Nature, the Gentlest Mother

Tim Farrand

Storms and hurricanes ravage coasts, wildfires destroy miles of land, earthquakes and volcanoes threaten communities and the lives of those within them, and deadly viruses run rampant without warning. So often our view of nature is that of a destructive and threatening force.

Nature's power and seeming unpredictability can be terrifying but, perhaps more often than not, she also aids us in our journey. She can often be seen as a gentle spirit welcoming us into her arms, nurturing us with space for rest and reflection, and offering to help us unload our burdens.

“The night follows along, with millions of suns, and sleep, and restoring darkness”

"Youth, Day, Old Age and Night" by Walt Whitman illustrated by Margaret C. Cook.

There are times that Nature appears to us in such a state of absolute perfection that it seems as if she is adorning herself for our benefit. Every spring we are greeted with the sweet scents of colorful flowers and a chorus of birds flying about their daily tasks. We walk out into her presence and she is patiently waiting with a gift to brighten our days.

Emerson recounts the beauty of Nature at the opening of his essay dedicated to her: [1]

There are days which occur in this climate, at almost any season of the year, wherein the world reaches its perfection; when the air, the heavenly bodies and the earth, make a harmony, as if nature would indulge her offspring. . .

Nothing satisfies like nature. You can exhaust everything that man has built up but only nature will truly "bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or women with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons — the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night."[2]

Illustration by Maurice Sendak from Open House for Butterflies by Ruth Krauss. Found on The Marginalian.

Nature can bring us back to who we truly are. Like a gentle mother, she nurtures each of us without judgment. All are equal to her and none of society's labels apply. She beckons us to her care and each day brings us to peaceful rest as Emily Dickinson captures beautifully in her poem "Nature, the Gentlest Mother:"

Nature — the Gentlest Mother is,
Impatient of no Child —
The feeblest — or the waywardest —
Her Admonition mild —

In Forest — and the Hill —
By Traveller — be heard —
Restraining Rampant Squirrel —
Or too impetuous Bird —

How fair Her Conversation —
A Summer Afternoon —
Her Household — Her Assembly —
And when the Sun go down —

Her Voice among the Aisles
Incite the timid prayer
Of the minutest Cricket —
The most unworthy Flower —

When all the Children sleep —
She turns as long away
As will suffice to light Her lamps —
Then bending from the Sky —

With infinite Affection —
And infiniter Care —
Her Golden finger on Her lip —
Wills Silence — Everywhere —

Nature can be gentle and caring. She can caress and comfort. She can be a source of rejuvenation and, as at the end of the poem, can usher us into silence, reminding us to put down and turn off as we enter into sweet repose.

Joyce DiDonato speaks to this current which runs through Dickinson's meditative poem:

Henry Daivd Thoreau states that leisure following the accomplishment of a task is the most essential piece of our working lives. One must balance work with rejuvenation. Nature bookends each day with a invitation to turn off and restore one's energy.

DiDonato puts Aaron Copland's rendering of this poem into Eden, a project that attempts "to tell the story of perfection. . .the story of Paradise. . .the story of being inundated and flooded with beauty, love, [and] Nature in its extraordinary balance.."

Delve into Dickinson's poem through the eyes of Copland and the voice of DiDonato in her album Eden (Idagio, Spotify).

May 17, 2022

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1. Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature," Essays: Second Series, in Essays and Lectures, ed. Joel Porte (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1983), 541. Library of America, 15.

2. Walt Whitman, "New Themes Entered Upon," Specimen Days, in Walt Whitman: Poetry and Prose, ed. Justin Kaplan (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1982), 781. Library of America, 3.