ELON COLLEGE, JUNE 5, 1912
EVERY MAN HIS OWN PARADISE
WILLIAM LEE ANDERSON
Every man’s soul is enlarged and beautified by an inward flower, which longs to open in the happy felicity of sunshine and freedom. Paradise even in this mortal world is not invisible, save to those who have blinded their eyes to its beauties; not unheard, save to those who have stopped their ears to its harmonies; not unfelt, save to those who have blunted their sensibilities to its sweet experience. Life is just what we make it, merely this and nothing more.
From the humble peasant to the princely youth of regal splendor here we find this inward flower. Flowers of contentment, that conceal poverty and distress in sunshine and happiness; flowers of mediation, that harmonize sympathy and sublimity with love and beauty.
We wander down the crowed street of the city and there daily and hourly we see gatherings of dirty ragged children about the show window of some store where bright flowers are used to adorn and beautify. Even in their financial poverty and rough-clad dress, here they seem in perfect bliss, for all that. In the window above the street, little jars are sitting here and there and oft times a womanly face smiles sweetly upon them, and a womanly hand tenderly cares for them. Thus the little flower in the simple beauty of its divine creation inspires us to loftier ideals and nobler thoughts. In every part of nature, however small, there we find the law of all. Lord Tennyson felt the inspiration of this psychological truth and expressed it in poetical terms,
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies;
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
There is no sorrow, but sorrow of the mind; there is no poverty, but poverty of the mind; there is no failure, but failure of the mind. “As a man thinketh so is he.” Clothe the body with what raiment you choose! Find a man in any vocation of life! Yet the noble heart decked with blossoms of love and happiness sheds eternal beauty. Is the lowly washer-woman a failure? She sings as she hourly toils at the tub, and smiles upon the beauties of a smiling world. No; she is no failure. The tired and weary toiler returning from his daily work is refreshed and inspired by the little pictures dangling from the cottage wall—and he is happy.
Poor is the man who lives by bread alone. He dwells in the poverty of desert places though seemingly he sleeps in palaces. He drinks muddy water from the dead sea, though seemingly he sips royal wine from golden cups. Poor is he who cannot find inspiration in the divine handiwork of God. The happy birds warble in the cool forests and make merry the mornings and the evenings. And why! The lilies of the field, they grow, they toil not neither do they spin. Yet regal splendor in all its glory is not arrayed like one of these! Why consider them? For what was this divine creation?
This inward flower of man’s life mingled with emotional feeling, it is that lead men on and on to nobler ideals and loftier sentiments:
I wonder if ever a song was sung,
But the singer’s heart sang sweeter!
I wonder if ever a hymn was rung,
But the thought surpassed the metre
I wonder if ever a sculptor wrought,
Till the cold stone echoed his ardent thought!
Or if ever a painter, with light and shade,
The dream of his inmost heart portrayed?
The tender emotions left by the song of poets enriches the heart of man with immortal flowers such as bloom on high. The weird and melancholy Poe in all his grief snatched from his hours of desolation and darkness, rays of fairest sunshine, matchless blossoms of eternal song—and his name is world-wide and immortal for all that. A poet roving over the consecrate walks of the charming lake district viewed the grandeurs of nature and listened to the soft melody of songsters in the grove. England glorifies him with a polished dignity and distinction worthy only of Wordsworth and such as he. Scotland’s distinguished plow-boy wandering in humble poverty over the high-land hills lived and loved, and he too is a poet, and he too is a man, for all that. Such poets as these, such writers as the Scotts, Dickens and Johnsons, make a Paradise of a mortal world. They cultivate verdant gardens of undimmed beauty, where the flowers of gracious song never fade, and the leaves of noble biographies never wither.
Contentment is found not necessarily in wealth, but only in the life adorned with the beauties of love and sunshine. The life that sees nothing in the sky, save stars of lofty inspiration. The life that sees nothing on the horizon, save ambitions rosy dawn. There is a glorious invisible world whose shadow is the sunshine of ours. “The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power and all that beauty, all that wealth—ever gave awaits alike the inevitable hour: The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
Finally, all magnificent palaces; all life adorned with the flowers of beauty and love; all life blest with the splendor of health and wealth, is but a shadow of the place of the soul and of that mysterious invisible kingdom that we, now and then, catch glimpses of, in the inspirational moments of our highest and keenest soul joy. Then in regard to the next stage of existence, man has the happy assurance of splendors, and sympathies, and loves, such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive. So there is within the heart of man, yet undeveloped and inert, the possibilities by which he shall eventually see and hear the vision, the hallelujah and the happiness of a better world. Thus man while sojourning upon the earth is only in a antenal state of darkness and development, preparing for a transformation into the invisible and unimagined magnificence and unexcelled beatitude of the future life. Such is the natural endowment of man, to be magnified, adorned, and transformed. And it is not given to mortal eloquence nor human song with all its chains of expression and vivid coloring of words and commingling of sweet melodies to reproduce faithfully nor even with a tolerable satisfaction the glorious metamorphosis by which man becomes, in a better land, HIS OWN PARADISE.