From “Northern Farm” by Henry Beston, 1949

What an excellent, timeless book about Maine farm life through the seasons! Wonderful detail and imagery, complete with philosophical wisdom and observations, still relevant to modern living.

“In spite of rain and cloud, the spring draws near. In the wet and dripping trees, even on these forlorn afternoons, the robins have managed the beginnings of a song. With the change, there comes something particularly needed by the human spirit–an affirmation of that eternal change in nature which rules out stagnancy, and the appearance of the entirely new within the pattern of the old. We are not treated to fantasies and monsters; the world remains the world we have known. I suspect that in human existence our problem is the finding of some like harmony between what is fixed and of the pattern and what is untried and eager to be born.”


“Among the many things for which I remain profoundly grateful is the fact that so much of life defies human explanation. The unimaginative and the dull may insist that they have an explanation for everything, and level at every wonder and mystery of life their popgun theories, but God be praised, their wooden guns have not yet dislodged the smallest star. It is well that this be so, for the human spirit can die of explanations, even if, like many modern formulae, they are but explanations which do not explain.

A world without wonder, and a way of mind without wonder, becomes a world without imagination, and without imagination man is a poor and stunted creature. Religion, poetry, and all the arts have their sources in this upwelling of wonder and surprise. Let us thank God that so much will forever remain out of reach, safe from our inquiry, inviolate forever from our touch.”


“The other day, while looking at an album of good modern photographs of ancient Greek portrayals of the old classical life, many of them “realistic”, I found myself wondering what the quality was in these ancient faces which is absent from ours. The modern face is a tired one, but it was not the absence of fatigue which interested me in these countenances of the past. They too must have known their times of weariness. What was it? Assurance? Acceptance? A sense of roots in an objective world?

I give no answer to my own question. Of one thing, however, I am sure: these people did not ask much. Perhaps asking too much is an error more dangerous than we realize, a thing of strong poison to the human soul. Our world would do well for awhile to muse upon the serenity and happiness possible within our human and earthly limitations.”


“One of the complications of the problem of the machine is the fact that just as certain people are born hunters and farmers, others are born machinists. The mechanical strain is in the humanity, and if it has given us a machine civilization increasingly difficult to manage, it has also given us the wheel and the knife. I do not forget that memorable saying of my old friend Edward Gilchrist that “the secret of the artificer is the secret of civilization.” Yet what we must ask today is whether or not the mechanist strain has increased out of all bounds, and taken over an undue proportion of the way of life. It is well to use the wheel but it is fatal to be bound to it.”


“When this twentieth century of ours became obsessed with a passion for mere size, what was lost sight of was the ancient wisdom that the emotions have their own standards of judgment and their own sense of scale. In the emotional world a small thing can touch the heart and the imagination as something impressively gigantic; a fine phrase is as good as an epic, and a small brook in the quiet of a wood can have its say with a voice more profound than the thunder of any cataract.

Who would live happily in the country must be wisely prepared to take great pleasure in little things. Country living is a pageant of Nature and the year; it can no more stay fixed than a movement in music, and as the seasons pass, they enrich life more with little things than with great, with remembered moments rather than with the slower hours. A gold and scarlet leaf floating solitary on the clear, black water of the morning rain barrel can catch the emotion of a whole season, and chimney smoke blowing across the winter moon can be a symbol of all that is mysterious in human life.”


“Every autumn I watch for one great star. It is the star Capella, and when in September I look to the north and see it rising over the somber roof line of a deserted barn, I know that winter is near. Night after night it stands a little higher above the earth when twilight comes, and when arrives the true cold and the dark, it has cleared the floors of earth and the low mists and is rising on its great arc into that northeast whence come the birds whose clamor sometimes wakes us in the earlier night. There is an order established against whose laws only fools will struggle, an order whose acceptance is the very cornerstone of life and peace.”


“At a little concert in a country hall, there is singing by a young people’s choir and a number of what we call here “instrumental selections.” Presently a woman of middle age whom I have never heard before rises and sings beautifully a lovely song of the great Elizabethan heritage, and there comes over me a sense of the poignancy and dignity to which the human spirit can rise, and I realize again that one of the great functions of any art is the constantly renewed revelation of the possible greatness of the human spirit.”


“What has come over our age is an alienation from Nature unexampled in human history. It has cost us our sense of reality and all but cost us our humanity. With the passing of a relation to Nature worthy both of Nature and the human spirit, with the slow burning down of the poetic sense together with the noble sense of religious reverence to which it is allied, man has almost ceased to be man. Torn from earth and unaware, having neither the inheritance and awareness of man nor the other sureness and integrity of the animal, we have become vagrants in space, desperate for the meaninglessness which has closed about us.  True humanity is no inherent and abstract right but an achievement, and only through the fullness of human experience may we be as one with all who have been and all who are yet to be, sharers and brethren and partakers of the mystery of living, reaching to the full peace and the full of human joy.”


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply