Saturday, December 04, 2010


Cross-posted from TerraFirma Creative

Here's the prompt for Day 4 of Reverb10:


How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?
(Author: Jeffrey Davis)

When I consider wonder, I think primarily of two things:

  • being in awe of, or delighted with, something in the world.

  • being intensely curious.

These are two of my favorite states of being.

I think these two poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins artfully capture my own sense of wonder. Go ahead--read them aloud to get their full effect.

God's Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The Windhover

To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird -- the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Do you know what makes those poems different, other than their lovely imagery? Their sound, their diction. Hopkins tried not to use words derived from Latin, and the result are poems rich with Anglo-Saxon sounds and rhythms, sounds from a time and place that's foreign to me.

And so: wonder.


Words are how I cultivate a sense of wonder in my life. I notice things, and I try to put them into words: November, the last orange leaves still snagged on twigs, coated by a heavy dusting of snow. Mountains rising suddenly beyond the city, glowing that western-dry-grass gold in the last sun. Iowa, and its threat of sky. Tracks of unfamiliar mammals in the backyard snow.

Sometimes I fail. And that really underscores the wonder of a thing--when I can't adequately capture a moment in words.

Wonder for me comes when reality exceeds my expectations, at the seam of the urban and rural or natural worlds. Boise has been full of these moments: a badger in the yard. The first snowflakes I've seen in a decade. A river behind my office; a giraffe beyond that, peeking over the zoo's fence.

Negative capability

That's what John Keats called that state "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." For me, wonder engenders negative capability—it happens when I've transcended that left-brain moment of "how does that work?" and shifted into the right brain's "rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!" It's the moment beyond questioning, a moment of beholding. A moment of contentment.

Even though I'm reflective by nature, it can be hard for me to just sit silently with things. But sometimes what I'm building—be it a lesson plan, an article, a business, a happy childhood for my son, a personal theology—needs that moment of reflection, needs that space where I can observe in wonder at the thing-in-itself, the untouched thing before I've tried to fix or alter it. It's a space where I don't need to worry about reaching after fact and reason, where I'm fine with uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts.

And you?

Where do you find wonder?

Photo by William Warby, and used under a Creative Commons license.

1 comment:

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"determining how __ implement your vision"

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