Splendid Visions: A meditation on the childhood sublime

From Orion Magazine:

Cities are not entirely devoid of nature, I know, but their parks and reserves make it difficult to achieve what Thoreau named “a constant intercourse with nature,” one that leads to “the contemplation of natural phenomenon” and thus to “the preservation of moral & intellectual health.” For Thoreau, that constancy was not negotiable. If he thought he could have achieved the sublime in the Boston Common—the oldest park in the nation—he might have tried, but he didn’t believe it was possible. Consummate immersion in the deep green of Concord was the only method of obtaining the particular brand of clarity that had become so necessary for his sustained contentment.

WHAT WILL BECOME of Ethan, of his “moral & intellectual health,” in the city of Boston without Thoreau’s constancy, without the mountains and meadows, the rivers and forests so integral to his development into a fully feeling adult? Since his birth I have returned again and again to Wordsworth and Thoreau with a kind of hallowed intensity, convinced that their nature-wisdom has something to teach me about raising and loving my son. I’ve been conflicted since day one over the prospect of raising Ethan in the city, because my beloved Wordsworth recommends a life in nature—because Wordsworth wouldn’t have been Wordsworth without it—and because I myself grew up within frolicking distance of forests and streams that taught me about bliss and its first ingredient, beauty. Too much concrete, macadam, and steel—like too much electronic illumination, God help us—must be detrimental to a child’s development. Someone asked me recently, “What do you want Ethan to be? A poet?” And I thought: Indeed. The poets, those unacknowledged legislators, have always been wiser than the philosophers, the politicians, the pundits. If it’s true that children raised in cities often grow into shrewd, incisive adults wise to the crooked ways of the world, that being exposed daily to a wealth of cultures, languages, libraries, bookstores, theaters, and museums can make impressive people, Wordsworth might argue that those individuals lack a “sense sublime / Of something far more deeply interfused”—that is, a sense of the unity, harmony, freedom, and “unwearied Joy” exemplified by nature. Who doesn’t want “unwearied Joy” for his child? Emerson might go a bit further and say that those divorced from nature have a thinking deficiency, because “Nature is the vehicle of thought.”

More here.