So wrote the poet Wordsworth of the human faculty of recollection — recollection of the beautiful — that power of envisaging in tranquillity, the inspiring events or scenes of the past.
All of us have, to some extent at least, the god-given capacity for recognizing beauty of one kind or another. It is part of the constitution of man, our divine inheritance. This faculty can be fostered or retarded in childhood and youth. It can change and develop in character. It can, alas, atrophy in some natures with the passing of the years. But those who retain this power, old or young, have a storehouse of treasure that cannot be taken away from them. For them, solitude can indeed be bliss.
Just how much of this "bliss" we may permit ourselves to experience in these days is another matter. For most of us, life today brings such a constant round of necessary activity that "time to stand and stare," as another poet puts it, is a luxury. One has almost a feeling of guilt when indulging in such a pastime, and is inclined to ask oneself, "Is it productive of anything?" Wordsworth, it is true, could turn the use of his "inward eye" to some account, for he could not only recreate for himself the vision of those daffodils "beside the lake, beneath the trees," but he could convey the beauty and delight of that vision to others by the magic of his poetry. You and I, being no Wordsworths, may feel that time spent in such backward glancing is unprofitable, both to ourselves and others. "We must," we say, "get on with the job."
And in one sense this is true. To indulge in beautiful visions, of whatever nature, when we ought to be concentrating on an immediate duty or problem is idle self-indulgence, camouflage it as we may to ourselves. And to think we can benefit the grief-stricken or destitute by pointing out the beauties of nature or the possibilities of human evolution is worse than folly, it is thoughtless cruelty. One surely would not ask a stricken Fenland farmer or a British shepherd, faced with row upon row of dead and dying sheep, frozen in the winter blizzards, to admire the beauty of the storm cloud or the pattern of snowdrifts on the frost-bound hills!
In all these matters we must use discrimination, learning by study of our own nature, our reaction to our own suffering and despair, when and where to speak, or to withhold speech. Silence is a potent balm, — service a restful sling to a broken or bruised heart.
Yet there comes a time when, warmed by quiet sympathy and unobtrusive help, the heart is ready for the spoken word, nay, it craves that word; for the spirit of man, unconquerable as the Spring, will respond to the touch of the awakening light. It may be then that we can say a few words about our great Teachings, to awaken new hope, arouse new courage. It may be we can strike the right chord by drawing attention to the everlasting optimism evinced every year in Nature's own handiwork.
Sometimes we ourselves, during the trials of last Winter, felt inspiration and tranquillity of spirit drain from us, as warmth and wellbeing denied us their comfort. It was hard, with taps frozen, and no fire in the grate, to radiate cheerfulness and humor; hard, when with a sniffling cold, and chilblained feet we had to turn out to work, to say "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world." The lark was not on the wing, and morning was not at seven.
Yet the "inward eye," for me, at least, can recall in a golden sunrise, a magic sparkling roadway, and the sudden wonder and delight on children's faces responding to the suggestion that we were not just Tom, Harry, Mary and Jill walking with Teacher to school, but a royal family of Princes and Princesses treading a pathway strewn with priceless diamonds. That this magic carpet, this royal jewelled way, must soon vanish from beneath the feet did but enhance its beauty and its value. What matter its transcience? For the time being we were richer than princes of the Orient, stirred to a new realization of beauty. We "gazed and gazed, but little thought what wealth the show . . . had brought."
It takes the pointing finger, the word in season, sometimes, to awaken in our fellow men that other "inward eye," whose faculty is to discern the diamonds of light and truth that are about our Path: to translate Life's cold and bitter experiences into jewels of inexpressible value. First we must recognize this transfiguration for ourselves; and then we shall find the opportunities to impart that wealth to others, — wealth that is indeed "treasure in heaven."