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Full Online Book HomeEssaysThe Silent Isle - Chapter 23
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The Silent Isle - Chapter 23 Post by :eggibiz Category :Essays Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :3587

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The Silent Isle - Chapter 23

CHAPTER XXIII

The great fen to-day was full, far and wide, of little smouldering fires. On fallow after fallow, there lay small burning heaps of roots and fibres, carefully collected, kindled, tended. I tried to learn from an old labourer what it was that he was burning, but I could not understand his explanation, and I am not sure that he knew himself. Perhaps it was the tares, as in the parable, that were at length gathered into heaps and burned! Anyhow, it was a pretty sight to see the white smoke, all at one delicate angle, rising into the clear, cloudless sky on the soft September breeze. The village on the wooded ridge, with the pale, irregular houses rising among the orchards, gained a gentle richness of outline from the drifting smoke. It reminded me, too, of the Isle of Voices, and the little magic fires that rose and were extinguished again, while the phantom voices rang in the sea-breeze.

It made for me, as I passed slowly across the great flat, a soft parable of the seasons of the soul, when gratefully and joyfully it burns its gathered failures when the harvest time is over. Failures in aim, indolence, morbid glooms, doubts of capacity, unwise words, irritable interferences--what a vista of mistakes as one looks back! But there come days when, with a grateful, sober joy--the joy of feeling thankful that things have not been worse, that one has somehow emerged, and that there is after all a little good grain in the garner--one gathers one's faults and misdeeds into heaps for the burning.

The difficulty is to believe that they are burned; one thinks of the old fault, with evil fertility, ever ripening and seeding, ever increasing its circle. Well, it is so in a sense, however diligently we gather and burn. But there is enough hopefulness left for us to begin our ploughing and sowing afresh, I think.

I have had a great burning lately! I saw, in the mirror of a book, written by one who knew me well, and who yet wrote, I am sure, in no vindictive or personal spirit, how ugly and mean a thing a temperament like mine could be. One needs a shock like that every now and then, because it is so easy to drift into a mild complacency, to cast up a rough sum of one's qualities, and to conclude that though there is much to be ashamed of, yet that the total, for any who knew all the elements of the problem, is on the whole a creditable one. But here in my friend's book, who knew as much of the elements of the problem as any one could, the total was a minus quantity!

How is one to make it otherwise? Alas, I know how little one can do, but so long as one is humiliated and ashamed, and feels the keen flame scorching the vicious fibre, something, we may be sure, is being done for us, some heavenly alchemy that shall make all things new.

How shall I tell my friend that I am grateful? The very telling of it will make him feel guilty of a sort of treachery, which he did not design. So I must be silent for awhile; and, above all, resist the feeling, natural enough in the first humiliation, that one would like to send some fire-tailed fox into his standing-corn as well.

There is no impulse to be more carefully and jealously guarded than the impulse which tells us that we are bound to speak unpleasant truths to one's friends. It must be resisted until seventy times seven! It can only be yielded to if there is nothing but pure pain in the doing of it; if there is the least touch of satisfaction or zest about it, it may be safely put aside.

And so to-day I will stand for a little and watch the slow smoke drifting heavenwards from the dry weeds of my soul. It is not a sad experience, though the fingers of the fire are sharp! Rather as the rich smoke rolls into the air, and then winds and hangs in airy veils, there comes a sense of relief, of lightness, of burdens not stricken harshly off, but softly and cleanly purged away.

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