A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
Henry David Thoreau
Part 7 out of 7
termes, for it is kyndely to their mouthes, and let us shewe our
fantasies in soche wordes as we lerneden of our dames tonge."
He will know how to appreciate Chaucer best, who has come down to
him the natural way, through the meagre pastures of Saxon and
ante-Chaucerian poetry; and yet, so human and wise he appears
after such diet, that we are liable to misjudge him still. In
the Saxon poetry extant, in the earliest English, and the
contemporary Scottish poetry, there is less to remind the reader
of the rudeness and vigor of youth, than of the feebleness of a
declining age. It is for the most part translation of imitation
merely, with only an occasional and slight tinge of poetry,
oftentimes the falsehood and exaggeration of fable, without its
imagination to redeem it, and we look in vain to find antiquity
restored, humanized, and made blithe again by some natural
sympathy between it and the present. But Chaucer is fresh and
modern still, and no dust settles on his true passages. It
lightens along the line, and we are reminded that flowers have
bloomed, and birds sung, and hearts beaten in England. Before
the earnest gaze of the reader, the rust and moss of time
gradually drop off, and the original green life is revealed. He
was a homely and domestic man, and did breathe quite as modern
There is no wisdom that can take place of humanity, and we find
_that_ in Chaucer. We can expand at last in his breadth, and we
think that we could have been that man's acquaintance. He was
worthy to be a citizen of England, while Petrarch and Boccacio
lived in Italy, and Tell and Tamerlane in Switzerland and in
Asia, and Bruce in Scotland, and Wickliffe, and Gower, and Edward
the Third, and John of Gaunt, and the Black Prince, were his own
countrymen as well as contemporaries; all stout and stirring
names. The fame of Roger Bacon came down from the preceding
century, and the name of Dante still possessed the influence of a
living presence. On the whole, Chaucer impresses us as greater
than his reputation, and not a little like Homer and Shakespeare,
for he would have held up his head in their company. Among early
English poets he is the landlord and host, and has the authority
of such. The affectionate mention which succeeding early poets
make of him, coupling him with Homer and Virgil, is to be taken
into the account in estimating his character and influence. King
James and Dunbar of Scotland speak of him with more love and
reverence than any modern author of his predecessors of the last
century. The same childlike relation is without a parallel now.
For the most part we read him without criticism, for he does not
plead his own cause, but speaks for his readers, and has that
greatness of trust and reliance which compels popularity. He
confides in the reader, and speaks privily with him, keeping
nothing back. And in return the reader has great confidence in
him, that he tells no lies, and reads his story with indulgence,
as if it were the circumlocution of a child, but often discovers
afterwards that he has spoken with more directness and economy of
words than a sage. He is never heartless,
"For first the thing is thought within the hart,
Er any word out from the mouth astart."
And so new was all his theme in those days, that he did not have
to invent, but only to tell.
We admire Chaucer for his sturdy English wit. The easy height he
speaks from in his Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, as if he
were equal to any of the company there assembled, is as good as
any particular excellence in it. But though it is full of good
sense and humanity, it is not transcendent poetry. For
picturesque description of persons it is, perhaps, without a
parallel in English poetry; yet it is essentially humorous, as
the loftiest genius never is. Humor, however broad and genial,
takes a narrower view than enthusiasm. To his own finer vein he
added all the common wit and wisdom of his time, and everywhere
in his works his remarkable knowledge of the world, and nice
perception of character, his rare common sense and proverbial
wisdom, are apparent. His genius does not soar like Milton's,
but is genial and familiar. It shows great tenderness and
delicacy, but not the heroic sentiment. It is only a greater
portion of humanity with all its weakness. He is not heroic, as
Raleigh, nor pious, as Herbert, nor philosophical, as
Shakespeare, but he is the child of the English muse, that child
which is the father of the man. The charm of his poetry consists
often only in an exceeding naturalness, perfect sincerity, with
the behavior of a child rather than of a man.
