Why Assay?

Why pay attention? Because if you don’t, you may be forfeiting more than a snapshot.

One of my favorite poems is Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider.” Here is the whole poem:

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Typical of the literary period of Romanticism, Whitman emphasizes the individual, the power of imagination, and the individual’s search for transcendent meaning.

A Slice from Contemporary Life: Over recent days, I have tried to assay–to really pay attention, examine, look at carefully–beauty. Whitman watched the spider launch filament out of itself in a search for an anchor. Foundations are crucial for all creatures. Even Whitman admitted that.

A few days back I was hiking, and I passed a tree that I’ve stopped at many times before (pictured below). Yet again I paused, sat on it, wondered how and why it grew the way it did (what is its background story?). It was beautiful in its own way, knots and all.

This week, at least where I have been, the weather has gone from sunny and warm, to rainy and cool, and everything in between. I have snapped shots, whenever I could, of images that arrested me. Sometimes the sun would cut through the clouds when I was running (okay, jogging is probably more accurate). At other times, the live oaks that grow abundantly here took me back to childhood days when I would climb their massive limbs and smell the oaks and the soil in landscapes I have never outgrown.

Whitman’s soul longed for a place to land, a place to anchor. I think he touched on what great writers sense–that we creatures look up at the sun piercing the clouds, and out at the trees which grow for centuries, and marvel because there is an architecture to this world only God could fashion. And we are blessed when we pause, look around (and even up), in gratitude.

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