On the island there is only a single house, but a large, pleasant and comfortable one which, like the island, belongs to Bern Hospital and in which a tax collector lives with his family and servants. He maintains a large farmyard, a pigeon house, and fishponds. Despite its smallness, the island is so varied in its terrain and vistas that it offers all kinds of landscapes and permits all kinds of cultivation. You can find fields, vineyards, woods, orchards, and rich pastures shaded by thickets and bordered by every species of shrubbery, whose freshness is preserved by the adjacent water. A high terrace planted with two rows of trees runs the length of the island, and in the middle of this terrace a pretty reception hall has been built where the inhabitants of the neighboring banks gather and come to dance on Sundays during harvests.
On St. Peter’s Island, a view presented courtesy of Swiss tourism, Rousseau finds peace and reverie. This is the pleasure of Virgil’s Georgics. The pleasure of agriculture and nature intertwining to the rhythm of seasonal changes and the dance of humans circling each other in praise of planting and harvest. As Bachelard writes of this pleasure,
Reverie without drama, without event or history gives us true repose, the repose of the feminine. There we gain gentleness of living. Gentleness, slowness, peace, such is the motto of reverie in anima. It is in reverie that we can find the fundamental elements for a philosophy of repose.
In Latin, anima means a current of air, breath, life, soul, the vital principle. In Psychology and Alchemy, Carl Jung explores definitions of the anima.
The water that the mother, the unconscious, pours into the basin belonging to the anima is an excellent symbol for the living power of the psyche. The old alchemists never tired of devising new and expressive synonyms for this water. They called it aqua nostra, mercurius vivus, argentum vivum, vinum ardens, aqua vitae, succus lunariae, and so on, by which they meant a living being not devoid of substance, as opposed to the rigid immateriality of mind in the abstract. (74)
And here the facing illustration in Psychology and Alchemy.
To walk on an island in the middle of a lake and then to write of pleasure and peace in such a place is to take a bath in the fountain of the anima. In The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious he writes, “she [the anima] is called ‘the highest interpreter and nearest custodian (of the eternal),’ which aptly characterizes her function as mediator between conscious and unconscious.”
So we walk and write in images conjuring a deep well of vitality and spirit. Happiness. Balance. The outside and inside step for step in repose and reflection. Waters of life. Meanwhile, on my table there is a salmon waiting for seasoning and roasting.
Salt, white pepper, black pepper, oregano, parsley, thyme, dill, onion, garlic, olive oil, olives, oranges and limes–all mixed together in a bowl and then scooped, smeared and pressed into deep cuts in the salmon and in the hollow of its belly. Let it marinate. Let it linger in flora. Time for another walk.
I’m out visiting nearby cliffs and lakes. A walk to Nyckelvikens Naturreservat means leaving the house, walking north to Värmdövägen, then under the road through a tunnel, back into sunshine and up to the Ica Maxi, crossing Saltsjöbadsleden and following a path leading up into a woods bordered by houses on the right and a highway on the left. Eventually, I walk through a tunnel under the highway and emerge in the Naturreseervat. A long winding path through woods of pine, spruce and birch until I stand on old granite and look out on the Baltic Sea.
In A Place In The Country, W.G. Sebald writes about Rousseau’s stay on the Île Saint-Pierre. He writes about visiting the banks of Lake Bienne in 1965 and then in 1996. He takes a room in the same building where Rousseau stayed in September 1765. It’s easy to move back and forth in time writing down the years and thinking of a space that has stayed in its coordinates all this time. Sebald writes,
For me, though, as I sat in Rousseau’s room, it was as if I had been transported back to an earlier age, an illusion I could indulge in all the more readily inasmuch as the island retained that same quality of silence, undisturbed by even the most distant sound of a motor vehicle, as was still to be found everywhere in the world a century or two ago. (48)
Reverie leads to reverie. Sebald follows the botanizing walks of Rousseau as Rousseau writes (all this reading and writing has much to do with reverie),
Nothing is more singular than the raptures and ecstasies I felt with each observation I made on plant structure and organization, as well on the role of the sexual parts in sporulation, which was then a completely new system to me. I was enchanted to discover generic features of which I previously had not the slightest idea and to verify them on common species, while waiting for rarer ones to offer themselves to me.
Rousseau compiles small herbaria for young ladies in the area, which Sebald pours over at the Musée Carnavalet and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.
The herbarium Rousseau compiled for himself, meanwhile–eleven quarto volumes–was, up to the Second World War, preserved in the Botanical Museum in Berlin, until, like so much and so many in that city, it went up in flames one night during one of the nocturnal bombing raids.
Death with all its fire and smoke intrudes, but let’s pause a moment with all these raptures, ecstasies and enchantments. Bachelard considers the union of plant and word.
To love things for their use is a function of the masculine. They are components (pièces) of our actions, of our live actions. But to love them intimately, for themselves, with the slowness of the feminine, that is what leads us into the labyrinth of the intimate Nature of things. Thus, in “feminine reveries,” I complete the very captivating text where Nodier unites his double love of words and things, his double love of the grammarian and the botanist.
And then what of walks, leaves and young ladies? This is very much the world of Pan. In the Third Pythian Ode of Pindar and a fragment, masculine and feminine, and the anima as the masculine unconscious and the animus as the feminine unconscious for Jung, and the goat-god and the nymphs come together as in this Imperial Roman fresco at the Hatay Archaeology Museum, Antakya, Turkey.
But I, for my part, want to offer a prayer to the Mother, the revered goddess whose praises, with those of Pan, girls often sing at night beside my doorway.
O Pan, that rulest over Arcadia, and art the warder of holy shrines . . . thou companion of the Great Mother, thou dear delight of the Holy Graces.
Consider James Hillman writing of Pan and the Nymphs in Pan And The Nightmare,
Pan wants nymphs. We have seen that Pan divides between mountaintop and grotto, between noise and music, between hairy thighs and spiritual horns, between headlong panic and headstrong rape. Another instance, and one more imaginative and appealing, is Pan and his partners, the nymphs. For a god and his partner describe the two main components of an archetypal complex. And if the noblest truth of psychological thinking (Jung) as well as of mythical and mystical philosophy is the identity of the opposites, then not only are the twin nuclei within Pan’s nature one and the same, but Pan and the nymphs are necessarily entailed because they too are one and the same. “The nymphs who accompany Pan are not his subordinates . . . they remain just as divine as he is,” writes Philippe Borgeaud.
An archetypal complex plays itself out through walks and botany, young ladies and fire-bombings in Berlin, anima and animus, a faun and the Great Mother, islands and lakes and all the writing and reading that goes on and on. Time to return to the salmon and a slow roasting in an oven. Bon Appétit!