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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Garden Of Survival - Chapter XI
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The Garden Of Survival - Chapter XI Post by :Mike_Barcus Category :Long Stories Author :Algernon Blackwood Date :April 2011 Read :2800

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The Garden Of Survival - Chapter XI

ALL this I have told to you because we have known together the closest
intimacy possible to human beings--we have shared beauty.

They said, these many days ago, that you had gone away, that you were
dead. The wind on the Downs, your favourite Downs, your favourite
southwest wind, received your dust, scattering it like pollen into
space. No sign has come to me, no other sign than this I tell you now
in my long letter. It is enough. I know.

There were thus two loves, one unrecognized till afterwards, the other
realized at the time. . . . In the body there was promise. There is now
accomplishment.

It is very strange, and yet so simple. Beauty, I suppose, opens the
heart, extends the consciousness. It is a platitude, of course. You
will laugh when I tell you that afterwards I tried to reason it all
out. I am not apparently intellectual. The books I read would fill
your empty room--on aesthetics, art, and what not. I got no result
from any of them, but rather a state of muddle that was, no doubt,
congestion. None of the theories and explanations touched the root of
the matter. I am evidently not "an artist"--that at any rate I
gathered, and yet these learned people seemed to write about
something they had never "lived." I could almost believe that the
writers of these subtle analyses have never themselves felt
beauty--the burn, the rapture, the regenerating fire. They have
known, perhaps, a reaction of the physical nerves, but never this
light within the soul that lifts the horizons of the consciousness and
makes one know that God exists, that death is not even separation,
and that eternity is now.

Metaphysics I studied too. I fooled myself, thirty years after the
proper time for doing so, over the old problem whether beauty lies in
the object seen or in the mind that sees the object. And in the end I
came back hungrily to my simple starting-point--that beauty moved me.
It opened my heart to one of its many aspects--truth, wisdom, joy,
and love--and what else, in the name of heaven, mattered!

I sold the books at miserable prices that made Mother question my
judgment: coloured plates, costly bindings, rare editions, and all.
Aesthetics, Art, rules and principles might go hang for all I cared
or any good they did me. It was intellect that had devised all these.
The truth was simpler far. I cared nothing for these scholarly
explanations of beauty's genesis and laws of working, because I felt
it. Hunger needs no analysis, does it? Nor does Love. Could anything
be more stultifying? Give to the first craving a lump of bread, and
to the second a tangible man or woman--and let those who have the
time analyse both cravings at their leisure.

For the thrill I mean is never physical, and has nothing in common
with that acute sensation experienced when the acrobat is seen to
miss the rope in mid-air as he swings from bar to bar. There is no
shock in it, for shock is of the nerves, arresting life; the thrill I
speak of intensifies and sets it rising in a wave that flows. It is of
the spirit. It wounds, yet marvellously. It is unearthly. Therein, I
think, lies its essential quality; by chance, as it were, in writing
this intimate confession, I have hit upon the very word: it is
unearthly, it contains surprise. Yes, Beauty wounds marvellously,
then follows the new birth, regeneration. There is a ravishment of
the entire being into light and knowledge.

The element of surprise is certainly characteristic. The thrill comes
unheralded--a sudden uprush of convincing joy loosed from some store
that is inexhaustible. Unlike the effect of a nervous shock which can
be lived over and reconstituted, it knows no repetition; its climax
is instantaneous, there is neither increase nor declension; it is
unrecoverable; it strikes and is gone. Breaking across the
phantasmagoria of appearances, it comes as a flash of reality, a
lightning recognition of something that cannot be travestied. It is
not in time. It is eternity.

I suspect you know it now with me; in fact I am certain that you
do. . . .

I remember how, many years ago--in that delightful period between
boyhood and manhood when we felt our wings and argued about the
universe--we discovered this unearthly quality in three different
things: the song of a bird, the eyes of a child, and a wild-flower
come upon unexpectedly in a scene of desolation. For in all three, we
agreed, shines that wonder which holds adoration, that joy which is
spontaneous and uncalculated, and that surprise which pertains to
Eternity looking out triumphantly upon ephemeral things.

So, at least, in our youthful eagerness, we agreed; and to this day
one in particular of the three--a bird's song --always makes me think
of God. That divine, ecstatic, simple sound is to me ever both
surprising and unearthly. Each time it takes me by surprise--that
people do not hush their talk to kneel and listen. . . . And of the eyes
of little children--if there is any clearer revelation granted to us
of what is unearthly in the sense of divinity brought close, I do not
know it. Each time my spirit is arrested by surprise, then filled
with wondering joy as I meet that strange open look, so stainless,
accepting the universe as its rightful toy, and, as with the bird and
flower, saying Yes to life as though there could not possibly exist a
No.

The wildflower too: you recall once--it was above Igls when the
Tyrolean snows were melting--how we found a sudden gentian on the
dead, pale grass? The sliding snows had left the coarse tufts stroked
all one way, white and ugly, thickly streaked with mud, no single
blade with any sign of life or greenness yet, when we came upon that
star of concentrated beauty, more blue than the blue sky overhead, the
whole passion of the earth in each pointed petal. A distant
avalanche, as though the hills were settling, the bustle of the
torrent, the wind in the pines and larches, only marked by contrast
the incredible stillness of the heights--then, suddenly, this star of
blue blazing among the desolation. I recall your cry and my
own--wonder, joy, as of something unearthly--that took us by
surprise.