Gentleness and delicacy of character are everywhere apparent in
his verse. The simplest and humblest words come readily to his
lips. No one can read the Prioress's tale, understanding the
spirit in which it was written, and in which the child sings _O
alma redemptoris mater_, or the account of the departure of
Constance with her child upon the sea, in the Man of Lawe's tale,
without feeling the native innocence and refinement of the
author. Nor can we be mistaken respecting the essential purity
of his character, disregarding the apology of the manners of the
age. A simple pathos and feminine gentleness, which Wordsworth
only occasionally approaches, but does not equal, are peculiar to
him. We are tempted to say that his genius was feminine, not
masculine. It was such a feminineness, however, as is rarest to
find in woman, though not the appreciation of it; perhaps it is
not to be found at all in woman, but is only the feminine in man.
Such pure and genuine and childlike love of Nature is hardly to
be found in any poet.
Chaucer's remarkably trustful and affectionate character appears
in his familiar, yet innocent and reverent, manner of speaking of
his God. He comes into his thought without any false reverence,
and with no more parade than the zephyr to his ear. If Nature is
our mother, then God is our father. There is less love and
simple, practical trust in Shakespeare and Milton. How rarely in
our English tongue do we find expressed any affection for God.
Certainly, there is no sentiment so rare as the love of God.
Herbert almost alone expresses it, "Ah, my dear God!" Our poet
uses similar words with propriety; and whenever he sees a
beautiful person, or other object, prides himself on the
"maistry" of his God. He even recommends Dido to be his bride,--
"if that God that heaven and yearth made,
Would have a love for beauty and goodnesse,
And womanhede, trouth, and semeliness."
But in justification of our praise, we must refer to his works
themselves; to the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, the account
of Gentilesse, the Flower and the Leaf, the stories of Griselda,
Virginia, Ariadne, and Blanche the Dutchesse, and much more of
less distinguished merit. There are many poets of more taste,
and better manners, who knew how to leave out their dulness; but
such negative genius cannot detain us long; we shall return to
Chaucer still with love. Some natures, which are really rude and
ill-developed, have yet a higher standard of perfection than
others which are refined and well balanced. Even the clown has
taste, whose dictates, though he disregards them, are higher and
purer than those which the artist obeys. If we have to wander
through many dull and prosaic passages in Chaucer, we have at
least the satisfaction of knowing that it is not an artificial
dulness, but too easily matched by many passages in life. We
confess that we feel a disposition commonly to concentrate
sweets, and accumulate pleasures; but the poet may be presumed
always to speak as a traveller, who leads us through a varied
scenery, from one eminence to another, and it is, perhaps, more
pleasing, after all, to meet with a fine thought in its natural
setting. Surely fate has enshrined it in these circumstances for
some end. Nature strews her nuts and flowers broadcast, and
never collects them into heaps. This was the soil it grew in,
and this the hour it bloomed in; if sun, wind, and rain came here
to cherish and expand the flower, shall not we come here to pluck
A true poem is distinguished not so much by a felicitous
expression, or any thought it suggests, as by the atmosphere
which surrounds it. Most have beauty of outline merely, and are
striking as the form and bearing of a stranger; but true verses
come toward us indistinctly, as the very breath of all
friendliness, and envelop us in their spirit and fragrance. Much
of our poetry has the very best manners, but no character. It is
only an unusual precision and elasticity of speech, as if its
author had taken, not an intoxicating draught, but an electuary.
It has the distinct outline of sculpture, and chronicles an early
hour. Under the influence of passion all men speak thus
distinctly, but wrath is not always divine.
There are two classes of men called poets. The one cultivates
life, the other art,--one seeks food for nutriment, the other for
flavor; one satisfies hunger, the other gratifies the palate.
There are two kinds of writing, both great and rare; one that of
genius, or the inspired, the other of intellect and taste, in the
intervals of inspiration. The former is above criticism, always
correct, giving the law to criticism. It vibrates and pulsates
with life forever. It is sacred, and to be read with reverence,
as the works of nature are studied. There are few instances of a
sustained style of this kind; perhaps every man has spoken words,
but the speaker is then careless of the record. Such a style
removes us out of personal relations with its author; we do not
take his words on our lips, but his sense into our hearts. It is
the stream of inspiration, which bubbles out, now here, now
there, now in this man, now in that. It matters not through what
ice-crystals it is seen, now a fountain, now the ocean stream
running under ground. It is in Shakespeare, Alpheus, in Burns,
Arethuse; but ever the same. The other is self-possessed and
wise. It is reverent of genius, and greedy of inspiration. It
is conscious in the highest and the least degree. It consists
with the most perfect command of the faculties. It dwells in a
repose as of the desert, and objects are as distinct in it as
oases or palms in the horizon of sand. The train of thought
moves with subdued and measured step, like a caravan. But the
pen is only an instrument in its hand, and not instinct with
life, like a longer arm. It leaves a thin varnish or glaze over
all its work. The works of Goethe furnish remarkable instances
of the latter.
