The Knowledge of a Garden
May 11, 1881
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Swiss moral philosopher, poet, critic, and nature-lover, Henri Frederic Amiel.
Henri used the garden as a metaphor for life. He wrote,
“Before my history can teach anybody anything, or even interest myself, it must be disentangled from its materials, distilled and simplified. These thousands of pages are but the pile of leaves and bark from which the essence has still to be extracted. A whole forest of cinchonas are worth but one cask of quinine. A whole Smyrna rose garden goes to produce one vial of perfume.”
Henri also recognized the healing power of nature. On June 3, 1849, he wrote,
“Come, kind nature, smile and enchant me! Veil from me awhile my own griefs and those of others; let me see only the folds of thy queenly mantle, and hide all miserable and ignoble things from me under thy bounties and splendors!”
On April 29, 1852, Henri wrote about his spring garden.
“I went out into the garden to see what progress the spring was making. I strolled from the irises to the lilacs, round the flower-beds, and in the shrubberies.
Reverie is the Sunday of thought; It is like a bath which gives vigor and suppleness… to the mind as to the body; the banquet of the butterfly wandering from flower to flower over the hills and in the fields. And remember, the soul too is a butterfly.”
And also, in this passage, Henri famously advised,
“A modest garden contains, for those who know how to look and to wait, more instruction than a library.”