The Works of Fiona Macleod, Volume IV, From "Green Fire"

Love in Shadow has two sacred ministers, Oblivion
and Faith, one to heal, the other to renovate and upbuild--
F. M.

 

FRAGMENTS FROM "GREEN FIRE

THE BIRDS OF ANGUS G

"Then, in the violet forest all a-bourgeon, Eucharis,
said to me: It is Spring."--
ARTHUR RIMBAUD.

After the dim purple bloom of a suspended Spring, a green rhythm ran from larch to thorn, from, lime to sycamore: spread from meadow to meadow, from copse. to copse, from hedgerow to hedgerow. The blackthorn had already snowed upon the nettlegarths. In the obvious nests, among the bare boughs of ash and beech, the eggs of the blackbird were blue-green as the sky that March had bequeathed to April. For days past, when the breath of the Equinox had surged out of the west, the missel-thrushes had bugled from the wind-swayed topmost branches of the tallest elms. Everywhere the green rhythm ran.

In every leaf that had uncurled there was a delicate bloom, that which is upon all things in the first hours of life. The spires of the grass were washed in a green, dewy light.

Out of the brown earth a myriad living things thrust tiny green shafts, arrow-heads, bulbs, spheres, clusters. Along the pregnant soil keener ears than ours would have heard the stir of new life, the innumerous whisper of the bursting seed: and, in the wind itself, shepherding the shadow-chased sunbeams, the voice of that vernal gladness which has been man's clarion since Time began.

Day by day the wind-wings lifted a more multitudinous whisper from the woodlands. The deep hyperborean note, from the invisible ocean of air, was still audible: within the concourse of bare boughs which wrought against it, that surging voice could , not but have an echo of its wintry roar. In the sunhavens, however, along the southerly copses, in daisied garths of orchard-trees, amid the flowering currant and guelder and lilac bushes, in quiet places where the hives were all a-murmur, the wind already sang its lilt of Spring. From dawn till noon, from an hour before sundown till the breaking foam along the wild-cherry flushed fugitively because of the crimson glow out of the west, there was a ceaseless chattering of birds. The starlings and the sparrows enjoyed the commume of the homestead; the larks and fieldfares and green and yellow linnets congregated in the meadows, where, too, the wild bee already roved. Among the brown ridgy fallows there was a constant flutter of black, white-gleaming, and silver-grey wings, where the stalking rooks, the jerking peewits, and the wary, uncertain gulls from the neighbouring sea feasted tirelessly from the teeming earth. Often, too, the wind-hover, that harbinger of the season of the young broods, quivered his curved wings in his arrested flight, while his lance-like gaze penetrated the whins beneath which a newborn rabbit crawled, or discerned in the tangle of a grassy tuft the brown watchful eyes of a nesting quail.

In the remoter woodlands the three foresters of April could be heard; the woodpecker tapping on the gnarled holes of the oaks, the wild dove calling in low crooning monotones to silent mate, the cuckoo tolling his infrequent peals from skiey belfries built of sun and mist. where the thorns were green.

In the fields, as rivulets of melted snow and the grass had the bloom of emerald, and the leaves of docken, clover, cinquefoil, sorrel, and a thousand plants and flowers, were wave-green, the ewes lay, idly watching with their amber eyes the frisking and leaping luminous of the close-curled, tuft-tailed, woolly-legged lambs. In corners of the hedgerows, and in hollows in the rolling meadows, the primrose, the celandine, the buttercup, the dandelion, and the daffodil spille little eddies of the sunflood which overbrimmed them with light. All day long the rapture of the larks filled the blue air with vanishing spirals of music, swift and passionate in the ascent, repetitive and less piercing in the narrowing downward gyres. From every whin the poignant monotonous note of the yellow hammer re-echoed. Each pastoral hedge was alive with robins, chaffinches, and the dusky shadows of the wild mice darting here and there among the. greening boughs.