There is no just and serene criticism as yet. Nothing is
considered simply as it lies in the lap of eternal beauty, but
our thoughts, as well as our bodies, must be dressed after the
latest fashions. Our taste is too delicate and particular. It
says nay to the poet's work, but never yea to his hope. It
invites him to adorn his deformities, and not to cast them off by
expansion, as the tree its bark. We are a people who live in a
bright light, in houses of pearl and porcelain, and drink only
light wines, whose teeth are easily set on edge by the least
natural sour. If we had been consulted, the backbone of the
earth would have been made, not of granite, but of Bristol spar.
A modern author would have died in infancy in a ruder age. But
the poet is something more than a scald, "a smoother and polisher
of language"; he is a Cincinnatus in literature, and occupies no
west end of the world. Like the sun, he will indifferently
select his rhymes, and with a liberal taste weave into his verse
the planet and the stubble.
In these old books the stucco has long since crumbled away, and
we read what was sculptured in the granite. They are rude and
massive in their proportions, rather than smooth and delicate in
their finish. The workers in stone polish only their chimney
ornaments, but their pyramids are roughly done. There is a
soberness in a rough aspect, as of unhewn granite, which
addresses a depth in us, but a polished surface hits only the
ball of the eye. The true finish is the work of time, and the
use to which a thing is put. The elements are still polishing
the pyramids. Art may varnish and gild, but it can do no more.
A work of genius is rough-hewn from the first, because it
anticipates the lapse of time, and has an ingrained polish, which
still appears when fragments are broken off, an essential quality
of its substance. Its beauty is at the same time its strength,
and it breaks with a lustre.
The great poem must have the stamp of greatness as well as its
essence. The reader easily goes within the shallowest
contemporary poetry, and informs it with all the life and promise
of the day, as the pilgrim goes within the temple, and hears the
faintest strains of the worshippers; but it will have to speak to
posterity, traversing these deserts, through the ruins of its
outmost walls, by the grandeur and beauty of its proportions.
But here on the stream of the Concord, where we have all the
while been bodily, Nature, who is superior to all styles and
ages, is now, with pensive face, composing her poem Autumn, with
which no work of man will bear to be compared.
In summer we live out of doors, and have only impulses and
feelings, which are all for action, and must wait commonly for
the stillness and longer nights of autumn and winter before any
thought will subside; we are sensible that behind the rustling
leaves, and the stacks of grain, and the bare clusters of the
grape, there is the field of a wholly new life, which no man has
lived; that even this earth was made for more mysterious and
nobler inhabitants than men and women. In the hues of October
sunsets, we see the portals to other mansions than those which we
occupy, not far off geographically,--
"There is a place beyond that flaming hill,
From whence the stars their thin appearance shed,
A place beyond all place, where never ill,
Nor impure thought was ever harbored."
Sometimes a mortal feels in himself Nature, not his Father but
his Mother stirs within him, and he becomes immortal with her
immortality. From time to time she claims kindredship with us,
and some globule from her veins steals up into our own.
I am the autumnal sun,
With autumn gales my race is run;
When will the hazel put forth its flowers,
Or the grape ripen under my bowers?
When will the harvest or the hunter's moon,
Turn my midnight into mid-noon?
I am all sere and yellow,
And to my core mellow.
The mast is dropping within my woods,
The winter is lurking within my moods,
And the rustling of the withered leaf
Is the constant music of my grief.
