Beauty, natural and man made, reflected in the written word

April 15, 2009 at 2:48 pm (books, California, Italy, Nature)

From A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster:

“What seems clear is that his Sierra summer awakened the deepest and most intense passion of his life, a long moment of ecstasy that he would try to remember and relive to the end of his days. His whole body, not his eyes alone, felt the beauty around him. Every sense became intensely alive. He bounded over rocks and up mountains sides, hung over the edge of terrifying precipices, his face drenched in the spray of waterfalls, waded through meadows deep in lilies, laughed at the exuberant antics of grasshoppers and chipmunks, stroked the bark of towering incense cedars and sugar pines, and slept each night on an aromatic mattress of spruce boughs. Each thing he saw or felt seemed joined to the rest in exquisite harmony. ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself,’ he wrote, ‘we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.’ Nature was all one body, beating with a heart like his own,  and more intensely than ever before in his life he felt his own heart b eating in unison. He experienced, in the fullest sense yet, a profound conversion to the religion of nature.

John Muir was a marvelous writer; his biographer, equally so.

John Muir

John Muir

Donald Worster

Donald Worster


In Greene on Capri, Shirley Hazzard describes Villa Fersen, a deserted  estate on the island:

“Inexpressibly romantic in its solitude and decline, it was cared for by a custodial Caprese family who for years intrepidly occupied the kitchen quarters at the landward rear of the building, while the haunted drawing rooms, shedding stucco and gold leaf, teetered ever closer to the limestone brink. The damp garden tended by the housekeeper was ravishing: suitably overgrown, encroached on by a cloud of ferns, creepers, acanthus, agapanthus, amaryllis; shadowed by umbrella pine, and by cypress and ilex; lit from within by massed colours of fuchsia, hortensia, azalea, and all manner of trailing mauves, blues, and purples–wisteria and iris in spring, solanum and ‘stella d’Italia’ in high summer; in autumn, plumabago and  belladonna lilies. Geraniums  were the size of shrubs, and of every red and coral gradation. The different jasmines flowered there, on walls and trellises, in relays throughout the year.

In September and October, crowds of wild cyclamen, small fragrant flowers of Italian woods, sprang from the crevices of the rock face  in which the house is virtually framed….Fersen’s in those years was a garden of mossy textures and dark dense greens, with impasto of luminous flowers: a place of birdsong and long silence; of green lizards and shadowy cats, and decadent Swinburnean beauty.

Shirley Hazzard

Shirley Hazzard

Graham Greene

Graham Greene

I read Greene on Capri because I am headed for Naples and the Amalfi Coast next month. As part of the tour, a day trip to Capri is planned. Shirley Hazzard is a writer whose style has posed difficulties for me in the past – I barely got through The Great Fire. But I was enchanted by this slender little memoir detailing the friendship that Hazzard and her husband, Francis Steegmuller, shared with Graham Greene on that magical island during the postwar years.

Villa Fersen, near and distant:




capri Can it be that in less than a month, I will be in this fabulous place…


  1. Mibsy said,

    No doubt you have already read it, but this post reminds me of my son’s all time favorite book, Red Sails to Capri by Ann Weil. Its a gem. Envying (just a tiny bit) your trip!

  2. Roberta Rood said,


    I’ve never heard of Red Sails to Capri – thanks so much for telling me about it! I shall now seek it out.

    Love your blog, BTW. (Readers, click on Mibsy’s name to get to “Classical Calling.”)

  3. “The sequence of any fiction is, by its nature, the path of time evaporating.” – The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long As It Takes, by Joan Silber « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] (It was a pleasure to run into this fine writer once again. I encountered him last year in Greene on Capri, a reminiscence written by his wife, novelist and memoirist Shirley Hazzard.) Steegmuller’s […]

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