Whenever this green fire is come upon the earth, the swift contagion spreads to the human heart. What the seedlings feel in the trees, what the blood feels in the brown mould, what the sap feels in every creature from the newt in the pool to the nesting bird, so feels the strange remembering ichor that runs its red tides through human hearts and brains. Spring has its subtler magic for us, because of the dim mysteries of unremembering remembrance and of the vague radiances of hope. Something in us sings an ascendant song, and we expect we know not what: something in us sings a decrescent song, and we realise vaguely the stirring of immemorial memories.

There is none who will admit that Spring is fairer elsewhere than in his own land. But there are regions where the season is so hauntingly beautiful that it would seem as though Angus g knew them for his chosen resting-places in his green journey.

Angus g, Angus MacGreiglie, Angus the Ever Youthful, the Son of the Sun, a fair god he indeed, golden-haired and wonderful as Apollo Chrusokumos. Some say that he is Love: some, that he is Spring: some, even, that in him Thanatos, the Hellenic Celt that was his far-off kin, is reincarnate. But why seek riddles in flowing water? It may well be that Angus g is Love, and Spring, and Death. The elemental gods are ever triune: and in the human heart, in whose lost Eden an ancient tree of knowledge grows, wherefrom the mind has not yet gathered more than a few windfalls, it is surely sooth that Death and Love are oftentimes one and the same, and that they love to come to us in the apparel of Spring.

Sure, indeed, Angus g is a name above all sweet to lovers, for is he not the god--the fair Youth of the Tuatha-de-Danann, the Ancient People, with us still, though for ages seen of us no more--from the meeting of whose lips are born white birds, which fly abroad and nest in lovers' hearts till the moment come when, on the yearning lips of love, their invisible wings shall become kisses again?

Then, too, there is the old legend that Angus goes to and fro upon the world, a weaver of rainbows. He follows the Spring, or is its herald. Often his rainbows are seen in the heavens: often in the rapt gaze of love. We have all perceived them in the eyes of children, and some of us have discerned them in the hearts of sorrowful women, and in the dim brains of the old. Ah, for sure, if Angus Og be the lovely Weaver of Hope, he is deathless comrade of the Spring, and we may well pray to him to let his green fire move in our veins; whether he be but the Eternal Youth of the World, or be also Love, whose soul is youth ; or even though he be likewise Death himself, Death to whom Love was wedded long, long ago.

 

II

Alan was a poet, and to dream was his birthright. . . . He was ever occupied by that wonderful past of his race which was to him a living reality. It was perhaps because he so keenly perceived the romance of the present--the romance of the general hour, of the individual moment--that he turned so insatiably to the past with its deathless charm, its haunting appeal. . . . His mind was as irresistibly drawn to the Celtic world of the past as the swallow to the sun-way. In a word he was not only a poet but a Celtic poet; and not only a Celtic poet but a dreamer of the Celtic dream. Perhaps this was because of the double strain in his veins. Doubtless, too, it was continuously enhanced by his intimate knowledge of two of the Celtic languages, that of the Breton and that of the Gael. It is language that is the surest stimulus to the remembering nerves. We have a memory within memory as layers of skin underlie the epidermis. With most of us this anterior remembrance remains dormant throughout life : but to some are given swift ancestral recollections. Alan was of these.

With this double key Alan unlocked many doors. In his brain ran ever that Ossianic tide which has borne so many marvellous argosies through the troubled waters of the modern mind. Old ballad of his nature isles, with their haunting Gaelic rhythm of idioms, their frequent reminiscence of Norse viking and the Danish summer-sailor were often in his ears. He had lived with his hero Cuchullin from the days when the boy shewed his royal blood at Emain-Macha till that sad hour when his madness came upon him and he died. He had fared forth with many a Lifting of the Sunbeam, and had followed OisIn step by step on that last melancholy journey when Malvina led the blind old man along the lonely shores of Arran. He had watched the crann-tara flare from glen to glen, and at the bidding of that fiery cross he had seen the whirling of the swords, the dusky flight of arrow-rain, and from the isles, the leaping forth of the war birlinns to meet the Viking galleys. How often, too, he had followed trial of Niall of the nine Hostages and had seen the Irish Charlemagne ride victor through Saxon London, or across the Norman plains or with onward sword direct his army against the white walls of the Alps! . . . It was all this marvellous life of old which wrought upon Alan's life as by a spell. Often he recalled the words of a Gaelic Sean he had heard Yann croon in his soft monotonous voice,--words which made a light shoreward eddy of the present and were solemn with the deep-sea sound of the past, that is with us even as we speak.

