Lacking my love I go from place to place,
Like a young fawn that late hath lost the hind:
And seek each where, where last I saw her face,
Whose image yet I carry fresh in mind.
I seek the fields with her late footing signed,
I seek her bower with her late presence decked,
Yet nor in field nor bower I her can find:
Yet field and bower are full of her aspect.
But when mine eyes I thereunto direct,
They idly back return to me again,
And when I hope to see their true object,
I find myself but fed with fancies vain.
Cease then my mine eyes, to seek herself to see,
And let my thoughts behold herself in me.
We look in lots of places (even in monasteries and churches) for the truth about ourselves and then finally, if we are lucky, we find it in the depths of ourselves; and this leads, not to introspection, but to a sense of our being one with all that is: ‘planets, plants and people’ as someone said to me only this morning.
Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God”. He coined the words ‘inscape’ and ‘instress’; ‘inscape’ meaning, “....that individually-distinctive form (made up of various sense-data) which constitutes the rich and revealing ‘oneness’ of the natural object....”; ‘instress’ meaning, “.... that energy of being by which all things are upheld...that natural (but ultimately supernatural) stress which determines an inscape and keeps it in being .... but not only the unifying force within the object; it connotes also that impulse from the inscape which acts on the senses....”
It’s relatively easy to appreciate the beauty of the so-called ‘natural’ world without allowing that human beings are part of it. (Planets, plants and people.) Wordsworth, another poet deeply moved by nature, allowed the inscape and instress to lead him into the depths of himself:
“Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened: - that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on, -
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.”
(From ‘ Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey.’)
To ‘see into the life of things’ (including people) is to be aware of their instress (their ‘thisness’) and their inscape (that which holds them, as well as me, in being) and this awareness constitutes the beginning of compassion.