On Squirrel Nutkin, German Opera…and Geese

In yesterday’s post I referenced CS Lewis’s obsession with what he called “Northernness,” German mythology, the Norse gods, the works of Wagner. He also felt Sehnsucht, or deep longing for “the idea of autumn” he referenced as having shaped in his mind from the works of Beatrix Potter, especially Squirrel Nutkin.

If you look at the whimsical yet earnest illustrations of Nutkin for more than a minute or two, they can start to seep into your being, until you too might feel wistful for “the idea of autumn” that Nutkin represents. Contrast that light, watercolored impression with the heaviness of the music of Wagner, another Sehnsucht-inspiring favorite of Lewis. This illustrates what a wide spectrum of interests can capture our imagination.

For today’s poem I am featuring what I have long considered an autumnal, Sehsucht-inducing poem — Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.” Autumn is a season that inherently makes us yearn. Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” could easily be the sound of leaves coloring and falling.

Suddenly, Beatrix Potter, German opera and Mary Oliver seem birds of a feather. Or in this case, geese of longing.

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The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin
The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

—Mary Oliver