Truly his soul must have lived a thousand years ago. In him, at least, the old Celtic brain was reborn with a vivid intensity which none guessed, for Alan himself only vaguely surmised the extent and depth of this obsession. In heart and brain that old world lived anew. Himself a poet, all that was fair and tragically beautiful was for ever undergoing in his mind a marvellous transformations magical resurrection rather, wherein what was remote and bygone, and crowned with obivious dust, became alive again with intense and beautiful life. . . .

Deep passion instinctively moves towards the shadow rather than towards the golden noons of light. Passion hears what love at most dreams of; passion sees what love mayhap dimly discerns in a ass darkly. A million of our fellows are "in love" at any or every moment: and for these the shadowy way is intolerable. But for the few, in whom love is, the eyes are circumspect against the hour which comes when heart and brain and blood are aflame with the paramount ecstasy of love. . . .

Oh, flame that burns where fires of home are lit! and oh, flame that burns in the heart to whom life has not said, Awake! and oh, flame that smoulders from death to life, and from life to death, in the dumb lives of those to whom the primrose way is closed! Everywhere the burning of the burning, the flame of the flame, pain and the shadow of pain, joy .and the rapt breath of joy, flame of the flame that, burning, destroyeth not, till the flame is no more!

It is said of an ancient poet of the Druid days that he had the power to see the lines of the living, and these as though they were phantoms, separate from the body. Was there not a young king of Albainn who, in a perilous hour, discovered the secret of old time, and knew how a life may be hidden away from the body so that none may know of it, save the wind that whispers all things, and the tides of day and night that bear all things upon their dark flood? . . .

The fragrance of the forest intoxicated him. Spring was come indeed. The wild storm had ruined nothing, for at its fiercest it had swept overhead. Everywhere the green fire of Spring would be litten anew. A green flame would pass from meadow to hedgerow, from hedgerow to the tangled thickets of bramble and dog-rose, from the underwoods to the inmost forest glades.

Everywhere song would be to the birds, everywhere young life would pulse, everywhere the rhythm of a new rapture would run rejoicing. The Miracle of Spring would be accomplished in the sight of all men, of all birds and beasts, of all green life. Each, in its kind would have a swifter throb in the red blood of the vivid sap. . . .

She was his Magic. The light of their love was upon everything. Deeply as he love beauty he had learned to love it far more keenly and understandingly because of her. He saw now through the accidental and everywhere discerned the Eternal Beauty, the echoes of whose wandering are in every heart and brain though few discern the white vision or hear the haunting voice. . . . Thus it was she had for him this immutable attraction which a few women have for few men; an appeal, a charm, that atmosphere of romance, that air of ideal beauty, wherein lies the secret of all passionate art.

The world without wonder, the world without mystery! That indeed is the rainbow without colours, the sunrise without living gold, the noon void of light. . . .

In deep love there is no height nor depth between two hearts, no height nor depth nor length nor breadth. There is simply love. What if both at times were wrought too deeply by this beautiful dream? What if the inner life triumphed now and then, and each forgot the deepest instinct of life that here the body is overlord, and the soul but a divine consort?

There are three races of man. There is the myriad race which loses all through (not bestiality, for the brute world is clean and sane) perverted animalism; and there is the myriad race which denounces humanity, and pins all its faith and joy to a life the very conditions of whose existence are incompatible with the law to which we are subject--the sole law, the law of nature.

