The Work of "Fiona Macleod",Volume V, The Children of Water


"Those whispers just as you have fallen asleep--what are they and whence?"
--COLERIDGE, Anima Poetae.

Less has been written of the psychology of waking dreams than of the psychology of the dreams of sleep. Surely they are more wonderful, and less lawless, if that can be without law which is invariable in disorder. I do not mean the dreams which one controls, as the wind herds the clouds which rise from the sea-horizons: but the dreams which come unawares, as, when one is lying on the grass and idly thinking, there may appear in the passing of a moment the shadow of a hawk hovering unseen. They are not less irresponsible and unaccountable--they come, reinless and wild, across unknown plains, and one hardly hears the trampling of their feet or sees the flashing of tameless eyes before the imagination is carried away by them. In a twinkling, the world that was is no more, and the world that now is has neither frontiers nor height nor depth, and the dancing stars may be underfoot, and from the zenith to the horizons may lean the greenness of the domed sea, and clouds be steadfast as the ancient hills, and dreams and passion and emotions be the winged creatures who move through gulfs of light and shadow.

Sometimes it happens that, in sleep, dreams have a rhythmical order, a beauty as of sculpture. It is rare: for when the phantoms of the silent house are lot wild or fantastic or futile, they move commonly as to a music, unheard of us, and are radiant or sombre as though an unseen painter touched them with miraculous dyes. But, once perhaps, the dreamer may rejoice in a subtle and beautiful spiritual architecture: and look upon some completed vision of whose advent he has had no premonition, of whose mysterious processes he has no gleam, and whose going will be as lordly as its coming, without touch of ruin or of faded beauty.

Who builds these perfected dreams? What wings, in the impenetrable shadow wherein one has sunk, have lifted them to the verge where the unsleeping soul can perceive, and, perceiving, perhaps understand ?

These are not the distempered images of broken remembrance: they are not the foam idly fretting the profound suspense of the deep. Nor is the mind consciously at work, building, or shaping, or controlling. As the shadow comes, they come: but as the shadow of some shape or beauty thrown in moonlight in some enchanted garden, a garden wherein one has never been, a shape upon which none has ever looked, a thing of life, complete and wonderful. Strange imaginations arise, as birds winged with flame and with heads like flowers: the unknown is become familiar. When not an image is made by that subtle artificer within; when not a thought steals out to whisper or to shape; when the mind is as a hushed child in the cradle, hearing a new and deep music and unknowing the sea, listening to a lullaby beyond the mother-song and unknowing the wind . . . who, then, fashions those palaces upon the sea, those walls of green ice among the rose-garths of June, those phantoms of bright flame sleeping in peace among dry,grass or moving under ancient trees of the unfailing branch and the unfading leaf?

Surely in these is a mystery beyond that of the unquiet brain in a body ill at ease, or beyond that of the mind when like a sleuthhound it slips out on the trail of old dreams and fleeing imaginations?

When first I began to notice these lamps of beauty hung in unexpected paths, whether in the twilights of bodily sleep or when the mind was in that trance of the spirit akin to the slumber of the body, I strove to understand, to trace, to go up to the hidden altars and look on the forbidden ecstasy. But, soon, an inward wisdom withheld me. And so for years I have known what has been my whim to call by a name: The Secret Garden, the White Company, and Music.

Of what I have seen there, and what music heard, and by whom I have been met and with whom gone, it is not my purpose to speak. Dreamland is the last fantasy of the unloosened imagination, or its valley of Avalon, or the via sacra for the spirit, accordingly as one finds it, or with what dower one goes to it. The ways are hidden to all save to those who themselves find. "Thou canst not travel on the Path till thou hast become the Path itself."

If these unaccountable waking and unsought dreams bore any immediate or later relation to the things held by the mind, or recently held, or foreseen, one would the more readily believe that the inner mind was working slowly and in its own way at what the outer intelligence had not reached or had ignored. But sometimes they have no recognisable bearing. Sometimes, indeed, they are as fragmentary as the phantasmagoria of sleep. A friend told me this:--"Speaking to a friend on ordinary matters, suddenly I saw him quite clearly walking swiftly along a shore-road unknown to me, a road northern in feature and yet in detail as unfamiliar to me as though set in an unvisited land. He was wild and unkempt, but walked with uplifted head and swiftly. His head and right shoulder were meshed in a net, which trailed behind him. His left arm gleamed as though it were of silver, or mailed like a salmon. His left hand was a flame of fire that was as though entranced, for it neither hurt the unconscious walker nor burned anything with which it came in contact. The vision came and went more swiftly than I have taken time to tell of it, and had no bearing, so far as I know, then or later, on anything concerning either him or myself. A few days later, certainly, he told me that he had been thinking some time before of the symbolism of Nuada of the Dedannan, Nuada of the Silver Hand, a Gaelic divinity of uncertain attributes, but whom some take to be a Celtic Hephaistos. Whether this is any clue I cannot say: or why, since it came, it could not come with more obvious bearing, in a less obscure symbolism. And why, too, should the large round stones on the shore, the peculiar wind-waved line of old yews, the stranded fishing-coble, and other details be so extraordinarily vivid--so vivid that though I know I have never seen this headland I could not possibly mistake it were I some day to come upon its like."

