The Creative Influence of Nature on Writers, Poets, Painters, Gardeners and… Firefighters

It is difficult to imagine art in any form that is not inspired by nature. From cave drawings of animals to colourful landscapes by David Hockney; from hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt through the Roman travelogues (Herodotus, Pliny) to wonderfully descriptive diaries of people extolling the beauty of their countryside; from odes to verses and ballads penned by poets over the centuries; from the legendary hanging gardens of Babylon, through the famous Italian Renaissance water gardens to today’s gardens of great and passionate gardeners like Prince Charles or Roy Strong. The Roman maxim ‘He who plants a garden plants happiness ‘ reflects this and is now in the form of a stone plaque on the walls of many contemporary gardens, including my own. The Impressionist painters not only used landscapes as a background to their pictures, but one of them, the great Monet created a garden of gardens, that is now an inspiration to all gardeners of note. His giant paintings of his garden and the water lilies in its pond, are now admired by millions of visitors to the gallery where they are permanently on display.  It isn’t possible to even mention a minuscule fraction of the vast artistic imput that has been inspired by nature but I have to include the iconic works of Hokusai, the most prolific artist of Japan, and his most known work ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji’; one in particular, ‘The Wave’, once seen its powerful image is never forgotten. Why? Because it perfectly reflects the power of Nature.

At this time of year I have among many other birds, a group of starlings feeding in a frenzy. They collect as much food in their beaks as possible to take to their fledglings. Looking at the busy group, I recalled the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s recollection of his coach journey to London in 1799:
“The sun at length rose upon the flat plain, like a hill of fire in the distance, rose wholly, and in the water that flooded part of the flat, a deep column of light. But as the coach went on, a hill rose and intercepted the sun, and the sun in a few minutes rose over it, a complete second rising through other clouds and with a different glory. Soon after this I saw starlings in vast flights, borne along like smoke, mist, like a body unendued with voluntary power. Now it shaped itself into a circular area, inclined; now it formed a square, now a globe, now from a complete orb into an ellipse; then oblongated into a balloon with the car suspended, now a concave semicircle; still expanding, or contracting, thinning or condensing, now glimmering  and shivering, now thickening, deepening, blackening!”

It is remarkable how many writers and poets found inspiration in their daily walks or travels. One of my favourite  journal writers is William Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy. This is what she wrote about her walk with her brother in Gowbarrow Park; it was this walk that inspired Wordsworth to write his famous poem on daffodils.

“When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow Park, we saw a few daffodils close to the water side. We fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore, and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more; and at last, under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness; and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot, and a few stragglers a few yards higher up; but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity, unity, and life of that one busy highway.”

And here is the beginning of William Wordsworth’s famous poem:
I wandered lonely as a cloud,
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

In another note, the same year 1802, she delights in the beauty of Ullswater landscape: ” Primroses by the roadside, pilewort that shone like stars of gold in the sun, violets, strawberries, retired and half-buried among the grass. When we came to the foot of Brothers Water, I left William sitting on the bridge , and went along the path on the right side of the lake through the wood. I was delighted with what I saw. The water under the boughs of the bare old trees, the simplicity of the mountains, and the exquisite beauty of the path…. I hung over the gate, and thought I could have stayed for ever. When I returned, I found William writing a poem descriptive of the sights and sounds we saw and heard. There was the gentle flowing of the stream, the glittering, lively lake, green fields without a living creature to be seen on them, behind us , a flat pasture with forty-two cattle feeding; to our left, the road leading to the hamlet. No smoke there, the sun shone on the bare roofs. The people were at work ploughing, harrowing, and sawing; lasses spreading dung, a dog barking now and then, cocks crowing, birds twittering, the snow in patches at the top of the highest hills, yellow palms, purple and green twigs on birches, ashes with their glittering spikes quite bare. The hawthorn a bright green, with black stems under the oak. The moss of the oak glossy. “

It is sad to see today’s young and older people walking around with headphones on and mobile phones in their hands, seemingly oblivious to the world around them. I cultivate a colourful front garden, full of beautiful, scented roses, hydrangeas, salvias, euphorbias, flowing nasturtium and others, all for the pleasure, not only mine but also for passers-by. Not many people notice. The sublime landscape Dorothy described, and an attraction known world over, is now eyed up by greedy developers, and we are already obliterating vast expanses of green land.

Yet, not all is lost. Every year in May we have The Chelsea Flower Show, and it attracts thousands of visitors, many from all over the globe. It is a place of utmost excellence, with plants and designs of great diversity, imagination and timeless beauty. There is always a reference, by one of the many designers, to the greatest garden of all – the one created by the expressionist painter Monet, at Giverny, visited by millions of people in search of inspiration.

Beatrix Potter books and illustrations are loved the globe over, and enchant children and adults alike. True to her beliefs in the importance of nature she bought several thousand acres of land in the Lake District, and left it to The National Trust to ensure that it wouldn’t be built on. Her quaint cottage is visited each year by thousands of devoted admirers, many from the other side of the world.

Some time ago it was reported in the press that thirty firefighters had dug out a tunnel to free a dog buried underground. When their chief was asked why they had spent time saving ‘a dog’, he replied: ‘ We are trained to help any living creature in distress.’ A man upon my heart. And only last week in Colchester a group of firefighters put out a fire caused by an arson attack on a disused bus depot but noticed that several pigeons were lying unconscious due to smoke inhalation. They were brought out by hand, and on the ground each was given oxygen and then, when they had recovered, a drink of water. The people watching this wonderful lifesaving action could only applaud. Another example how our moral code is influenced by our understanding that we are all part of nature. The compassion shown by the crew to the pigeons helped to redress the balance of the mindlessness of thugs who set fire to the building, on the one hand, with their humane action of ‘helping any living creature in distress’, on the other. I cannot praise them enough.


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