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White Soul Post by :Devslink Category :Essays Author :Richard Le Gallienne Date :August 2011 Read :700

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White Soul

What is so white in the world, my love,
As thy maiden soul--
The dove that flies
Softly all day within thine eyes,
And nests within thine heart at night?
Nothing so white.


One has heard poets speak of a quill dropped from an angel's wing. That is the kind of nib of which I feel in need to-night. If I could but have it just for to-night only,--I would willingly bequeath it to the British Museum to-morrow. As a rule I am very well satisfied with the particular brand of gilt 'J' with which I write to the dictation of the Muse of Daily Bread; but to-night it is different. Though it come not, I must make ready to receive a loftier inspiration. Whitest paper, newest pen, ear sensitive, tremulous; heart pure and mind open, broad and clear as the blue air for the most delicate gossamer thoughts to wing through; and snow-white words, lily-white words, words of ivory and pearl, words of silver and alabaster, words white as hawthorn and daisy, words white as morning milk, words 'whiter than Venus' doves, and softer than the down beneath their wings'--virginal, saintlike, nunnery words.

It may be because I love White Soul that I think her the fairest blossom on the Tree of Life, yet a child said of her to its mother, the other day: 'Look at White Soul's face--it is as though it were lit up from inside!' Children, if they don't always tell the truth, seldom tell lies; and I always think that the praise of children is better worth having than the Cross of the Legion of Honour. They are the only critics from whom praise is not to be bought. As animals are said to see spirits, children have, I think, an eye for souls. It is so easy to have an eye for beautiful surfaces. Such eyes are common enough. An eye for beautiful souls is rarer; and, unless you possess that eye for souls, you waste your time on White Soul. She has, of course, her external attractions, dainty features, refined contours; but these it would not be difficult to match in any morning's walk. It is when she smiles that her face, it seems to me, is one of the most wonderful in the world. Till she smiles, it is like the score of some great composer's song before the musician releases it warbling for joy along the trembling keys; it is like the statue of Memnon before the dawn steals to kiss it across the desert. White Soul's face when she smiles is made, you would say, of larks and dew, of nightingales and stars.

She is an eldritch little creature, a little frightening to live with--with her gold flaxen hair that seems to grow blonder as it nears her head: burnt blonde, it would seem, with the white light of the spirit that pours all day long from her brows. There is something, as we say, almost supernatural about her--'a fairy's child.' The gypsies have a share in her blood, she boasts in her naive way, and with her love for all that is free and lawless and under-the-sky--but I always say the fairies have more. She is constantly saying 'Hush!' and 'Whisht!' when no one else can hear a sound, and she dreams the quaintest of dreams.

Once she woke sobbing in the night and told her husband, who knew her ways and loved her tenfold for them, that she had dreamed herself in the old churchyard, and that as the moon rose behind the tower the three old men who live in the three yew-trees had come out and played cards upon a tomb in the moonlight, and one of them had beckoned to her and offered to tell her fortune. It fell out that she was to die in the spring, and as he held up the fatal card, the old man had leered at her--and then a cock crew, all three vanished, and she awoke.

Her dreams are nearly all about dying, and, though she is obviously robust, there is that transparent ethereal look in her face which makes old women say 'she is not long for this world,' that fateful beauty which creates an atmosphere of doom about it. You cannot look at her without a queer involuntary feeling that she was born to die in some tragic way. She reminds one of those perilously fragile vases we feel must get broken, those rarely delicate flowers we feel cannot have strong healthy roots.

She is one of those who seem born to see terrible things, monstrous accidents, supernatural appearances. She has seen death and birth in strange uncanny forms; and she has met with unearthly creatures in the lonely corners of rooms. She is a 'seventh-month child,' and 'seventh-month children always see things,' she says, with a funny little sententious shake of her head.

Yet, with all this, she is the sunniest, healthiest, most domestic little soul that breathes; and no doubt the materialist would be right in saying that all this 'spirituelle' nonsense is but a trick of her transparent blonde complexion, a chance quality in the colour of her great luminous eyes.

Like all women, she was most wonderful just before the birth of her first child, a little changeling creature, wild-eyed as her fairy mother. How she made believe with the little fairy vestments, the elfin-shirts, the pixy-frocks--long before it was time for the tiny body to step inside them! how she talked to the unborn soul that none but she as yet could see! And all the time she 'knew' she was going to die, that she would never see the little immortal that was about to put on our mortality: 'people' had told her so in her dreams at night,--doubtless 'the good people,' the fairies. Those who loved her grew almost to believe her--she looks so like a little Sibyl when she says such things,--yet her little one came almost without a cry, and in a few days the fairy mother was once more glinting about the house like a sunbeam.

Well! well! I cannot make you see her as I know her: that I fear is certain. You might meet her, yet never know her from my description. If you wait for the coarse articulation of words you might well 'miss' her; for her qualities are not histrionic, they have no notion of making the best of themselves. They remain, so to speak, in nuggets; they are minted into no current coin of fleeting fashion and shallow accomplishment. But if a face can mean more to you than the whole of Johnson's _Dictionary_, and the _Encyclopaedia Britannica_ to boot, if a strain of music can convey to you the thrill of human life, with its heights and depths and romantic issues and possibilities, as Gibbon and Grote can never do--come and worship White Soul's face with me. Some women's faces are like diamonds--they look their best in artificial lights; White Soul's face is bright with the soft brightness of a flower--a flower tumbled with dew, and best seen in the innocent lights of dawn. Dear face without words!

And if there are those who can look on that face without being touched by its strange spiritual loveliness, without seeing in it one of those clear springs that bubble up from the eternal beauty, there must indeed be many who would miss the soul for which her face is but the ivory gate, who would never know how white is all within, never see or hear that holy dove.

But I have seen and heard, and I know that if God should covet White Soul and steal her from me, her memory would ever remain with me as one of those eternal realities of the spirit to which 'realities' of flesh and blood, of wood and stone, are but presumptuous shadows.

I am not worthy of White Soul. Indeed, just to grow more worthy of her was I put into the world.


(The end)
Richard Le Gallienne's essay: White Soul

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