Geoffrey Winthrop Young
Only a hill: earth set a little higher
above the face of earth: a larger view
Of little fields and roads: a little nigher
to clouds and silence: what is that to you?
Only a hill; but all of life to me,
up there, between the sunset and the sea.
Lift but a hand: the beating of the heart
answers with hope and thrill of conscious force.
Look upward: thought, unhindered, soars apart
in still pursuit upon a loftier course.
Climb but a little hill: you too may find
the clouds ebb surely from your clearer mind
Action and soul are one: the leaping blood
drives hope into the heart; a purer air
sweetens the breath of thought; the doubting mood
is shallow vapour on the face of care.
Life’s sorrows rise no higher than our hedges;
the distant view has heaven about its edges.
Look from a height: the city and the plain
and the near clouds are but as one in seeming;
all earth is but a link in the dim chain
that binds our little seeing to our dreaming;
life, with its limits merged in larger truth,
looks as it looked once from our heights of youth.
Only a hill: yes, looked at from below:
facing the usual sea, the frequent west.
Tighten the muscle, feel the strong blood flow
and set your foot upon the utmost crest!
There, where the realms of thought and effort cease,
wakes on your heart a world of dreams, and peace.
Only a hill . . . .
* * * * * *
Mountains are moods; of larger rhythm and line, moving between the eternal mode and mine. (High Hills, by Geoffrey Winthrop Young) But whence come these moods, for they do live?
All landscapes have their beauty and fascination and I have come to love many different landscapes in many different places. But to me there seems to be something more special about mountains than other landscapes. They are magical places, creating their own climate and beautiful light and they soar upwards, lifting one up and pointing the way.
Mountains seem to have a special spiritual element to them which resonate with man’s spirit. This quality has been espoused by many over the centuries, whether religious or not. In the Bible, David wrote “ I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains, from whence cometh my help”. Help from mountains? Mountains are inanimate! But can it be that mountains are but a symbol for spiritual ideas?
David is not the only one to have seen such significance in mountains. Many peoples, Buddhists in particular, regard mountains as holy places.
Lord Byron in “Childe Harold” wrote
“Above me are the Alps,
The Palaces of Nature, whose vast walls
Have pinnacled in clouds their snowy scalps,
And throned Eternity in icy halls
Of cold Sublimity . . . .
All that expands the spirit, yet appals,
Gather round these summits, as to show
How Earth may pierce to Heaven, yet leave vain man below”
Geoffrey Winthrop Young in his poem “High Hills” wrote
There is much comfort in high hills,
and a great easing of the heart.
We look upon them,
and our nature fills with loftier images from life apart.
They set our feet on curves of freedom,
bent to snap the circles of our discontent.
Mountains are moods;
of larger rhythm and line,
moving between the eternal mode and mine.
Moments in thought, of which I too am part,
I lose in them my instant of brief ills.
There is great easing of the heart,
and cumulance of comfort on high hills.
Mountains are moods and they do lift one up, out of the mundane world, to a higher plane, showing us how trivial our earthly ills are. Geoffrey Winthrop Young takes this a little further in his poem “The Hill”, in which he talks about the effect on a person when they climb a mountain. He writes
Action and soul are one:
the leaping blood drives hope into the heart;
a purer air sweetens the breath of thought :
the doubting mood is shallow vapour on the face of care.
Life’s sorrows rise no higher than our hedges;
the distant view has Heaven about its edges.
The distant view has Heaven about its edges
Having made the effort, having risen above “the face of care” one is finally on the summit. The summit. A place where the world is thousands of years ago, the “ruined rooftops of the world”. And here a different spiritual feeling takes over. Here there is a feeling of awe, and remarkable peace. There is a sense of reverence, conveyed by the mountain itself. We sit there, in silence, for mere words would only break the sphere. Here the mind roams free, hearing the music of the breeze, not hemmed in by the city or in fact when one is in the valley, by the hills themselves. Here the view expands and with it the mind, the spirit. The distant view does indeed have Heaven about its edges. Eventually though, we needs must return to the valley but our fervent hope is that we take something back with us. WK Holmes puts this so well in his poem “Mountain Reverie”:
This is the rocky solitude I love;
The rock below me and the sky above;
A cool air moving; save its sigh no sound:
Glory of golden light and peace profound.
Too soon this hushed uplifted hour must end
And I to meet the world once more descend;
Yet something surely will remain my own
Of this benediction I have known.
