He went on to say that according to old Celtic occult lore we belong in the morning of our lives, or childhood, to the sea; in the afternoon, or maturity, to the land; and in the evening, or old age, to the air. Only after death do we mingle with and belong to all three elements. Then Time is undifferentiated, like a great wave which never breaks, like a wind blowing strong and free forever, like a vast range of hills unbroken by any plain. In this eternal time our strength does not ebb or flow and no moment is more propitious than another.
And in the rose-garden every flower was a flame! He thought in symbols, using the Persian imagery of a dusky court, surrounded by white cloisters, gilded by gates of bronze. The stars came out, the sky glowed a darker violet, but the cloistered wall, the fantastic trellises in stone, shone whiter. It was like a hedge of may-blossom, like a lily within a cup of lapis-lazuli, like sea-foam tossed on the heaving sea at dawn. Always those white cloisters trembled with the lute music, always the garden sang with the clear fountain, rising and falling in the mysterious dusk. And there was a singing voice stealing through the white lattices and the bronze gates, a soft voice chanting of the Lover and the Beloved, of the Vineyard, of the Gate and the Way. Oh! the language was unknown; but the music of the refrain returned again and again, swelling and trembling through the white nets of the latticed cloisters. And every rose in the dusky air was a flame.
A powerful support to some minds is the constantly changing beauty of the natural world, which becomes like a great and ever-present companion. I am anxious to avoid any exaggeration of this benefit, because I know that to many it counts for nothing; and an author ought not to think only of those who have his own mental constitution; but although natural beauty is of little use to one solitary mind, it may be like a living friend to another. As a paragraph of real experience is worth pages of speculation, I may say that I have always found it possible to live happily in solitude, provided that the place was surrounded by varied, beautiful, and changeful scenery, but that in ugly or even monotonous places I have felt society to be as necessary as it was welcome. Byron’s expression,–
“I made me friends of mountains,”
“Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her,”
are not more than plain statements of the companionship that some minds find in the beauty of landscape. They are often accused of affectation, but in truth I believe that we who have that passion, instead of expressing more than we feel, have generally rather a tendency to be reserved upon the subject, as we seldom expect sympathy. Many of us would rather live in solitude and on small means at Como than on a great income in Manchester. This may be a foolish preference; but let the reader remember the profound utterance of Blake, that if the fool would but persevere in his folly he would become wise.
While I cannot believe that we live in a world of chance, any more than Darwin could, yet I feel that I am as free from any teleological taint as he was. The world-old notion of a creator and director, sitting apart from the universe and shaping and controlling all its affairs, a magnified king or emperor, finds no lodgment in my mind. Kings and despots have had their day, both in heaven and on earth. The universe is a democracy. The Whole directs the Whole. Every particle plays its own part, and yet the universe is a unit as much as is the human body, with all its myriad of individual cells, and all its many separate organs functioning in harmony. And the mind I see in nature is just as obvious as the mind I see in myself, and subject to the same imperfections and limitations.
The thistle-down’s flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red hot.
The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.
Hill tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.
I spoke of, and have heard it maintained, that a person can escape and save himself from a painful, self-torturing, gloomy state of mind, only by the contemplation of nature, and hearty sympathy with the outward world. Even the most general acquaintance with nature, it does not signify in what way, any active communication with it, either in gardening or farming, hunting or mining, draws us out of ourselves; the employment of mental energies upon real, actual appearances, gives us, by degrees, the greatest satisfaction, clearness, and instruction; just as the artist who keeps true to nature, and, at the same time, goes on cultivating his mind, is certain to succeed the best.
So the lover of Earth obtains his reward, and little by little the veil is lifted of an inexhaustible beauty and majesty. It may be he will be tranced in some spiritual communion, or will find his being overflowing into the being of the elements, or become aware that they are breathing their life into his own. Or Earth may become on an instant all faery to him, and earth and air resound with the music of its invisible people. Or the trees and rocks may waver before his eyes and become transparent, revealing what creatures were hidden from him by the curtain, and he will know as the ancients did of dryad and hamadryad, of genii of wood and mountain. Or earth may suddenly blaze about him with supernatural light in some lonely spot amid the hills, and he will find he stands as the prophet in a place that is holy ground, and he may breathe the intoxicating exhalations as did the sibyls of old. Or his love may hurry him away in dream to share in deeper mysteries, and he may see the palace chambers of nature where the wise ones dwell in secret, looking out over the nations, breathing power into this man’s heart or that man’s brain, on any who appear to their vision to wear the colour of truth. So gradually the earth lover realises the golden world is all about him in imperishable beauty, and he may pass from the vision to the profounder beauty of being, and know an eternal love is within and around him, pressing upon him and sustaining with infinite tenderness his body, his soul and his spirit.