Where the Forest Murmers 
Vol VI,  by Fiona Macleod

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

see also Dirge of the Four Cities 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sea-Spell

Old magical writers speak of the elemental affinity which is the veiled door in each of us. Find that door, and you will be on the secret road to the soul, they say in effect. Some are children of fire, and some of air, some are of earth, and some of water. They even resolve mortal strength and weakness, our virtue and our evil, into the movement of these elements. This virtue, it is of fire: this quality, it is of air: this frailty, it is of water.

Howsoever this may be, some of us are assuredly of that ancient clan in whose blood, as an old legend has it, is the water of the sea. Many legends, many poems, many sayings tell of the Chloinn-na-Mhara, the children of the sea. I have heard them from fishermen, from inland-shepherds, from moorlanders in inland solitudes where the only visitors from the mysterious far-off deep are the wandering sea-mews or the cloud that has climbed out of the south. Some tell of the terror of the sea, some of its mysteriousness, some of the evil and of the evil things that belong to it and are in it, some of its beauty, some of its fascination (as the Greeks of oldtime told of the sirens, who were the voices and fatal music and the strange and perilous loveliness of alien waters), some of the subtle and secret spell deep-buried in the hearts of certain men and women, the Chloinn-na-Mhara, a spell that will brood there, and give no peace, but will compel the spirit to the loneliness of the wind, and the outward life to the wayward turbulence of the wave. More than two thousand years ago the great Pindar had these in mind when he wrote of that strange tribe among men "who scorn the things of home, and gaze on things that are afar off, and chase a cheating prey with hopes that shall never be fulfilled."

Elsewhere I have written much of this seaspell, of the BrÚnavara (to Anglicise an island word), or Sorrow of the Sea, and do not wish to write here of that strange passion or sinister affinity: but of that other and happier Spell of the Sea which so many of us feel, with pleasure always, with delight often, at times with exultation, as though in our very heart were the sharp briny splash of the blue wave tossing its white crest, or of the green billow falling like a tower of jade in a seething flood. But, first, I recall that old legend to which I have alluded. Perhaps some folklorist may recognise it as gathered out of the drift common to many shores, may trace it even to those Asian inlands where so many of our most ancient tales mysteriously arose; but I have nowhere met with it in print, nor seen nor heard allusion to it, other than in a crude fashioning on the lips of simple Gaelic folk, nor even there for years upon years. There were once four cities (the Western Gael will generally call them Gorias and Falias, Finias and Murias), the greatest and most beautiful of the cities of those ancient tribes of beauty, the offspring of angels and the daughters of earth. The fair women were beautiful, but lived like flowers, and like flowers faded and were no more, for they were filled with happiness, as cups of ivory filled with sunlit dancing wine, but were soulless. Eve, that sorrowful loveliness, was not yet born. Adam was not yet lifted out of the dust of Eden. Finias was the gate of Eden to the South, Murias to the West: in the North, Falias was crowned by a great star: in the East, Gorias, the city of gems, flashed like sunrise. There the deathless clan of the sky loved the children of Lilith. On the day when Adam uttered the sacred name and became king of the world, a great sighing was heard in Gorias in the East and in Finias in the South, in Murias in the West and in Falias in the North: and when morn was come the women were no more awakened by the stirring of wings and the sunrise-flight of their angelic lovers. They came no more. And when Eve awok, by the side of Adam, and he looked on her, and saw the immortal mystery in the eyes of this mortal loveliness, lamentations and farewells and voices of twilight were heard in Murias by the margin of the sea, and in Gorias high-set among her peaks; in the secret gardens of Falias, and where the moonlight hung like a spear above the towers of Finias upon the great plain. The Children of Lilith were gone away upon the wind, as lifted dust, as dew, as shadow, as the unreturning leaf. Adam rose, and bade Eve go to the four solitudes, and bring back fhe four ancient secrets of the world. So Eve went to Gorias and found nothing there but a flame of fire. She lifted it and hid it in her heart. At noon she came to Finias and found nothing there but a spear of white light. She took it and bid it in her mind. At dusk she came to Falias and found nothing there but a star in the darkness. She hid the darkness, and the star within the darkness, in her womb. At moonrise she came to Murias, by the shores of the ocean. There she saw nothing but a wandering light. So she stooped and lifted a wave of the sea and hid it in her blood. And when Eve was come again to Adam, she gave him the flame she had found in Gorias and the spear of light she had found in Finias. "In Falias," she said, "I found that which I cannot give, but the darkness I have hidden shall be your darkness, and the star shall be your star."  "Tell me what you found in Murias by the sea?" asked Adam. "Nothing," answered Eve. But Adam knew that she lied. "I saw a wandering light," she said. He sighed, and believed. But Eve kept the wave of the sea hidden in her blood. So has it been that a multitude of women have been homeless as the wave, and their heritage salt as the sea: and that some among their sons and daughters have been possessed by that vain cold fire, and that inappeasable trouble, and the restlessness of water. So it is that to the end of time some shall have the salt sea in the blood, and the troubled wave in the heart, and be homeless.

