Treasures of Aromatic Literature(Authors)-Richard Le Gallienne

Take the English hawthorn, for instance. As its fragrance is wafted to you from the bushes where it hangs like the fairest of white linen, you will hardly, I think, quarrel with its praises. Yet, though it is, if I am not mistaken, of rare occurrence in America, it is not absolutely necessary to go to England for the hawthorn. Any one who cares to go a-Maying along the banks of the Hudson, in the neighbourhood of Peekskill, will find it there. But for the primrose and the cowslip you must cross the sea; and, if you come upon such a wood as I strayed into, my last visit, you will count it worth the trip. It was literally carpeted with clumps of primroses and violets (violets that smell, too) so thickly massed together in the mossy turf that there was scarcely room to tread. There are no words rich or abundant enough to suggest the sense of innocent luxury brought one by such a natural Persian carpet of soft gold and dewy purple, at once so gorgeous and yet so gentle. In all this lavish loveliness of English wild flowers there is, indeed, a peculiar tenderness. The innocence of children seems to be in them, and the tenderness of lovers.
A lover would not tread
A cowslip on the head—
How appropriately such lines come to mind as one carefully picks one's way down a green hillside yellow with cowslips, and breathing perhaps the most delicate of all flowery fragrances. Yet again, as we pass into another stretch of woodland, another profusion and another fragrance await us, the winey perfume and the spectral blue sheen of the wild hyacinth. As one comes upon stretches of these hyacinths in the woods, they seem at first glance like pools of blue water or fallen pieces of the sky. Here, for once, the poets are left behind, and, of them all, Shakespeare and Milton alone have come near to suggesting the loveliness, at once so spiritual and so warmly and sweetly of the earth, that belongs to English wild flowers. I know not if Sheffield steel still keeps its position among the eternal verities, but in an age when so many of one's cherished beliefs are threatened with the scrap-heap, I count it of no small importance to be able to retain one's faith in the English lark and English wild flowers.

Vanishing Roads, and Other Essays

By Richard Le Gallienne

Such are some of the more august impressions made upon us by the pictures in the cosmic picturebook; but there are also times and places when Nature seems to wear a look less mystic than dramatic in its suggestiveness, as though she were a stage-setting for some portentous human happening past or to come—the fall of kings or the tragic clash of empires. As Whitman says, "Here a great personal deed has room." Some landscapes seem to prophesy, some to commemorate. In some places not marked by monuments, or otherwise definitely connected with history, we have a curious haunted sense of prodigious far-off events once enacted in this quiet grassy solitude—prehistoric battles or terrible sacrifices. About others hangs a fateful atmosphere of impending disaster, as though weighted with a gathering doom. Sometimes we seem conscious of sinister presences, as though veritably in the abode of evil spirits. The place seems somehow not quite friendly to humanity, not quite good to linger in, lest its genius should cast its perilous shadow over the heart. On the other hand, some places breathe an ineffable sense of blessedness, of unearthly promise. We feel as though some hushed and happy secret were about to be whispered to us out of the air, some wonderful piece of good fortune on the edge of happening. Some hand seems to beckon us, some voice to call, to mysterious paradises of inconceivable green freshness and supernaturally beautiful flowers, fairy fastnesses of fragrance and hidden castles of the dew. In such hours the Well at the World's End seems no mere poet's dream. It awaits us yonder in the forest glade, amid the brooding solitudes of silent fern, and the gate of the Earthly Paradise is surely there in yonder vale hidden among the violet hills. Various as are these impressions, it is strange and worth thinking on that the dominant suggestion of Nature through all her changes, whether her mood be stormy or sunny, melancholy or jubilant, is one of presage and promise. She seems to be ever holding out to us an immortal invitation to follow and endure, to endure and to enjoy. She seems to say that what she brings us is but an earnest of what she holds for us out there along the vanishing road. There is nothing, indeed, she will not promise us, and no promise, we feel, she cannot keep. Even in her tragic and bodeful seasons, in her elegiac autumns and stern winters, there is an energy of sorrow and sacrifice that elevates and inspires, and in the darkest hours hints at immortal mornings. She may terrify, but she never deadens, the soul. In earthquake and eclipse she seems to be less busy with destruction than with renewed creation. She is but wrecking the old, that
. . . there shall be Beautiful things made new, for the surprise Of the sky-children.

