is a slow and very gradual process. 

The difference between cultured people and uncultured people in regard to their response to Nature is that the former make a lot of a little, whereas the latter make a little of a lot. By this I mean that the less cultured you are the more you require from Nature before you can be aroused to receprocity.

Uncultured people require blazing sunsets, awe-inspiring mountains, astonishining waterfalls, masses of gorgeous flowers, portentous signs in the heavens, exceptional weather on earth, before their sensibility is stirred to a response.

Cultured people are thrilled through and through by the shadow of a few waving grass blades upon a little flat stone, or by a single dock leaf, growing under the railings of some city square. 

To a cultured mind no scenery is ordinary, and such a mind will always prefer solitude in an unassuming landscape to crowds of people at some famous "inspirational" resort.

...The whole essence of this great Nature-cult is to store up and lay by thousands and thousands of impressions. The memory can hold much more than most people give it credit for; and the quickened awareness of our days depends upon our memory.

The feelings that can be roused in us by innumerable little physical impressions, coming and going upon the wind, lost in the air, are feelings that bind our years together in a deep secretive piety.

Who knows? Who can tell? It may well be that Nature herself - or at least our own planetary Earth - depends upon such subtle ecstasies in her offspring for her own indescribable self-realization.

The feelings that move us at many moments when we are alone with Nature, with "thoughts that are too deep for tears," seem to bring their own justification. They associate themselves inevitably with generous human emotions, with indulgence towards all creatures, with pity for all creatures.

A life deliberately given up, in the secret levels of its being, to such a cult as this is not a wasted life; it is a triumphant life. It fulfills some absolute purpose in things that are outside and beyond the troubled fevers of the world.

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