One of the themes of W. S. Merwin’s reading/talk/performance a couple of weeks ago was imagination. “Not living by imagination is killing us,” he said, and went on to connect nature and imagination, saying exactly this: “Nature is imagination.” I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve been rereading W. C. Williams’s “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” a poem that is just as full of abstractions (love, death) as things, but which offers finger and toeholds for those of us free-climbing up the poem in the phrases that engage the senses, i.e., names of things.
“No ideas but in things,” Williams writes elsewhere, a sentiment that, for a thinker, invites immersion in the physical world, plastic as well as plants. After a few decades of writing under the influence of the famous proclamation (“No ideas. . .”), I find that I think I know what Merwin means: nature is an endless source of inspiration and provocation for me, and, again for me, there is no writing without both of these. The human-built world may spark imaginative acts but it does not imagine.
As for people–which are part of nature? Well, the places where the human and the more than human come together might just be the most interesting places of all. And every time we read or write something that engages the wild world, aren’t we making such a place?