To an unskilful rhymer the Muse thus spoke in prose:
The moon no longer reflects the day, but rises to her absolute
rule, and the husbandman and hunter acknowledge her for their
mistress. Asters and golden-rods reign along the way, and the
life-everlasting withers not. The fields are reaped and shorn of
their pride, but an inward verdure still crowns them. The
thistle scatters its down on the pool, and yellow leaves clothe
the vine, and naught disturbs the serious life of men. But
behind the sheaves, and under the sod, there lurks a ripe fruit,
which the reapers have not gathered, the true harvest of the
year, which it bears forever, annually watering and maturing it,
and man never severs the stalk which bears this palatable fruit.
Men nowhere, east or west, live yet a _natural_ life, round which
the vine clings, and which the elm willingly shadows. Man would
desecrate it by his touch, and so the beauty of the world remains
veiled to him. He needs not only to be spiritualized, but
_naturalized_, on the soil of earth. Who shall conceive what
kind of roof the heavens might extend over him, what seasons
minister to him, and what employment dignify his life! Only the
convalescent raise the veil of nature. An immortality in his
life would confer immortality on his abode. The winds should be
his breath, the seasons his moods, and he should impart of his
serenity to Nature herself. But such as we know him he is
ephemeral like the scenery which surrounds him, and does not
aspire to an enduring existence. When we come down into the
distant village, visible from the mountain-top, the nobler
inhabitants with whom we peopled it have departed, and left only
vermin in its desolate streets. It is the imagination of poets
which puts those brave speeches into the mouths of their heroes.
They may feign that Cato's last words were
"The earth, the air, and seas I know, and all
The joys and horrors of their peace and wars;
And now will view the Gods' state and the stars,"
but such are not the thoughts nor the destiny of common men.
What is this heaven which they expect, if it is no better than
they expect? Are they prepared for a better than they can now
imagine? Where is the heaven of him who dies on a stage, in a
theatre? Here or nowhere is our heaven.
"Although we see celestial bodies move
Above the earth, the earth we till and love."
We can conceive of nothing more fair than something which we have
experienced. "The remembrance of youth is a sigh." We linger in
manhood to tell the dreams of our childhood, and they are half
forgotten ere we have learned the language. We have need to be
earth-born as well as heaven-born, , as was said of
the Titans of old, or in a better sense than they. There have
been heroes for whom this world seemed expressly prepared, as if
creation had at last succeeded; whose daily life was the stuff of
which our dreams are made, and whose presence enhanced the beauty
and ampleness of Nature herself. Where they walked,
"Largior hic campos aether et lumine vestit
Purpureo: Solemque suum, sua sidera norunt."
"Here a more copious air invests the fields, and clothes with
purple light; and they know their own sun and their own stars."
We love to hear some men speak, though we hear not what they say;
the very air they breathe is rich and perfumed, and the sound of
their voices falls on the ear like the rustling of leaves or the
crackling of the fire. They stand many deep. They have the
heavens for their abettors, as those who have never stood from
under them, and they look at the stars with an answering ray.
Their eyes are like glow-worms, and their motions graceful and
flowing, as if a place were already found for them, like rivers
flowing through valleys. The distinctions of morality, of right
and wrong, sense and nonsense, are petty, and have lost their
significance, beside these pure primeval natures. When I
consider the clouds stretched in stupendous masses across the
sky, frowning with darkness or glowing with downy light, or
gilded with the rays of the setting sun, like the battlements of
a city in the heavens, their grandeur appears thrown away on the
meanness of my employment; the drapery is altogether too rich for
such poor acting. I am hardly worthy to be a suburban dweller
outside those walls
"Unless above himself he can
Erect himself, how poor a thing is man!"
With our music we would fain challenge transiently another and
finer sort of intercourse than our daily toil permits. The
strains come back to us amended in the echo, as when a friend
reads our verse. Why have they so painted the fruits, and
freighted them with such fragrance as to satisfy a more than
"I asked the schoolman, his advice was free,
But scored me out too intricate a way."
These things imply, perchance, that we live on the verge of
another and purer realm, from which these odors and sounds are
wafted over to us. The borders of our plot are set with flowers,
whose seeds were blown from more Elysian fields adjacent. They
are the pot-herbs of the gods. Some fairer fruits and sweeter
fragrances wafted over to us, betray another realm's vicinity.
There, too, does Echo dwell, and there is the abutment of the
A finer race and finer fed
Feast and revel o'er our head,
And we titmen are only able
To catch the fragments from their table.
Theirs is the fragrance of the fruits,
While we consume the pulp and roots.
