All The Beauty I See

Updated: Apr 21

by Father John O'Brien, OFM Profiles in Catholicism


“Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!

For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood

Upon our side, we who were strong in love!


Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,

But to be young was very heaven!”


These are the words of Wordsworth recalling his earlier

enthusiasm for the French Revolution. He saw it as the

dawning of a new age of hope where all people were free

and equal and lived in harmony. He went to live in

France to experience the new society. However paranoia

and fear gripped the new revolution. War was

threatened. The Reign of Terror had begun. It became

a dangerous place for the young English poet and he left

France.


He returned to England a sadder man. However he did

not lose his dreams. He decided to use his poetry to

express his ideals. He wandered through England

gathering the stories of ordinary people and these

inspired his poetry. These were his heroes. He would use

emotion and psychological truth in his poetry. He was

told emotion was not to be trusted, as many of us were,

but he saw emotion as a central part of our makeup.


In one of his poems ‘The Ruined Cottage’ he tells the

story of how a family was ruined, how the husband

deserted his wife, Margaret. She is broken and in despair.


Wordsworth describes her watchfulness at her husband’s

desertion:

“On this old Bench

For hours she sate, and evermore her eye

Was busy in the distance, shaping things

Which made her heart beat quick.”

(Ruined Cottage MS b 490-3)

She looks to the horizon hoping to see her husband,

Robert, come home but he never does. She is powerless

to save her children or herself. This is a tragic narrative

to the social and political context of its time. Margaret

and her children perish.


Yet for Wordsworth she is not dead. She is alive in

Wordsworth’s poem. To those who read his poetry she is

alive. Even though unnoticed by the world Wordsworth

brings her to life and stirs the conscience of his readers.


Wordsworth is regarded as the poet of nature. In 1790

he went to the Alps. He was struck by the majesty of the

mountains. He could feel his own smallness. The beauty

of the Alps, he imagined, helped him touch eternity. This

vision of the sacredness of nature would never leave him.


He believed that by helping people appreciate nature

their spirits would be refreshed. Their spirits would be

free. This was also a protest against the dehumanising

effects of the Industrial Revolution. The opening line of

his poem ‘Tintern Abbey’ show us this love for nature:

“Five years have past; five summers, with the length

Of five long winters! and again I hear

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

With a soft inland murmur.–Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

That on a wild secluded scene impress

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

The landscape with the quiet of the sky.”


His early poetry was not, seemingly, religious as such but

yet it lifted the spirits of people and it led some to faith.


Our appreciation of nature, our appreciation of sunsets

comes from Wordsworth and the others in the Romantic

movement. They opened our eyes to the beauty around us.


St. Francis:

For St. Bonaventure the world is the perfect expression

of the Father. It expresses the Word (Logos) who is the

exemplar. The cosmic order is a vast symbol in which

God speaks his majesty. The world is a symbol that is

meant to be read. Wordsworth would have approved. For

St. Bonaventure this symbolic dimension of all things is

disclosed through the incarnate Word of God (Logos),

Jesus the Christ. He sees St. Francis as the one who,

through his fidelity to the incarnate Word, is able to

interpret mystical meaning within the great symbol of

creation.


“Aroused by all things to the love of God, he rejoiced

in all the works of the Lord’s hands and from these

joy-producing manifestations he rose to their lifegiving

principle and cause. In beautiful things he saw

Beauty itself and through his vestiges imprinted on

creation he followed his Beloved everywhere, making

all things a ladder by which he could climb up and

embrace Him who is utterly desirable. With a feeling

of unprecedented devotion he savoured in each and

every creature – as in so many streams – that

Goodness which is their fountain source.”


On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis issued an encyclical

focused on the environment called ‘Laudato Si’. He took

the title from St. Francis’ ‘Canticle of the Creatures’. He

tells us that in nature God has written a precious book

“whose letters are the multitude of created things present

in the universe” (Laudato Si, paragraph 85). He cites the

hymn of St. Francis showing us our interconnectedness.


In expressing our unity we have a responsibility to care

for the earth and the poor. The interdependence of

people and the planet is described in the phrase “integral

ecology”. Wordsworth would have been happy to see this

day.