Dreams or visions such as this, are, I fancy, of a kind that have not necessarily any significance. There are curlews of the imagination that suddenly go crying through waste places in the mind.

Of another, I think differently. "In the middle of a commonplace action of daily life suddenly I saw a woodland glade in twilight. A man lay before a fire, but when I looked closer I saw that what I thought was a fire was a mass of continually revolving leaves, though no leaf was blown from the maze, which was like an ever whirling yet never advancing wheel in that forest silence. He took up a reed-pipe or something of the kind. He played, and I saw the stars hang on the branches of the trees. He played, and I saw the great boles of the oaks become like amber filled with moonlight. He played, and then suddenly I realised that it was a still music, and had its life for me only in the symbol of colour. Flowers and plants and tree-growths of shape and hue such as I had never seen, and have never imagined, arose in the glade, which was now luminous as a vast shell behind which burned torches of honey-coloured flame.

"These changed continually, as the red foliage of fire continually renews itself. Then the player rose, and was a changing flame, and was gone. Another player was in the glade, where all was moveless shadow and old darkness. 'It is I, now, who am God,' he said. Then he in turn was like a shadow of a reed in the wind, that a moment is, and is not. And I looked, and in the heart of the darkness saw a white light continually revolving: and in the silence was a voice . . . 'And I--I am Life.'"

Here, obviously, clear or not, there is the symbolic imagination at work. I do not think an interpreter of dreams need seek here for other than spiritual significance. It is, surely, an effort of the soul to create in symbolic vision a concept of spiritual insight such as the mind cannot adequately realise within its restricted terms, or what is beyond the reach of words. For these, though children of air and fire, have mortal evasive wings, and bands of impalpable dew, and feet wandering and uncertain as the eddying leaf.

It is less easy to interpret or accept either the rounded and complete dream of sleep--that all too rare visitor in the night of the body--or the waking dream that comes not less mysteriously, unsought, clanless among the tribes of the day's thoughts, an exile from a forbidden land, a prince who will not be commanded in his going or coming, who knows not any law of ours but only his own law.

It is to write of one such vision that I took up my pen and have written these things. It was a dream in sleep, but so potent an image, that, with both body and mind alert in startled wakefulness, I saw it not less clearly, not less vividly, not less overwhelmingly near and present. Its strangeness was in its living nearness in vision, and perhaps neither in aspect nor relation may appeal to others. Perhaps, even, it will seem no more than a luminous phantasy, void of significance. But, to me, it appeared, later, as an effort on the part of the spirit to complete in symbol what I had failed to do in words, while I have been writing these foregoing pages on the children of waterof those in whose hearts is the unresting wave, and whom the tides of happy life lift and leave, and whose longing is idle as foam, and whose dreams are as measureless as all the waters of the world.

I saw, suddenly, greenness come out of the sea, and then the sea pass like a dewdrop in the heat of the sun. A vast figure stood on the bare understrand of ocean, and leaned on his right arm along a mountain-brow so high that it seemed to me Himalaya or the extreme Cordillera. As he leaned, I could not see the face, for the Titan stared beyond the rim of the world. But he leaned negligently, as though idly watching, idly waiting. There was nothing of him but was green water, fluent as the homeless wave yet held in unwavering columnar suspense. Not a limb but was moulded in strength and beauty, not a muscle of man's mortal body but was there: yet the white coral of the depths gleamed through the titanic feet sculptured as in green jade, and the floating brown weed of the perpetual tide cast a wavering shadow among the sculptured green ridges and valleys of that titanic head. But it was not an image I saw: it was not an image of life, but life. There was not an ocean withheld in that bended arm, in that lifted shoulder, which could not have yielded in flying wave and soaring billow, or heaved with a slow mighty breath sustaining navies and argosies as drifting shells. When thought stirred be'hind the unseen brows, tides moved within these columnar deeps: and I do not doubt that the vast heart was a maelstrom where the inrush and outrush of tempestuous surges made a throb that shook the coasts of worlds beyond our own.

Looking on the greatness of this upbuilded sea, this titanic statue of silence and water, I thought I beheld the most ancient of the gods, the most ancient of the gods, the greatest of the gods.

Suddenly I heard breaths of music, and a sound as of a multitude of swift feet around me and beyond. I turned. There was no one. But a low voice, that ran through me like fire, spoke.

"Look, child of water, at your god."

Again I heard breaths of music rise, like thin spirals of smoke, but I did not see whence they came.

While the music breathed, I saw the Titan stand back from the rim of the world. His face slowly turned. But a whiteness as of foam was against my eyes, and a sudden intolerable fear bowed my head. When I looked again I saw only an illimitable sea that reached from my feet, green as grass: and on the west of the world the unloosened rains and dews hung like a veil.

The unseen one beside me stooped, and lifted a wave, and threw it into my heart.

Then I knew that I was made of the kinship of Mnan, and should never know peace, but should have the homeless wave for my heart's brother, and the salt sea as my cup to drink, and the wilderness of waters as the symbol of all vain ungovernable longings and desires.

And I woke, still looking out of time into, eternity, and saw a Titan figure of living green, water sculptured like jade, with feet set in the bed of ancient oceans; leaning, with averted face, on a mountain-brow, vast as Andes, vast as Himalaya.

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