But thoughts like these, legends like these, are for the twilight hour, or for the silent people who live in isles and remote places. For most of us, for those of us who do not dwell by lonely shores and seldom behold the sea but in the quiet seasons, it is either a delight or an oppression. Some can no more love it, or can have any well-being or composure near it, than others can be well or content where vast moors reach from skyline to skyline, or amid the green solemnities of forests, or where stillness inhabits the hollows, of hills. But for those who do love it, what a joy it is! The Sea . . . the very words have magic. It is like the sound of a horn in woods, like the sound of a bugle in the dusk, like the cry of wind leaping the long bastions of silence. To many of us there is no call like it, no other such clarion of gladness.

But when one speaks of the sea it is as though one should speak of summer or winter, of spring or autumn. It has many aspects. It is not here what it is yonder, yonder it is not what it is afar off: here, even, it is not in August what it is when the March winds, those steel-blue courses, are unleashed; the grey-green calms of January differ from the purple-grey calms of September, and November leaning in mist across the dusk of wavering horizons is other than azure-robed and cirrus-crowned May moving joyously across a glorious tossing wilderness of blue and white. The blue sea frothed with wind has ever been a salutation of joy. ∆schylos sounded the note of rapture which has since echoed through poetry and romance: that "multitudinous laughter" struck a vibration which time has never dulled nor lessened. It has been an exultation above all in the literatures of the north. Scandinavian poetry is full of the salt brine ; there is not a viking-saga that is not wet with.the spray of surging seas. Through all the primitive tales and songs of the Gael one feels the intoxication of the blue wine of the running wave. In the Icelandic sagas it is like a clashing of shields. It calls through the Ossianic chants like a tide. Every Gaelic song of exile has the sound of it, as in the convolutions of a shell. The first Gaelic poet rejoiced at the call of the sea, and bowed before the chanting of a divine voice. In his madness, Cuchulain fought with the racing billows on the Irish Coast, striving with them as joy-intoxicated foes, laughing against their laughter; to the dark waves of Coruisk, in the Isle of Skye, he rushed with a drawn sword, calling to these wise warriors of the sea to advance in their proud hosts that he might slay them. Sigurd and Brynhild, Gunhild and Olaf, Torquil and Swaran and Haco, do they not sound like the names of waves? How good that old-world rejoicing in the great green wilderness of waters, in the foam-swept blue meads, in the cry of the wind and the chant of the billows and the sharp sting of flying scud? It is of to-day also. A multitude of us rejoice as those of old rejoiced, though we have changed in so much with all the incalculable change of the years. To-day as then the poets of the isles . . . the poet in the heart of each of us who loves the glory and beauty and in any degree feels the strong spell of the sea . . . answer to that clarion-music: as in this EvoŽ! by one of the latest among them:---

" Oceanward, the sea-horses sweepi -magnificently, champing and whirling white foam about their green flanks, and tossing on high their manes of sunlit rainbow-gold, dazzling white and multitudinous, far as sight can reach.
" O champing horses of my soul, toss, toss on high your sunlit manes, your manes of rainbow-gold, dazzling white and muiltitudinous, for I too rejoice, rejoice!"

And who of us will forget that great English poet of to-day, that supreme singer of---

"Sky, and shore, and cloud, and waste, and sea,"

who has written so often and so magically of the spell of the sea and of the elation of those who commit themselves to the sway and rhythm of its moving waters:---

"The grey sky gleams and the grey seas glimmer,
    Pale and sweet as a dream's delight,
As a dream's where darkness and light seem dimmer,
    Touched by dawn or subdued by night.
The dark wind, stern and sublime and sad,
Swings the rollers to westward, clad
With lustrous shadow that lures the swimmer,
    Lures and lulls him with dreams of light.

"Light, and sleep, and delight, and wonder,
    Change, and rest, and a charm of cloud,
Fill the world of the skies Thereunder
     Heaves and quivers and pants aloud
All the world of the waters, hoary
Now, but clothed with its own live glory,
That mates the lightning and mocks the thunder
    With light more living and word more proud.
          .             .             .               .                .
"A dream, and more than a dream, and dimmer
    At once and brighter than dreams that flee,
The moment's joy of the seaward swimmer
     Abides, remembered as truth may be.
Not all the joy and not all the glory
Must fade as leaves when the woods wax hoary;
For there the downs and the sea-banks glimmer,
    And here to south of them swells the sea."

What swimmer too, who loves this poet, but will recall the marvellous sea-shine line in "Thalassius":

"Dense water-walls and clear dusk waterways .  .   .  .
The deep divine dark dayshine of the sea---"

It is this exquisite miracle of transparency which gives the last secret of beauty to water. All else that we look upon is opaque: the mountain in its sundown purple or noon-azure, the meadows and fields, the gathered greenness of woods, the loveliness of massed flowers, the myriad wonder of the universal grass, even the clouds that trail their shadows upon the hills, or soar so high into frozen deeps of azure that they pass shadowless like phantoms or the creatures of dreams---the beauty of all these is opaque. But the beauty of water is that it is transparent. Think if the grass, if the leaves of the tree, if the rose and the iris and the pale horns of the honeysuckle, if the great mountains built of grey steeps of granite and massed purple of shadow were thus luminous, thus transparent! Think if they, too, as the sea, could reflect the passage of saffron-sailed and rose-flusht argosies of cloud, or mirror as in the calms of ocean the multitudinous undulation of the blue sky! This divine translucency is but a part of the Sea-Spell, which holds us from childhood to old age in wonder and delight, but that part is its secret joy, its incommunicable charm.

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