Vanishing Roads, and Other Essays

By Richard Le Gallienne

Winter, itself so ghostly a thing, so spiritual in its beauty, was indeed the season to catch our ears with this ghost-story of the Invisible and Invincible Love. The other seasons are full of sensuous charm and seductiveness. With endless variety of form and colour and fragrance, they weave "a flowery band to bind us to the earth." They are running over with the pride of sap, the luxury of green leaves, and the intoxicating fulness of life. The summer earth is like some voluptuous enchantress, all ardour and perfume, and soft dazzle of moted sunshine. But the beauty of winter seems a spiritual, almost a supernatural, thing, austere and forbidding at first, but on a nearer approach found to be rich in exquisite exhilaration, in rare and lofty discoveries and satisfactions of the soul. Winter naturally has found less favour with the poets than the other seasons. Praise of it has usually a strained air, as though the poet were making the best of a barren theme, like a portrait-painter reluctantly nattering some unattractive sitter. But one poet has seen and seized the mysterious beauty of winter with unforced sympathy—Coventry Patmore, whose "Odes," in particular, containing as they do some of the most rarely spiritual meditation in English poetry, are all too little known. In one of these he has these beautiful lines, which I quote, I hope correctly, from memory:
I, singularly moved
To love the lovely that are not beloved,
Of all the seasons, most love winter, and to trace
The sense of the Trophonian pallor of her face.
It is not death, but plenitude of peace;
And this dim cloud which doth the earth enfold
Hath less the characters of dark and cold
Than light and warmth asleep,
And intermittent breathing still doth keep
With the infant harvest heaving soft below
Its eider coverlet of snow.

Vanishing Roads, and Other Essays

By Richard Le Gallienne

It is not man that has "poetized" the world, it is the world that has made a poet out of man, by infinite processes of evolution, precisely in the same way that it has shaped a rose and filled it with perfume, or shaped a nightingale and filled it with song. One has often heard it said that man has endowed Nature with his own feelings, that the pathos or grandeur of the evening sky, for instance, are the illusions of his humanizing fancy, and have no real existence. The exact contrary is probably the truth—that man has no feelings of his own that were not Nature's first, and that all that stirs in him at such spectacles is but a translation into his own being of cosmic emotions which he shares in varying degrees with all created things. Into man's strange heart Nature has distilled her essences, as elsewhere she has distilled them in colour and perfume. He is, so to say, one of the nerve-centres of cosmic experience. In the process of the suns he has become a veritable microcosm of the universe. It was not man that placed that tenderness in the evening sky. It has been the evening skies of millions of years that have at length placed tenderness in the heart of man. It has passed into him as that "beauty born of murmuring sound" passed into the face of Wordsworth's maiden.
Perhaps we too seldom reflect how much the life of Nature is one with the life of man, how unimportant, or indeed merely seeming, the difference between them. Who can set a seed in the ground, and watch it put up a green shoot, and blossom and fructify and wither and pass, without reflecting, not as imagery but as fact, that he has come into existence, run his course, and is going out of existence again, by precisely the same process? With so serious a correspondence between their vital experience, the fact of one being a tree and the other a man seems of comparatively small importance. The life process has but used different material for its expression. And as man and Nature are so like in such primal conditions, is it not to be supposed that they are alike too in other and subtler ways, and that, at all events, as it thus clearly appears that man is as much a natural growth as an apple-tree, alike dependent on sun and rain, may not, or rather must not, the thoughts that come to him strangely out of earth and sky, the sap-like stirrings of his spirit, the sudden inner music that streams through him before the beauty of the world, be no less authentically the working of Nature within him than his more obviously physical processes, and, say, a belief in God be as inevitable a blossom of the human tree as apple-blossom of the apple?

Vanishing Roads, and Other Essays

By Richard Le Gallienne