What are the moments that we stand
Astonished on the Olympian land!
We need pray for no higher heaven than the pure senses can
furnish, a _purely_ sensuous life. Our present senses are but
the rudiments of what they are destined to become. We are
comparatively deaf and dumb and blind, and without smell or taste
or feeling. Every generation makes the discovery, that its
divine vigor has been dissipated, and each sense and faculty
misapplied and debauched. The ears were made, not for such
trivial uses as men are wont to suppose, but to hear celestial
sounds. The eyes were not made for such grovelling uses as they
are now put to and worn out by, but to behold beauty now
invisible. May we not _see_ God? Are we to be put off and
amused in this life, as it were with a mere allegory? Is not
Nature, rightly read, that of which she is commonly taken to be
the symbol merely? When the common man looks into the sky, which
he has not so much profaned, he thinks it less gross than the
earth, and with reverence speaks of "the Heavens," but the seer
will in the same sense speak of "the Earths," and his Father who
is in them. "Did not he that made that which is _within_, make
that which is _without_ also?" What is it, then, to educate but
to develop these divine germs called the senses? for individuals
and states to deal magnanimously with the rising generation,
leading it not into temptation,--not teach the eye to squint, nor
attune the ear to profanity. But where is the instructed
teacher? Where are the _normal_ schools?
A Hindoo sage said, "As a dancer, having exhibited herself to the
spectator, desists from the dance, so does Nature desist, having
manifested herself to soul--. Nothing, in my opinion, is more
gentle than Nature; once aware of having been seen, she does not
again expose herself to the gaze of soul."
It is easier to discover another such a new world as Columbus
did, than to go within one fold of this which we appear to know
so well; the land is lost sight of, the compass varies, and
mankind mutiny; and still history accumulates like rubbish before
the portals of nature. But there is only necessary a moment's
sanity and sound senses, to teach us that there is a nature
behind the ordinary, in which we have only some vague pre-emption
right and western reserve as yet. We live on the outskirts of
that region. Carved wood, and floating boughs, and sunset skies,
are all that we know of it. We are not to be imposed on by the
longest spell of weather. Let us not, my friends, be wheedled
and cheated into good behavior to earn the salt of our eternal
porridge, whoever they are that attempt it. Let us wait a
little, and not purchase any clearing here, trusting that richer
bottoms will soon be put up. It is but thin soil where we stand;
I have felt my roots in a richer ere this. I have seen a bunch
of violets in a glass vase, tied loosely with a straw, which
reminded me of myself.
I am a parcel of vain strivings tied
By a chance bond together,
Dangling this way and that, their links
Were made so loose and wide,
For milder weather.
A bunch of violets without their roots,
And sorrel intermixed,
Encircled by a wisp of straw
Once coiled about their shoots,
By which I'm fixed.
A nosegay which Time clutched from out
Those fair Elysian fields,
With weeds and broken stems, in haste,
Doth make the rabble rout
The day he yields.
And here I bloom for a short hour unseen,
Drinking my juices up,
With no root in the land
To keep my branches green,
In a bare cup.
Some tender buds were left upon my stem
In mimicry of life,
But ah! the children will not know,
Till time has withered them,
With which they're rife.
But now I see I was not plucked for naught,
And after in life's vase
Of glass set while I might survive,
But by a kind hand brought
To a strange place.
That stock thus thinned will soon redeem its hours,
And by another year,
Such as God knows, with freer air,
More fruits and fairer flowers
While I droop here.
This world has many rings, like Saturn, and we live now on the
outmost of them all. None can say deliberately that he inhabits
the same sphere, or is contemporary with, the flower which his
hands have plucked, and though his feet may seem to crush it,
inconceivable spaces and ages separate them, and perchance there
is no danger that he will hurt it. What do the botanists know?
Our lives should go between the lichen and the bark. The eye may
see for the hand, but not for the mind. We are still being born,
and have as yet but a dim vision of sea and land, sun, moon and
stars, and shall not see clearly till after nine days at least.
That is a pathetic inquiry among travellers and geographers after
the site of ancient Troy. It is not near where they think it is.
When a thing is decayed and gone, how indistinct must be the
place it occupied!
