Poetry is essentially for John Keble a relief to the poet – the utterance of feelings that struggle for expression, but which are too deep to be expressed perfectly in the prose of daily life. Feeling of any kind, he points out, is always seeking some form of expression for itself: the infant can find it only in cries, in gestures, in an expression of the features; an adult finds it mainly in the power of speech. Keble finds in Psalm 39 the secret of all poetry: ‘My heart was hot within me, and while I was thus musing the fire kindled, and at last I spake with my tongue’ (Ps 39.3). This is true of all feelings, but most true of the deepest feelings, which are stirred either by the sight of external nature or by the facts of human life and experience.
New Every Morning
Old friends, old scenes, will lovelier be,
As more of heaven in each we see;
Some softening gleam of love and prayer
Shall dawn on every cross and care.
If we would see more of heaven in our friends and scenes of daily life, then a light of love and prayer will shine on life’s crosses and cares. He goes on to say that we do not need a monastic cell in which to experience and know such feelings. It is in life’s trivial round and common tasks that such stirring of deep feelings can emerge. Nature appeals to the feelings by its mystery, such as the resilience of the daffodil in the face of wind and snow, or the sky at night in its vastness. I remember walking on Palace Green in Durham one November evening when the Greek Orthodox priest I was with pointed to the starlit sky in its vastness and said ‘there is a reflection of that eternal beauty and mystery of our Creator.’ Talking of daffodils we are reminded of Wordsworth wandering lonely as a cloud, when all at once he ‘saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils’. This is just one of the experiences that awakened Wordsworth’s visionary power. Such facts of nature stir our wonder, our questioning, our awe; or the tranquil beauty and calm of the natural world soothes our wearied spirits. We walk along a beach and note the barren rock face of the cliff, and then marvel at the sight of a flower bursting out of a crevice: a seed blown by the wind has found a congenial resting place in which to die in order that it might live. Does this not stir our vision to see and feel something of the secret or mystery of creation, to feel after that paradox that the Resurrection reveals that only through death comes life?
It is the same with human life. It appeals to us either by its happiness, suggesting a perfection which lies beyond it, through the finite stirring the passion for the infinite; or by its sadness, suggesting the contrast between what it is, and what it might be, and so stirring tenderness and pity and melancholy. In either case the feelings are stirred by the sense of higher spiritual truths which underlies the visible phenomena. If we are to have such vision we need to be among the active elements of the world and love what they do to us, to love to work and be wrought upon. We need to be alive to all that is enjoyed and all that is endured. We need to have the loneliness and the courage to take in not only the joy but the dismay, the sorrow, and fear and pain as modes in which to feel and know that mysterious divine presence at the heart of life. We must enjoy this rich tapestry of life through all its changing scenes without bolting for comfort or alleviating it by some sort of company. In this mode of understanding we are letting the things that are make their true impact upon us. We are letting the experiences of the trivial round and common task open our eyes to see God.