In these three, certainly, lay the authentic thrill I speak of; while
it lasts, the actual moment seems but a pedestal from which the eyes
of the heart look into Heaven, a pedestal from which the soul leaps
out into the surrounding garden of limitless possibilities which are
its birthright, and immediately accessible. And that, indeed, is the
essential meaning of the thrill--that Heaven is here and now. The
gates of ivory are very tiny; Beauty sounds the elfin horns that
opens them; smaller than the eye of a needle is that opening--upon
the diamond point of the thrill you flash within, and the Garden of
Eternity is yours for ever--now.

I am writing this to you, because I know you listen with your heart,
not with your nerves; and the garden that I write about you know now
better than I do myself. I have but tasted it, you dwell therein,
unaged, unageing. And so we share the flowers; we know the light, the
fragrance and the birds we know together. . . . They tell me--even our
mother says it sometimes with a sigh--that you are far away, not
understanding that we have but recovered the garden of our early
childhood, you permanently, I whenever the thrill opens the happy
gates. You are as near to me as that. Our love was forged inside
those ivory gates that guard that childhood state, facing four ways,
and if I wandered outside a-while, puzzled and lonely, the thrill of
beauty has led me back again, and I, have found your love unchanged,
unaged, still growing in the garden of our earliest memories. I did
but lose my way for a time. . . .

That childhood state must be amazingly close to God, I suppose, for
though no child is consciously aware of beauty, its whole being cries
Yes to the universe and life as naturally and instinctively as a
flower turns to the sun. The universe lies in its overall pocket of
alpaca, and beauty only becomes a thing apart when the growing
consciousness, hearing the world cry No, steps through the gates to
enquire and cannot find the entrance any more. Beauty then becomes a
signpost showing the way home again. Baudelaire, of course, meant God
and Heaven, instead of "genius" when he said, "Le genie n'est que
l'enfance retrouvee a volonte. . . ."

And so when I write to you, I find myself again within the garden of
our childhood, that English garden where our love shared all the
light and fragrance and flowers of the world together. "Time's but a
golden wind that shakes the grass," and since my thought is with you,
you are with me now. . . and now means always or it means nothing.

So these relationships are real still among a thousand shadows. Your
beauty was truth, hers was unselfish love. The important thing is to
know you still live, not with regret and selfish grief, but with that
joy and sure conviction which makes the so-called separation a
temporary test, perhaps, but never a final blow. What are the few
years of separation compared to this certainty of co-operation in
eternity? We live but a few years together in the flesh, yet if those
few are lived with beauty and beautifully, the tie is unalterably
forged which fastens us lovingly together for ever. Where, how,
under what precise conditions it were idle to enquire and
unnecessary--the wrong way too. Our only knowledge (in the scientific
sense) comes to us through our earthly senses. To forecast our future
life, constructing it of necessity upon this earthly sensory
experience, is an occupation for those who have neither faith nor
imagination. All such "heavens" are but clumsy idealizations of the
present--"Happy Hunting Grounds" in various forms: whereas we know
that if we lived beauty together, we shall live it always
--"afterwards," as our poor time-ridden language phrases it. For
Beauty, once known, cannot exclude us. We cooperated with the Power
that makes the universe alive.

And, knowing this, I do not ask for your "return," or for any
so-called evidence that you survive. In beauty you both live now with
less hampered hands, less troubled breath, and I am glad.

Why should you come, indeed, through the gutter of my worn, familiar,
personal desires, when the open channel of beauty lies ever at the
flood for you to use? Coming in this way, you come, besides, for
many, not for me alone, since behind every thrill of beauty stand the
countless brave souls who lived it in their lives. They have entered
the mighty rhythm that floats the spiral nebulae in space, as it turns
the little aspiring Nautilus in the depths of the sea. Having once
felt this impersonal worship which is love of beauty, they are linked
to the power that drives the universe towards perfection, the power
that knocks in a million un-advertised forms at every human heart:
and that is God.

With that beneficent power you cooperate. I ask no other test. I crave
no evidence that you selfishly remember me. In the body we did not
know so closely. To see into your physical eyes, and touch your hand,
and hear your voice--these were but intermediary methods, symbols, at
the best. For you I never saw nor touched nor heard. I felt you--in
my heart. The closest intimacy we knew was when together we shared
one moment of the same beauty; no other intimacy approaches the
reality of that; it is now strengthened to a degree unrealized
before. For me that is enough. I have that faith, that certainty,
that knowledge. Should you come to me otherwise I must disown you.
Should you stammer through another's earthly lips that you now enjoy
a mere idealized repetition of your physical limitations, I should
know my love, my memory, my hope degraded, nay, my very faith
destroyed.

To summon you in that way makes me shudder. It would be to limit your
larger uses, your wider mission, merely to numb a selfish grief born
of a faithless misunderstanding.

Come to me instead--or, rather, stay, since you have never left--be
with me still in the wonder of dawn and twilight, in the yearning
desire of inarticulate black night, in the wind, the sunshine, and
the rain. It is then that I am nearest to you and to your beneficent
activity, for the same elemental rhythm of Beauty includes us both.
The best and highest of you are there; I want no lesser assurance, no
broken personal revelation. Eternal beauty brings you with an
intimacy unknown, impossible, indeed, to partial disclosure. I should
abhor a halting masquerade, a stammering message less intelligible
even than our intercourse of the body.

Come, then! Be with me, your truth and Marion's tenderness linked
together with what is noblest in myself. Be with me in the simple
loveliness of an English garden where you and I, as boys together,
first heard that voice of wonder, and knew the Presence walking with
us among the growing leaves.


THE END
The Garden of Survival, by Algernon Blackwood.

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