John Cowper Powys on “Difficult Art of Simplification”

John Cowper Powys (1872 – 1963) writes in his book The meaning of `Culture:

The first conscious aim which it would be wise to concentrate upon is the difficult art of simplification. The difference between cultured people and uncultured people, in regard to their response to Nature, is that the former make a lot of a little, whereas the latter make little of a lot. By this I mean that the less cultured you are the more you require from Nature before you can be roused to reciprocity. Uncultured people require blazing sunsets, awe-inspiring mountains, astonishing waterfalls, masses of gorgeous flowers, portentous signs in the heavens, exceptional weather on earth, before their sensibility is stirred to a response. Cultured people are thrilled through and through by the shadow of a few waving grass-blades upon a little flat stone, or by a single dock-leaf growing under the railings of some city square. It is an affectation to boast, as certain moralists do, that a city-dweller can get the same thrill from dingy sparrows and dusty foliage as from a rain-wet meadow full of buttercups. Better were it, than any such pretension, simply to recognize that in the deepest levels of culture citydwellers are at a disadvantage compared with countrydwellers. Better were it, if it is your ill-luck to live in a city, to hasten into the country, at least once a week, and spend all your dreams during the other days in remembering that happy seventh-day excursion.

But granting that, by hook or by crook, we can obtain some daily or weekly glimpse of Nature free from masonry and pavements, it seems that the best way of deriving lasting enjoyment from such glimpses is to simplify one’s pleasure to the extremest limit possible. By this I mean that it is always wise to avoid show-places and choose for your excursions into the country the simplest and most natural scenery you can find. To a cultured mind no scenery is ordinary, and such a mind will always prefer solitude in an unassuming landscape to crowds of people at some famous ‘inspirational’ resort.

Make sure to check some of the thoughts on natural happiness from John’s brother Llewelyn.

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