In A Word: Shivelight



noun:ˈshīv ˈlīt

Perhaps it’s been raining, and the forest smells fresh and scrubbed clean. The sun is now high in the sky, and as you venture deeper into the trees and the foliage above you thickens, you notice that the sun’s shafts slip through the canopy like glittering swords. You can picture it, can’t you? It feels holy. It’s … what would we call it, exactly? 

It’s “shivelight,” some stranger on Twitter posits and Google confirms — a word conceived by poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1888 to describe those lances of light that pierce a tree’s canopy or foliage. Another poet, Dylan Thomas, referred to this phenomenon as “windfall light.” Writer C.S. Lewis coined the term “Godlight,” writing: “Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are ‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of our experience.”

The Japanese call it Komorebi, a word that sounds like poetry too. 

I’m with Lewis. Nature delivers information to us that we won’t find in science books, and poets help us put words to what we’re seeing. So let’s give Hopkins the final words, from his poem

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Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, 

wherever an elm arches, 

Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long 

lashes lace, lance, and pair. 

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Leslie Garrett
Leslie Garrett
Leslie Garrett is a journalist and the Editorial Director of Bluedot, Inc. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, and more. She is the author of more than 15 books, including The Virtuous Consumer, a book on living more sustainably. Leslie lives most of the year in Canada with her husband, three children, three dogs and three cats. She is building a home on Martha's Vineyard.
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