The anecdotes of modern astronomy affect me in the same way as do
those faint revelations of the Real which are vouchsafed to men
from time to time, or rather from eternity to eternity. When I
remember the history of that faint light in our firmament, which
we call Venus, which ancient men regarded, and which most modern
men still regard, as a bright spark attached to a hollow sphere
revolving about our earth, but which we have discovered to be
_another world_, in itself,--how Copernicus, reasoning long and
patiently about the matter, predicted confidently concerning it,
before yet the telescope had been invented, that if ever men came
to see it more clearly than they did then, they would discover
that it had phases like our moon, and that within a century after
his death the telescope was invented, and that prediction
verified, by Galileo,--I am not without hope that we may, even
here and now obtain some accurate information concerning that
OTHER WORLD which the instinct of mankind has so long predicted.
Indeed, all that we call science, as well as all that we call
poetry, is a particle of such information, accurate as far as it
goes, though it be but to the confines of the truth. If we can
reason so accurately, and with such wonderful confirmation of our
reasoning, respecting so-called material objects and events
infinitely removed beyond the range of our natural vision, so
that the mind hesitates to trust its calculations even when they
are confirmed by observation, why may not our speculations
penetrate as far into the immaterial starry system, of which the
former is but the outward and visible type? Surely, we are
provided with senses as well fitted to penetrate the spaces of
the real, the substantial, the eternal, as these outward are to
penetrate the material universe. Veias, Menu, Zoroaster,
Socrates, Christ, Shakespeare, Swedenborg,--these are some of our
There are perturbations in our orbits produced by the influence
of outlying spheres, and no astronomer has ever yet calculated
the elements of that undiscovered world which produces them.
I perceive in the common train of my thoughts a natural and
uninterrupted sequence, each implying the next, or, if interruption
occurs, it is occasioned by a new object being presented to my
_senses_. But a steep, and sudden, and by these means unaccountable
transition, is that from a comparatively narrow and partial, what
is called common sense view of things, to an infinitely expanded
and liberating one, from seeing things as men describe them, to
seeing them as men cannot describe them. This implies a sense
which is not common, but rare in the wisest man's experience;
which is sensible or sentient of more than common.
In what enclosures does the astronomer loiter! His skies are
shoal, and imagination, like a thirsty traveller, pants to be
through their desert. The roving mind impatiently bursts the
fetters of astronomical orbits, like cobwebs in a corner of its
universe, and launches itself to where distance fails to follow,
and law, such as science has discovered, grows weak and weary.
The mind knows a distance and a space of which all those sums
combined do not make a unit of measure,--the interval between
that which _appears_, and that which _is_. I know that there are
many stars, I know that they are far enough off, bright enough,
steady enough in their orbits,--but what are they all worth?
They are more waste land in the West,--star territory,--to be
made slave States, perchance, if we colonize them. I have
interest but for six feet of star, and that interest is
transient. Then farewell to all ye bodies, such as I have known
Every man, if he is wise, will stand on such bottom as will
sustain him, and if one gravitates downward more strongly than
another, he will not venture on those meads where the latter
walks securely, but rather leave the cranberries which grow there
unraked by himself. Perchance, some spring a higher freshet will
float them within his reach, though they may be watery and
frost-bitten by that time. Such shrivelled berries I have seen
in many a poor man's garret, ay, in many a church-bin and
state-coffer, and with a little water and heat they swell again
to their original size and fairness, and added sugar enough,
stead mankind for sauce to this world's dish.
What is called common sense is excellent in its department, and
as invaluable as the virtue of conformity in the army and
navy,--for there must be subordination,--but uncommon sense, that
sense which is common only to the wisest, is as much more
excellent as it is more rare. Some aspire to excellence in the
subordinate department, and may God speed them. What Fuller says
of masters of colleges is universally applicable, that "a little
alloy of dulness in a master of a college makes him fitter to
manage secular affairs."
"He that wants faith, and apprehends a grief
Because he wants it, hath a true belief;
And he that grieves because his grief's so small,
Has a true grief, and the best Faith of all."
Or be encouraged by this other poet's strain,--
"By them went Fido marshal of the field:
Weak was his mother when she gave him day;
And he at first a sick and weakly child,
As e'er with tears welcomed the sunny ray;
Yet when more years afford more growth and might,
A champion stout he was, and puissant knight,
As ever came in field, or shone in armor bright.
