O glorious nature! Supremely fair and sovereignly good! All-loving and all-lovely, all-divine!—A few photos from the Cambridge University Botanic Garden

This afternoon I took myself off to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden to engage in some prayerful, quiet acts of walking, sitting, contemplation, reflection and, of course, the taking of photographs which is for me very much a "spiritual practice." As always I include here a few photographs from the visit (just click on a photo to enlarge it) taken with my iPhone 6+ and the Hipstamatic app using a setting of my own (not accidentally with an 17th/18th century painterly quality about it).

As on many other such occasions a beautiful prayer written by Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) came back into my mind. Of course, when I'm minded to say it I don't offer it up to any actually existent goddess but I am happy to say it in the way, perhaps, the great Epicurean and materialist poet Lucretius once addressed the goddess Venus in his sublime poem "On the Nature of Things" (De Rerum Natura).

The speaker is standing on a hilltop at sunrise:

O glorious nature! Supremely fair and sovereignly good! All-loving and all-lovely, all-divine! Whose looks are so becoming and of such infinite grace, whose study brings such wisdom and whose contemplation such delight, whose every single work affords an ampler scene and is a nobler spectacle than all which every art presented! — O mighty nature! Wise substitute of Providence! Empowered creatress! Or thou empowering deity, supreme creator! Thee I invoke and thee alone adore. To thee this solitude, this place, these rural meditations are sacred while thus inspired with harmony of thought, though unconfined by words and in loose numbers, I sing of nature’s order in created beings and celebrate the beauties which resolve in thee, the source and principle of all beauty and perfection.

Thy being is boundless, unsearchable, impenetrable. In thy immensity all thought is lost, fancy gives over its flight and wearied imagination spends itself in vain, finding no coast nor limit of this ocean, nor, in the widest tract through which it soars, one point yet nearer the circumference than the first centre whence it parted. — Thus having oft essayed, thus sallied forth into the wide expanse, when I return again within myself, struck with the sense of this so narrow being and of the fullness of that immense one, I dare no more behold the amazing depths nor sound the abyss of deity.—

Yet since by thee, O sovereign mind, I have been formed such as I am, intelligent and rational, since the peculiar dignity of my nature is to know and contemplate thee, permit that with due freedom I exert those faculties with which thou has adorned me. Bear with my venturous and bold approach. And since nor vain curiosity, nor fond conceit, nor love of aught save thee alone inspires me with such thoughts as these, be thou my assistant and guide me in this pursuit, while I venture thus to tread the labyrinth of wide nature and endeavour to trace thee in thy works. (Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times ed. Lawrence Klein, Cambridge University Press, 1999 p. 298-99).


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