On our website, there is a list of the top ten reasons to attend Thomas More College of Liberal Arts; one of these is titled simply “New England.” Below, an explanatory paragraph describes the wide variety of activities that students here may enjoy on account of this region’s “four distinct seasons.” Truly, the seasons of New England are no small part of why I chose this college, and why I am now so glad I chose it. They create a far superior environment than the blurry seasons of more southern regions. Various outdoor activities, however, are not the only benefits that New England’s seasons offer us. Nor, I think, are they the best.
First, the seasons help us to continually rediscover the beauty of this world.
Right now it is summer, as it was summer when I visited our Merrimack campus for the first time: the lawn is lush, the trees are full, and the mosquitoes are terrible. Everything seems to be in a state of fulfillment. But, as the poet Richard Wilbur has said, “any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.” So a cycle through the seasons will teach you, and when the seasons are as dramatic as they are here in New England, you learn all the better. It will not be too long until our fellow students return and I catch my first whiff of autumn on the breeze, see new colors among the leaves, and hear crackles beneath my feet. A bit later, the branches that were just days ago covered by blazing scarlets and glowing yellows will be stark and the air will be sharp. Then shall come the snow, and the world will turn soft again—if only for a while.
The motion of the planet sparks changes around us which cause the grandeur in nature to flame out, suddenly much more apparent than it had been before. We come alive at it. The beauty that strikes us then is both the beauty that is passing, which we had simply grown used to, and the beauty that is just emerging, which we have not experienced since the previous year. We forget these beauties and find them again – cyclically – for our whole lives. We forget because we have fickle hearts; we find again because we are giddy things. By God’s mercy, the beauty of the world changes in “such kind ways,” as Wilbur also said, so as to play to our own fallen natures.
Moreover, as we savor the season passing while simultaneously welcoming the new one, we feel unmistakably the steady march of time. This is a second benefit of the seasons: they help us keep track of time.
Of course, there are many other things that help us with this—clocks, calendars, and wrinkles to name a few —but the seasons remind us in a gentler, more personal manner. They remind us for the short term, as when Theresa Scott, while we were lounging in the hammocks outside the girls’ dorm one evening, pointed out that the tiger lilies would be blooming soon. Sure enough, a splash of orange greeted me a few days later, the mark of midsummer, and I suddenly felt my vacation from school slipping away. The seasons also, however, remind us for the long term: they remind us that our very lives are slipping by. The months in a year do not blur together as much when they are punctuated by such startling seasonal changes, and the years themselves become more distinct because we have so clearly come through a full circle with the start of each new one. The seasons therefore constantly remind us not only that this world is lovely, but also that it is not our home.
Yet there is a third reason why I think our “four distinct seasons” are so great, and it is especially appropriate for a college of liberal arts: the New England seasons enable us to understand poetry better.
As all TMC students learn in their sophomore year from Mr. Brooks and Mr. Warren, poets use imagery of concrete, particular things in order to communicate greater truths through them; a poem is more powerful when it creates more vivid images in the mind of its reader. Because we have experienced such strong seasons on the Thomas More College campus, the imagery of seasonal metaphors, which poets so often use, strikes us more intensely and allows us to grasp more deeply the meaning of the poem. Also, since our hearts have already been affected by seasons in the world, they are more easily touched by seasons in the word.
For example, when the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins is trying to explain to his friend why he has lately written so little, he refers to his mind as a “winter world.” Instantly we remember the winters we have known—icy, harsh, allowing nothing to grow and dragging on eternally. Such a world often seems dead and beyond reviving; just so, we realize, did Hopkins’ creative ability seem to him. In other poems, however, Hopkins speaks not of winter but of spring. He rejoices that spring is “growth in everything,” and we rejoice with him; for knowing so well the bitterness of winter, we know all the better the sweetness of spring.
At this I think back to one particular week of my freshman spring semester: we had an unusual number of classes canceled, trees were blooming everywhere you turned, and the weather was exceedingly fine; we lounged about in the new sunshine and afternoon walks to the reservoir became increasingly popular—this was also the first time I realized that the old cliché sayings about romances and flowers blossoming in spring actually had some solid basis. Hopkins would have asked and answered:
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy . . .
Without having lived through that New England spring, I would not be nearly so persuaded by these lines.
And so it can be clearly seen that our dramatic seasons here at Thomas More College are simply good for the soul—reawakening it to beauty, reminding it of the time now and the eternity to come, and preparing it for poetry. Or at least they have for mine.