"Mountains he flings in seas with mighty hand;
Stops and turns back the sun's impetuous course;
Nature breaks Nature's laws at his command;
No force of Hell or Heaven withstands his force;
Events to come yet many ages hence,
He present makes, by wondrous prescience;
Proving the senses blind by being blind to sense."
"Yesterday, at dawn," says Hafiz, "God delivered me from all
worldly affliction; and amidst the gloom of night presented me
with the water of immortality."
In the life of Sadi by Dowlat Shah occurs this sentence: "The
eagle of the immaterial soul of Shaikh Sadi shook from his
plumage the dust of his body."
Thus thoughtfully we were rowing homeward to find some autumnal
work to do, and help on the revolution of the seasons. Perhaps
Nature would condescend to make use of us even without our
knowledge, as when we help to scatter her seeds in our walks, and
carry burrs and cockles on our clothes from field to field.
All things are current found
On earthly ground,
Spirits and elements
Have their descents.
Night and day, year on year,
High and low, far and near,
These are our own aspects,
These are our own regrets.
Ye gods of the shore,
Who abide evermore,
I see your far headland,
Stretching on either hand;
I hear the sweet evening sounds
From your undecaying grounds;
Cheat me no more with time,
Take me to your clime.
As it grew later in the afternoon, and we rowed leisurely up the
gentle stream, shut in between fragrant and blooming banks, where
we had first pitched our tent, and drew nearer to the fields
where our lives had passed, we seemed to detect the hues of our
native sky in the southwest horizon. The sun was just setting
behind the edge of a wooded hill, so rich a sunset as would never
have ended but for some reason unknown to men, and to be marked
with brighter colors than ordinary in the scroll of time. Though
the shadows of the hills were beginning to steal over the stream,
the whole river valley undulated with mild light, purer and more
memorable than the noon. For so day bids farewell even to
solitary vales uninhabited by man. Two herons, _Ardea herodias_,
with their long and slender limbs relieved against the sky, were
seen travelling high over our heads,--their lofty and silent
flight, as they were wending their way at evening, surely not to
alight in any marsh on the earth's surface, but, perchance, on
the other side of our atmosphere, a symbol for the ages to study,
whether impressed upon the sky, or sculptured amid the
hieroglyphics of Egypt. Bound to some northern meadow, they held
on their stately, stationary flight, like the storks in the
picture, and disappeared at length behind the clouds. Dense
flocks of blackbirds were winging their way along the river's
course, as if on a short evening pilgrimage to some shrine of
theirs, or to celebrate so fair a sunset.
"Therefore, as doth the pilgrim, whom the night
Hastes darkly to imprison on his way,
Think on thy home, my soul, and think aright
Of what's yet left thee of life's wasting day:
Thy sun posts westward, passed is thy morn,
And twice it is not given thee to be born."
The sun-setting presumed all men at leisure, and in a contemplative
mood; but the farmer's boy only whistled the more thoughtfully as
he drove his cows home from pasture, and the teamster refrained
from cracking his whip, and guided his team with a subdued voice.
The last vestiges of daylight at length disappeared, and as we
rowed silently along with our backs toward home through the
darkness, only a few stars being visible, we had little to say,
but sat absorbed in thought, or in silence listened to the
monotonous sound of our oars, a sort of rudimental music,
suitable for the ear of Night and the acoustics of her dimly
"Pulsae referunt ad sidera valles,"
and the valleys echoed the sound to the stars.
As we looked up in silence to those distant lights, we were
reminded that it was a rare imagination which first taught that
the stars are worlds, and had conferred a great benefit on
mankind. It is recorded in the Chronicle of Bernaldez, that in
Columbus's first voyage the natives "pointed towards the heavens,
making signs that they believed that there was all power and
holiness." We have reason to be grateful for celestial
phenomena, for they chiefly answer to the ideal in man. The
stars are distant and unobtrusive, but bright and enduring as our
fairest and most memorable experiences. "Let the immortal depth
of your soul lead you, but earnestly extend your eyes upwards."
