Saturday, August 13, 2016

Jonh Muir: some thoughts on graveyards

You . . . are with Nature in the grand old forest graveyard, so beautiful that almost any sensible person would choose to dwell here with the dead rather than with the lazy, disorderly living.

Bonaventure is called a graveyard, a town of the dead, but the few graves are powerless in such a depth of life.  The rippling of the living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm, undisturbable grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord's most favored abodes of life and light.

On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death.  Instead of the sympathy, the friendly union, of life and death so apparent in Nature, we are taught death is an accident, a deplorable punishment for the oldest sin, the archenemy of life.

. . . How assiduously Nature seeks to remedy these labored art blunders.  She corrodes the iron and marble, and gradually levels the hill which is always heaped up, as if a sufficiently heavy quantity of clods could not be laid upon the dead.  Arching grasses come one by one; seeds come flying on downy wings, silent as fate, to give life's dearest beauty for the ashes of art; and strong evergreen arms laden with ferns and tillandsia drapery are spread over all--Life at work everywhere, obliterating all memory of the confusion of man.

All quotations come from  John Muir: His Own Words.  

His sentiments definitely would not be in tune with Halloween, would they?  But, of course, he's mainly speaking of daytime here.   I wonder if anyone else has expressed similar sentiments about graveyards. 


  1. JM has an admirable admiration of the natural world, it's true; but he does forget, or doesn't mention, that humans are part of that world also, even if they're a destructive part. but as such, they are a part of the world's evolution, the changing patterns that have gone on for 4.5 billion years. from a geological point of view, violent global change is normal. we don't see it because of our short life spans, but from a different perspective, the planet is constantly undergoing world-shaking alteration from one cause or another: vulcanism, species extinction, erosion from water and wind, even meteorites small and large... if mankind becomes extinct it will be no more surprising than the large animal event at the end of the cretaceous, 60 million years ago. so, although i admire JM's thoughts enormously, his pov is not that of a geologist, or a zen person... i guess if i were more intelligent, i could view earth processes more blithely, but being who i am, JM is comforting and inspiring... tx for these excerpts; they take me into the part of the world i love...

  2. Mudpuddle,

    I think he is ignoring humanity's place because his point is about the common human assumption that geologic change is always destructive and fail to see its true value of both destruction and creation. He isn't talking about our effect, but upon geological effects and our perception of it.

    1. hmmm... i don't know if i get that or not... you mean he means to write about the processes instead of the present reality?

    2. Mudpuddle,

      It seems that way to me.

    3. that could very well be; although i don't think i picked that up... i guess i'll have to do some rereading... tx...

    4. Mudpuddle,

      Well, from the little I've read of the quotations from Muir, rereading shouldn't be too painful.

      I have a copy of his _A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf_. Since it begins on Sept. 1, I've decided to wait and read each entry on the appropriate day.

  3. All of this has me thinking about graveyards/cemeteries in literature. I will try to dig up some notable examples for future postings; the trope is too intriguing. My off-the-top-of-my-head favorites are Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death" and the graveyard scene in Shakespeare's _Hamlet_. Perfect!

  4. R. T.,

    Happy haunting. . .er. . Happy Hunting.

    By the way, Peter Beagle wrote a very nice fantasy titled "A Fine and Private Place."