Here again is this feeling of reverence, of something spiritual from the mountain to man which amounts to a benediction. Here again is the acknowledgment that mountains symbolise something spiritual which lift man’s own spirit out of this world.
yet something surely will remain my own
Of this benediction I have known
The famous Scottish and Himalayan mountaineer, the late WH “Bill” Murray wrote in similar thoughtfulness in his autobiography “The Evidence of things Not Seen” :-
A lammergeyer, or bearded vulture, with a wing-span of nine feet, was soaring overhead. I climbed by the east ridge from the col. My route along the crest led me into a broad green avenue between pines and giant rhododendron trees in full bloom – pale purple, scarlet, and pink – not in a tangle of crowded bushes, but each a tall tree standing well-spaced and apart from its fellow; each a blossoming of individual glory, encompassed by sunlit air. At the top of the avenue, where the trees began to thin out on the steepening hill, I sat down and watched them for a while.
I tried to let their beauty seep in, and when I did so, a new beauty, something additional to all I had yet seen, seemed to shine out of them; out of the grass an added richness of green, out of the pines more fragrance of resin, from the blossom of the rhododendrons a glow of colour still brighter; unfathomable deeps and gentleness bloomed in the sky’s blue. This newness taken on by the world was like that of something freshly created. Its loveliness had youth and vigour and an immortality so obviously not of its manifested self, but of that ever new and ancient beauty, wherein all individual things have being and life and which they serve. Five thousand feet under me, from the dark greens of the Nandakini Gorge up to the brown tip of the lammergeyer’s wing, turned to the sky where it wheeled in thin pure air, and in all that lay between, there was displayed the overwhelming harmony of things sharply strange and separate, that fully and from their beginning were entered into one another and oned. How clearly this integrating principle of the universe disposed and flung forth His power that morning. His name men called God, or the Infinite One, Beauty or Truth, according to the context in which His works happen to be seen”
And my own father, in the last verse of a mountain poem he wrote, said:
Oh Maker of all this beauty on earth
and the endless heavens above
Give to small man the help and the strength to carry his load
Thru the valleys and shadows forests and glens
Up the steep slopes to the heights above
and the crest of the mountain where my love burns strong
and my soul will forever belong.
The crest of the mountain where my love burns strong
and my soul will forever belong
It seems to me, as a one-time mountaineer, and also through having read what others say about mountains, that there is something spiritual in mountains or something in mountains which resonate with something spiritual in us. . Earlier I mentioned spiritual symbolism. Perhaps they do represent truth, the need for humility, striving always upwards to better things, seeking out the Eternal.
We need mountains. We need them for practical purposes if nothing else. They create climate zones, they change and modify our weather, they create, trap and channel water, and are the birthplace of rivers. Importantly, we need mountains for the effect they have on us., as places of wilderness. Like all wilderness they must be preserved, not for our pleasure, nor for our economic benefit, but for the part they play in ensuring life on this earth. They are an important part of the fragile, integrated biosphere that allows us to live on this fragile earth we call home.
Sadly, our mountains, like all our wild areas, are being plundered by the selfishness of mankind and the greed of developers. National parks are still seen as playgrounds and revenue raisers. But mountains are holy places.
Recently I was talking to an Austrian friend of mine who has lived in Australia most of his life. He had just returned from a holiday in Austria and I said how wonderful it must be to walk in such beautiful mountains. But his reply was that he was glad to get back to the as yet unspoiled wilderness around Canberra. He said that in Austria the mountains are being ruined by more and more tracks, ever increasing numbers of people, large trekking parties, increasing commercialism, lodges, hotels, high level cafes and bars, ski runs and ski tows, cable cars, water pollution and land degradation. In effect, the mountains are being draped with the accoutrements of city living.
Unfortunately, the very spirit of the mountains is being destroyed. Not only in Austria, but everywhere. Only in the last few weeks I have seen that the Tasmanian State Government is talking of opening one of the world’s most fantastic wilderness tracks, the iconic South Coast Track, to developers. One developer who is interested talked about the poor facilities and track which needed to be updated, including the establishment of better access and lodges. I thought this was a wilderness track. What has happened to a love of wilderness for its own sake?
We human beings need to take note of what Bill Murray saw and recognised – This newness taken on by the world was like that of something freshly created. Its loveliness had youth and vigour and an immortality so obviously not of its manifested self, but of that ever new and ancient beauty, wherein all individual things have being and life and which they serve. All things of our fragile world have life and serve. They serve us in that they give us life. Without them we will no longer be able to live on this planet. We must see it all as Murray saw it and protect it. Murray saw the harmony and the integrated nature of all Being, of all things. If we destroy that, as we are doing, then we destroy ourselves.