The Many Greens

“. . . how did the soul ever enter into my body,
the soul which, even within the body,
is the high thing it has shown itself to be.
–Plotinus, Enneads IV:8.1 (

God said to bring forth plants, but why so many shades of green? You look over a field by the side of the road, and the forbs, trees, and mossy rocks are all a different green. Each grass is a different green, too—orchard grass, barnyard grass, three-awn, cordgrass, brome, foxtail barley, timothy. Plus there is the green of the primitive species such as scouring rush and the sedges. I like them all. They soothe me after inescapable immersion in ugly daily reality. I need the many greens and lament having to leave them after they have done their magic. Is this what Plotinus felt when he lamented, following the ascent of his soul, its subsequent and precipitous descent?

Yet I am really somewhere else. Regardless of what I do during the day, with whatever people, afterward when I am alone I feel empty and distant, as if rather than feeling uplifted, I am downlifted to a dark planet bereft of the slightest scrap of joy. If only I could get as high as Plotinus, perhaps I wouldn’t mind crashing to earth, or if I did, the landing would be cushioned a little. No, contrarily, I begin at the bottom when I awake in the morning, fumble on the edge of a precipice below which a jagged cauldron of unknowns bubbles away, then have to jerk myself back from the danger and attempt to propel myself not into outer, Plotinian space but just high enough to stand upright and see the obstacles of the day. I do not want to blast off because I know the landing will be hard; better not to blast off and not come crashing down. Plotinus’ trajectory, exhilarating as it sounds, will have to wait.

I would like to describe those greens at more length, but just as getting up in the morning is harder than it used to be, for good cause, the poetry, though there, does not come together as it once did. And when it does, it skirts the Plotinian sadness the way the moon skirts the earth. In other words, I stay in my head. Thus I cannot really describe the greens except to say, in different words perhaps, that the various shades fit together like complementary colors.

Porphyry said that Plotinus had stomach problems, refused treatment, and died of a childhood disease contracted as an adult. Pythagoras remembered his past lives. Tiresias saw the future. I can barely see my toes.

Uplifted through grace, Plotinus returned to reality, much saddened. Inspired by that journey, a later Arab philosopher translated him into what this philosopher thought was an Aristotelian theology. In this theology was a technique for discerning, then cataloguing, those shades of green created by God when the plants were created, on the third day. A technique long since forgotten, adding to those mysteries of life that cannot be fathomed but are better observed from the top of a mountain with one’s eyes shut tight as the sun slowly sets, darkening the many greens.