Then there is that small untoward clan, which knows the divine call of the spirit through the brain, and the secret whisper of the soul in the heart, and for ever perceives the veils of mystery and the rainbows of hope upon our human horizons, which hears and sees, and yet turns wisely, meanwhile, to the life of the green earth, of which we are part, to the common kindred of living things with which we are at one-is content, in a word, to live because of the dream that makes living so mysteriously sweet and poignant; and to dream because of the commanding immediacy of life. . . .

What are dreams but the dust of wayfaring thoughts? Or whence are they, and what air is upon their shadowy wings? Do they come out of the twilight of man's mind: are they ghosts of exiles from vanished palaces of the brain: or are they heralds with proclamations of hidden tidings for the soul that dreams?

 

III

THE BEAUTY OF THE WORLD

The Souls of the Living are the Beauty of the World."--BACON.

For out of his thoughts about Annaik and Ynys arose a fuller, a deeper conception of womanhood. How well he remembered a legend that Ynys had once told him: a legend of a fair spirit which goes to and fro upon the world, the Weaver of Tears. He loves the pathways of sorrow. His voice is low and sweet, with a sound like the bubbling of waters in that fount whence the rainbows rise. His eyes are in quiet places, and in the dumb pain of animals as in the agony of the human brain: but most he is found, oftenest are the dewy traces of his feet, in the heart of woman.

Tears, tears they are not the saltest tears which are on the lids of those who weep. Fierce tears there are, hot founts of pain in the mind of many a man, that are never shed, but slowly crystallise in furrows on brow and face, and in deep weariness in the eyes: fierce tears, unquenchable, in the heart of many a woman, whose brave eyes look fearlessly at life, whose dauntless courage goes forth daily to die but never to be vanquished.

In truth the Weaver of Tears abides in the heart of woman. O Mother of Pity, of Love, of deep Compassion: with thee it is to yearn for ever for the ideal human, to bring the spiritual love into fashion with human desire, endlessly to strive, endlessly to fail, always to hope in spite of disillusion, to love unswervingly against all baffling and misunderstanding, and even forgetfulness! O Woman, whose eyes are always stretched out to her erring children, whose heart is big enough to cover all the little children in the world, and suffer with their sufferings, and joy with their joys: Woman, whose other divine names are Strength and Patience, who is no girl, no virgin, because she has drunk too deeply of the fount of Life to be very young or very joyful. Upon her lips is the shadowy kiss of death: in her eyes is the shadow of birth. She is the veiled interpreter of the two mysteries. Yet what joyousness like hers, when she wills: because of her unwavering hope, her inexhaustible fount of love?

So it was that just as Alan had long recognised as a deep truth, how the spiritual nature of man has been revealed to humanity in many divine incarnations, so he had come to believe that the spiritual nature of woman has been revealed in the many Marys, sisters of the Beloved, who have had the keys of the soul and the heart in their unconscious keeping. In this exquisite truth he knew a fresh and vivid hope. . . . A Woman-Saviour, who would come near to all of us, because in her heart would be the blind tears of the child, the bitter tears of the man, and the patient tears of the woman: who would be the Compassionate One, with no end or aim but compassion-with no doctrine to teach, no way to show, but only deep, wonderful, beautiful, inalienable, unquenchable compassion.

For in truth there is the divine eternal feminine counterpart to the divine eternal male, and both are needed to explain the mystery of the dual spirit within us--the mystery of the two in one, so infinitely stranger and more wonderful than that triune life which the blind teachers of the blind have made a rock of stumbling and offence out of a truth clear and obvious as noon.

We speak of Mother Nature, but we do not discern the living truth behind our words. How few of us have the vision of this great brooding Mother, whose garment is the earth and sea, whose head is pillowed among the stars: she, who, with death and sleep as her familiar shapes, soothes and rests all the weariness of the world, from the waning leaf to the beating pulse, from the brief span of a human heart to the furrowing of granite brows by the uninterrupted sun, the hounds of rain and wind, and the untrammelled airs of heaven.