As the truest society approaches always nearer to solitude, so
the most excellent speech finally falls into Silence. Silence is
audible to all men, at all times, and in all places. She is when
we hear inwardly, sound when we hear outwardly. Creation has not
displaced her, but is her visible framework and foil. All sounds
are her servants, and purveyors, proclaiming not only that their
mistress is, but is a rare mistress, and earnestly to be sought
after. They are so far akin to Silence, that they are but
bubbles on her surface, which straightway burst, an evidence of
the strength and prolificness of the under-current; a faint
utterance of Silence, and then only agreeable to our auditory
nerves when they contrast themselves with and relieve the former.
In proportion as they do this, and are heighteners and
intensifiers of the Silence, they are harmony and purest melody.
Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull
discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as
welcome after satiety as after disappointment; that background
which the painter may not daub, be he master or bungler, and
which, however awkward a figure we may have made in the
foreground, remains ever our inviolable asylum, where no
indignity can assail, no personality disturb us.
The orator puts off his individuality, and is then most eloquent
when most silent. He listens while he speaks, and is a hearer
along with his audience. Who has not hearkened to Her infinite
din? She is Truth's speaking-trumpet, the sole oracle, the true
Delphi and Dodona, which kings and courtiers would do well to
consult, nor will they be balked by an ambiguous answer. For
through Her all revelations have been made, and just in
proportion as men have consulted her oracle within, they have
obtained a clear insight, and their age has been marked as an
enlightened one. But as often as they have gone gadding abroad
to a strange Delphi and her mad priestess, their age has been
dark and leaden. Such were garrulous and noisy eras, which no
longer yield any sound, but the Grecian or silent and melodious
era is ever sounding and resounding in the ears of men.
A good book is the plectrum with which our else silent lyres are
struck. We not unfrequently refer the interest which belongs to
our own unwritten sequel, to the written and comparatively
lifeless body of the work. Of all books this sequel is the most
indispensable part. It should be the author's aim to say once
and emphatically, "He said," . This is the most the
book-maker can attain to. If he make his volume a mole whereon
the waves of Silence may break, it is well.
It were vain for me to endeavor to interrupt the Silence. She
cannot be done into English. For six thousand years men have
translated her with what fidelity belonged to each, and still she
is little better than a sealed book. A man may run on confidently
for a time, thinking he has her under his thumb, and shall one
day exhaust her, but he too must at last be silent, and men
remark only how brave a beginning he made; for when he at length
dives into her, so vast is the disproportion of the told to the
untold, that the former will seem but the bubble on the surface
where he disappeared. Nevertheless, we will go on, like those
Chinese cliff swallows, feathering our nests with the froth,
which may one day be bread of life to such as dwell by the
We had made about fifty miles this day with sail and oar, and
now, far in the evening, our boat was grating against the
bulrushes of its native port, and its keel recognized the Concord
mud, where some semblance of its outline was still preserved in
the flattened flags which had scarce yet erected themselves since
our departure; and we leaped gladly on shore, drawing it up, and
fastening it to the wild apple-tree, whose stem still bore the
mark which its chain had worn in the chafing of the spring
In the original text, there were accented letters in a few lines, as
Sabér, according to the French traveller and naturalist, Botta,
is celebrated for producing the Kát-tree, of which "the soft tops
would be our Kát-trees.
"Now turn again, turn again, said the pindèr,
began, in Alwákidis' Arabian Chronicle: "I was informed by _Ahmed
Almatin Aljorhami_, who had it from _Rephâa Ebn Kais Alámiri_,
who had it from _Saiph Ebn Fabalah Alchâtquarmi_, who had it from
_Thabet Ebn Alkamah_, who said he was present at the action."
collections as they have at the Catacombs, Père la Chaise, Mount
ignotis insultavêre carinae;_ "and keels which had long stood on
high mountains careered insultingly (_insultavêre_) over unknown
si bona nôrint_, there are no more quiet Tempes, nor more poetic
"Stat contrà ratio, et secretam garrit in aurem,
An passim sequeris corvos, testâve, lutove,
Securus quò pes ferat, atque ex tempore vivis?"
occasion the post-boy snivelling, "Signor perdonate, quésta è la
Purpureo: Solemque suum, sua sidera nôrunt.
For the greek text transcription, the scheme at
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