On that New Year’s morning when I drew up the blind it was still nearly dark, but for the faintest pink flush glancing out there on the horizon of black water. The far shore of the river’s mouth was just soft dusk; and the dim trees below me were in perfect stillness. There was no lap of water. And then — I saw her, drifting in on the tide-the little ship, passaging below me, a happy ghost. Like no thing of this world she came, ending her flight, with sail-wings closing and her glowing lantern eyes. There was I know not what of stealthy joy about her thus creeping in to the unexpecting land. And I wished she would never pass, but go on gliding by down there for ever with her dark ropes, and her bright lanterns, and her mysterious felicity, so that I might have for ever in my heart the blessed feeling she brought me, coming like this out of that great mystery the sea. If only she need not change to solidity, but ever be this visitor from the unknown, this sacred bird, telling with her half-seen, trailing-down plume — sails the story of uncharted wonder. If only I might go on trembling, as I was, with the rapture of all I did not know and could not see, yet felt pressing against me and touching my face with its lips! To think of her at anchor in cold light was like flinging-to a door in the face of happiness. And just then she struck her bell; the faint silvery far-down sound fled away before her, and to every side, out into the utter hush, to discover echo. But nothing answered, as if fearing to break the spell of her coming, to brush with reality the dark sea dew from her sail-wings. But within me, in response, there began the song of all unknown things; the song so tenuous, so ecstatic, that seems to sweep and quiver across such thin golden strings, and like an eager dream dies too soon. The song of the secret-knowing wind that has peered through so great forests and over such wild sea; blown on so many faces, and in the jungles of the grass the song of all that the wind has seen and felt. The song of lives that I should never live; of the loves that I should never love singlng to me as though I should! And suddenly I felt that I could not bear my little ship of dreams to grow hard and grey, her bright lanterns drowned in the cold light, her dark ropes spidery and taut, her sea-wan sails all furled, and she no more en chanted; and turning away I let fall the curtain.
Then what happens to the moon? She, who, shy and veiled, slips out before dusk to take the air of heaven, wandering timidly among the columned clouds, and fugitive from the staring of the sun; she, who, when dusk has come, rules the sentient night with such chaste and icy spell — whither and how does she retreat?
I came on her one morning — I surprised her. She was stealing into a dark wintry wood, and five little stars were chasing her. She was orange-hooded, a light-o’-love dismissed — unashamed and unfatigued, having taken — all. And she was looking back with her almond eyes, across her dark-ivory shoulder, at Night where he still lay drowned in the sleep she had brought him. What a strange, slow, mocking look! So might Aphrodite herself have looked back at some weary lover, remembering the fire of his first embrace. Insatiate, smiling creature, slipping down to the rim of the world to her bath in the sweet waters of dawn, whence emerging, pure as a water lily, she would float in the cool sky till evening came again! And just then she saw me looking, and hid behind a holm-oak tree; but I could still see the gleam of one shoulder and her long narrow eyes pursuing me. I went up to the tree and parted its dark boughs to take her; but she had slipped behind another. I called to her to stand, if only for one moment. But she smiled and went slip ping on, and I ran thrusting through the wet bushes, leaping the fallen trunks. The scent of rotting leaves disturbed by my feet leaped out into the darkness, and birds, surprised, fluttered away. And still I ran — she slipping ever further into the grove, and ever looking back at me. And I thought: But I will catch you yet, you nymph of perdition! The wood will soon be passed, you will have no cover then! And from her eyes, and the scanty gleam of her flying limbs, I never looked away, not even when I stumbled or ran against tree trunks in my blind haste. And at every clearing I flew more furiously, thinking to seize all of her with my gaze before she could cross the glade; but ever she found some little low tree, some bush of birch ungrown, or the far top branches of the next grove to screen her flying body and preserve allurement. And all the time she was dipping, dipping to the rim of the world. And then I tripped; but, as I rose, I saw that she had lingered for me; her long sliding eyes were full, it seemed to me, of pity, as if she would have liked for me to have enjoyed the sight of her. I stood still, breathless, thinking that at last she would consent; but flinging back, up into the air, one dark-ivory arm, she sighed and vanished. And the breath of her sigh stirred all the birch-tree twigs just coloured with the dawn. Long I stood in that thicket gazing at the spot where she had leapt from me over the edge of the world-my heart quivering.
We embarked on the estuary steamer that winter morning just as daylight came full. The sun was on the wing scattering little white clouds, as an eagle might scatter doves. They scurried up before him with their broken feathers tipped and tinged with gold. In the air was a touch of frost, and a smoky mist-drift clung here and there above the reeds, blurring the shores of the lagoon so that we seemed to be steaming across boundless water, till some clump of trees would fling its top out of the fog, then fall back into whiteness.
And then, in that thick vapour, rounding I suppose some curve, we came suddenly into we knew not what — all white and moving it was, as if the mist were crazed; murmuring, too, with a sort of restless beating. We seemed to be passing through a ghost — the ghost of all the life that had sprung from this water and its, shores; we seemed to have left reality, to be travelling through live wonder.
And the fantastic thought sprang into my mind: I have died. This is the voyage of my soul in the wild. I am in the final wilderness of spirits — lost in the ghost robe that wraps the earth. There seemed in all this white murmuration to be millions of tiny hands stretching out to me, millions of whispering voices, of wistful eyes. I had no fear, but a curious baked eagerness, the strangest feeling of having lost myself and become part of this around me; exactly as if my own hands and voice and eyes had left me and were groping, and whispering, and gazing out there in the eeriness. I was no longer a man on an estuary steamer, but part of sentient ghostliness. Nor did I feel unhappy; it seemed as though I had never been anything but this Bedouin spirit wandering.
We passed through again into the stillness of plain mist, and all those eerie sensations went, leaving nothing but curiosity to know what this was that we had traversed. Then suddenly the sun came flaring out, and we saw behind us thousands and thousands of white gulls dipping, wheeling, brushing the water with their wings, bewitched with sun and mist. That was all. And yet that white-winged legion through whom we had ploughed our way were not, could never be, to me just gulls — there was more than mere sun-glamour gilding their misty plumes; there was the wizardry of my past wonder, the enchantment of romance.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08