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The Silent Isle - Chapter 29 Post by :eggibiz Category :Essays Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :1312

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The Silent Isle - Chapter 29


We artists who try to discern beauty, and endeavour to rule our lives to be as tranquil, as perceptive, as joyful as possible, are apt to be too impatient of the petty, mean, and sordid things with which the fabric of life is so much interwoven--the ugly words of spiteful people, little fretting ailments, unsympathetic criticisms, coldness and indifference, tiresome business, wearisome persons. It is a deep-seated mistake. We cannot cast these things away as mere debris. They must be used, applied, accommodated. These are our materials, which we must strive to combine and adapt. To be disgusted with them, to allow them to disturb our serenity, is as though a painter should sicken at the odour of his pigments and the offscourings of his palette. The truer economy is to exclude all such elements as we can, consistently with honour, tenderness, and courage. Then we must not be dismayed with what remains; we must suffer it quietly and hopefully, letting patience have her perfect work. After all it is from the soul of the artist that his work arises; and it is through these goads and stings, through pain and weariness joyfully embraced, that the soul wins strength and subtlety. They are as the implements which cleave and break up the idle fallow, and without their work there can be no prodigal or generous sowing.

I suppose that I put into my observation of Nature--and perhaps into my hearing of music--the same thing that many people experience only in their relations with other people. To myself relations with others are cheerful enough, interesting, perplexing--but seldom absorbing, or overwhelming; such experiences never seem to say the ultimate word or to sound the deeper depth. I suppose that this is the deficiency of the artistic temperament. I write looking out upon a pale wintry sunset. There, at least, is something deeper than myself. I do not suppose that the strange pageant of clouds and burning light, above the leafless grove, the bare fields, is set there for my delight But that I should feel its inexpressible holiness, its solemn mystery--feel it with a sense of pure tranquillity, of satisfied desire--is to me the sign that it holds some sacred secret for me. I suppose that other men have the same sense of sacredness and mystery about love and friendship. They are deep and beautiful things for me, but they are things seen by the way, and not waiting for me at the end of my pilgrimage. Music holds within it the same sort of hidden influence as the beauty of nature. It is not so with pictorial art, or even with writing, because the personality, the imperfections, of the artist come in between me and the thought. One cannot make the pigments and the words say what one means. Even in music, the art sometimes comes between one and the thing signified But the plain, sweet, strong chords themselves bring the fulness of joy, just as these broken lights and ragged veils of cloud do. I remember once going to dine at the house of a great musician; I was a minute or two before the time, and I found him sitting in his room at a grand piano, playing the last cadence of some simple piece, unknown to me. He made no sign of recognition; he just finished the strain; a lesser man would have put the sense of hospitality first, and would have leapt up in the midst of an unfinished chord. But not till the last echo of the last chord died away did he rise to receive me. I felt that he was thus obeying a finer and truer instinct than if he had made haste to end.

Everyone must find out for himself what are the holiest and most permanent things in life, and worship them sincerely and steadfastly, allowing no conventionality, no sense of social duty, to come in between him and his pure apprehension. Thus, and thus only, can a man tread the path among the stars. Thus it is, I think, that religious persons, like artists, arrive at a certain detachment from human affections and human aims, which is surprising and even distressing to men whose hearts are more knit to the things of earth. Those who see in the dearest and most intimate of human relations, the purest and highest gift of God, will watch with a species of terror, and even repulsion, the aloofness, the solitariness of the mystic and the artist. It will seem to them a sort of chilly isolation, an inhuman, even a selfish thing; just as the mystic and the artist will see in the normal life of men a thing fettered and bound with sad and small chains. It is impossible to say which is the higher life--no dogmatism is possible--all depends upon the quality of the emotion; it is the intensity of the feeling rather than its nature that matters. The impassioned lover of human relations is a finer being than the unimpassioned artist, just as the impassioned artist is a finer being than the man who loves sensually and materialistically. All depends upon whether the love, whatever it be--the love of nature or of art, of things spiritual or divine, the love of humanity, the sense of brotherly companionship--leads on to something unfulfilled and high, or whether it is satisfied. If our desire is satisfied, we fail; if it is for ever unsatisfied, we are on the right path, though it leads us none can tell whither, to wildernesses or paradises, to weltering seas or to viewless wastes of air. If the artist rests upon beauty itself, if the mystic lingers among his ecstasies, they have deserted the pilgrim's path, and must begin the journey over again in weariness and in tears. But if they walk earnestly, not knowing what the end may be, never mistaking the delight of the moment for the joy that shines and glows beyond the furthest horizon, then they are of the happy number who have embraced the true quest. Such a faith will give them a patient and beautiful kindliness, a deep affection for fellow-pilgrims, and, most of all, for those in whose eyes and lips they can discern the wistful desire to see behind the shadows of mortal things. But the end will be beyond even the supreme moment of love's abandonment, beyond the fairest sights of earth, beyond the sweetest music of word or chord. And we must, above all things, forbear to judge another, to question other motives, to condemn other aims; for we shall feel that for each a different path is prepared. And we shall forbear, too, to press the motives that seem to us the fairest upon other hearts. We must give them utterance as faithfully as we can, for they may be a step in another's progress. But the thought of interfering with the design of God will be impious, insupportable. Our only method will be a perfect sincerity, which will indeed lead us to refrain from any attempt to overbalance or to divert ingenuous minds from their own chosen path. To accuse our fellow-men of stupidity or of prejudice is but to blaspheme God.

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