“Tongues in trees, and good in everything”

“Woods in Winter” by Charles Warren Eaton, 1886, at the National Gallery of Art

In Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, a character called Duke Senior has been exiled by his younger brother to the Forest of Arden. As befits a gentle comedy, he finds the woods a fine place, and he has “merry men with him; and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England: they say many young gentlemen flock to him every day, and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world.” (From Act I, Scene I)

What place could be better than a woods, even in winter? In the opening of Act II, Duke Senior speaks of the wonders of nature. May it inspire all of us to take a walk in the woods as the days grow short, and may we enjoy the good in everything we find.

… … …

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile, and say
“This is no flattery. These are counselors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.”
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 everything.

— from As You Like It by William Shakespeare, Act II Scene I, lines1–17

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