Sitting on the
patio behind the Morris Inn at Notre Dame I look out at the
lawn and notice among the green grass the white flowers of
clover. There is a phrase, "in clover," that one still hears
from time to time, but what does it mean? To be in clover
is to be in a desirable condition, to be happy, to be lucky.
There is a line of a once popular song containing the upbeat
claim, "I'm in clover." Like so many terms and phrases, originally
metaphors, this one has all but lost its literal base. When
that happens, the metaphor is likely to travel in the opposite
direction, so that to be in clover seems somewhat like "smiling
fields," a transfer to the natural world of a human condition.
Happy grass to have such clover in it.
phrase would have referred to the field in which clover grew
among the grass, a condition favorable to ruminants. The milk
of cows on such a diet was preferable. Language, like its
users, is ever on the move; we think and talk in a world quite
different from that of our agrarian forebears in which nature
was a mother and source of food and drink. Ours is by and
large a plastic world, electronic, and our reality more virtual
than real. Not entirely, thank God. We still get caught in
the rain, pick an apple from the tree, feel the warmth of
the sun, cultivate our gardens, and savor on occasion a glass
of unbottled water. Hudor ariston indeed.
mixed success, substitute for the Gospel parables what they
regard as modern equivalents, taken all too often alas from
their personal lives. "A sower went out to sow..." What can
that mean to modern urban man? So many layers of the artificial
obscure the natural world that it seems our only access to
it is by way of the metaphorical extension to it of human
characteristics. But without a primary grasp of flocks and
fields and crops and wind and rain language becomes unanchored
and worse than jargon.
No wonder philosophers
dwell on what they call the "intuition of being," an effort
to get beneath the layers of familiarity so we can wonder
at what is, marvel that there is anything at all. Quite abstract,
of course. After all, to be is to be something or other.
Poets have the same problem, trying to arrest our attention
and direct it to the primary things all but eclipsed by chatter
and routine. It is paradoxical that we have to discover the
obvious, uncover it, only to realize that it was always implicitly
there for us. It had better be. The created world is the first
language God uses to speak to us and without it the further
destiny to which we are called can never be expressed. The
world has not been lost. We have been. To regain it is to
be in clover indeed.