Sweet Are the Uses of Adversity

     Long ago, back in ninth grade, my English class read William Shakespeare’s As You Like It.  Then when the class attended a professional production of the play, I was enchanted.  I remember feeling a wistful pleasure as I watched the duke and his friends savor the pleasures they found from living in the forest.  

     Banished from the royal court by his evil brother the usurper, the kindly duke found rich and unexpected joys in his woodland existence.  Along with loving friends who had voluntarily joined him to live in the Forest of Arden, he grew to love living in forest exile.  The little group played and lounged in the trees’ leafy summer shade, and they delighted in watching the movements of their animal neighbors.  In fact, the  friends became so fond of the deer with whom they shared their wooded home that it pained them when they had to kill one of them for food.  The duke found he did not miss the wealth and pomp of the royal court, and he greatly preferred the simplicity of forest life to palace intrigue. 

     Even the cold winter winds had something to offer the duke.  “These chilling winds which blow upon my body are true counsellors,” he said.  “They do not flatter, but represent truly to me my condition;  and though they bite sharply, their tooth is nothing like so keen as that of unkindness and ingratitude.” 

     And then there is the duke’s famous soliloquy:    

“Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.”

     Over the last 40+ years, phrases from that soliloquy have floated pleasantly through my mind from time to time.  While living away from the comforts of civilization is assumed to imply adversity, that is not necessarily the case.  People may find different, and possibly deeper, pleasures in the forest than in the city.  The precious jewel in the soliloquy, apparently refers to a valued medicine that contrasts greatly with its source, the ‘ugly’ toad.  But my favorite part of the soliloquy is “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones.”  The alliteration is certainly pleasing.  But those phrases are also a gentle reminder to me that the natural world has so much to say to us, so much to teach us, and so much to give us. 

     Taking the time to pay attention, as the duke and his friends did for months on end, yields lessons that are not as readily available when one is immersed in an environment that is essentially human-made and human-centered.    

     Like the duke, I too live in a forest.  And also like the duke, I find it a refuge from the political toxicity of our times.  But unlike him, I also enjoy the comforts of living in a house.  And I consider myself very fortunate to be able to look out, and to go out, into the forest, at any time, to take in some of the many lessons and gifts the forest has to offer.–April Moore


6 Responses to “Sweet Are the Uses of Adversity”

  1. Diane Artz Furlong Says:

    Love this one so much, April. My family is suffering a trying time right now and it has been my great good pleasure to go lie down underneath the pines and listen to the wind soughing through the needles. Troubling thoughts do leave for a time. And the painting looks so much like the woods above Cedar Creek here near my home. Minus the jester and maiden of course!

  2. Jim Z. Says:

    April, great essay and picture!

  3. Elizabeth Cottrell Says:

    Oh, April, I do love your writing and the wonderful way you take us along with you on these lyrical adventures with nature and great literature!

  4. Tanya Says:

    Enchanting and bewitching!

  5. Kim Says:

    I loved your piece and it made me think of something I just saw when I re-read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It was spoken by Brother Fowles, the missionary who had folded some of the pagan slants of the Congolese people into his book of religion and creation. He said, “I’ll tell you a secret. When I want to take God at his word exactly, I take a peep out the window at His Creation. Because that, darling, He makes fresh for us every day, without a lot of dubious middle managers.”

  6. Judy Muller Says:

    Oh April, this is one of my favorites. But in reading what the previous five people have written, I cannot add, except to say, “Thank you for sharing your exquisite view of nature, and your love and memory for words, with us.”

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