Not cruel, relentless, impotently anarchic, chaotically potent, this Mater Genetrix. We see her thus, who are flying threads in the loom, she weaves. But she is patient, abiding, certain, inviolate, and silent ever. It is only when we come to this vision of her whom we call Isis, or Hera, or Orchil, or one of a hundred other names, our unknown Earth-Mother, that men and women will know each other aright, and go hand in hand along the road of life without striving to crush, to subdue, to usurp, to retaliate, to separate.

Ah, fair vision of humanity to come: man and woman side by side, sweet, serene, true, simple, natural, fulfilling earth's and heaven's behests, unashamed, unsophisticated, unaffected, each to each and for each, children of one mother, inheritors of a like destiny, and, at the last, artificers of an equal fate.

Pondering thus, Alan rose, and looked out, into the night. In that great stillness, wherein the moonlight lay like the visible fragrance of the earth, he gazed long and intently. How shadowy, now, were those lives that had so lately palpitated in this very place: how strange their silence, their incommunicable knowledge, their fathomless peace!

Was it all lost . . . the long endurance of pain, the pangs of sorrow? If so, what was the lesson of life? Surely to live with sweet serenity and gladness, content against the inevitable hour. There is solace of a kind in the idea of a common end, of that terrible processional march of life wherein the myriad is momentary, and the immeasurable is but a passing shadow. But, alas, it is only solace of a kind: for what heart that has beat to the pulse of love can relinquish the sweet dream of life, and what coronal can philosophy put upon the brows of youth in place of eternity.

No, no: of this he felt sure. In the Beauty of the World lies the ultimate redemption of our mortality. When we shall become at one with nature in a sense profounder even than the poetic imaginings of most of us, we shall understand what now we fail to discern. The arrogance of those who would have the stars as candles for our night, and the universe as a pleasance for our thought, will be as impossible as their blind fatuity who say we are of dust, briefly vitalised, that shall be dust again, with no fragrance saved from the rude bankruptcy of life, no beauty raised up against the sun to bloom anew.

It is no idle dream, this: no idle dream that we are a perishing clan among the sons of God, because of this slow waning of our joy, of our passionate delight, in the Beauty of the World. We have been unable to look out upon the shining of our star, for the vision overcomes us; and we have used veils which we call "scenery," "picturesqueness," and the like--poor, barren words that are so voiceless and remote before the rustle of leaves and the lap of water, before the ancient music of the wind, and all the sovran eloquence of the tides of light. But a day may come--nay, shall surely come--when indeed the poor and the humble shall inherit the earth : they who have not made a league with temporal evils and out of whose heart shall arise the deep longing, that shall become universal, of the renewal of youth.

. . . Often, too, alone in his observatory, where he was wont to spend much of his time, Alan knew that strange nostalgia of the mind for impossible things. Then, wrought for a while from his vision of green life, and flamed by another green fire than that born of the earth, he dreamed his dream. With him, the peopled solitude of night was a concourse of confirming voices. He did not dread the silence of the stars, the cold remoteness of the stellar fire.

In that other watch-tower in Paris, where he had spent the best hours of his youth, he had loved that nightly watch on the constellations. Now, as then, in the pulse of the planets he found assurances which faith had not given him. In the vast majestic order of that nocturnal march, that diurnal retreat, he had learned the law of the whirling leaf and the falling star, of the slow on-delayed comet and of the slower wane of solar fires. Looking with visionary eyes into that congregation of stars, he realised, not the littleness of the human dream, but its divine impulsion. It was only when, after long vigils into the quietudes of night, he turned his gaze from the palaces of the unknown, and thought of the baffled fretful swarming in the cities of men, that his soul rose in revolt against the sublime ineptitude of man's spiritual leaguer against destiny.

Destiny--"An Dn"--it was a word familiar to him since childhood, when first he had heard it on the lips of old Ian Macdonald. And once, on the eve of the Feast of Paschal, when Alan had asked Daniel Dare what was the word which the stars spelled from zenith to nadir, the Astronomer had turned and answered simply, "C'est le Destin."

But Alan was of the few to whom this talismanic word opens lofty perspectives, even while it obscures those paltry vistas which we deem unending and dignify with vain hopes and void immortalities.


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