The padrone came just as we were drinking coffee after dinner. It was two o’clock, because the steamer going down the lake to Desenzano had bustled through the sunshine, and the rocking of the water still made lights that danced up and down upon the wall among the shadows by the piano.
The signore was very apologetic. I found him bowing in the hall, cap in one hand, a slip of paper in the other, protesting eagerly, in broken French, against disturbing me.
He is a little, shrivelled man, with close-cropped grey hair on his skull, and a protruding jaw, which, with his gesticulations, always makes me think of an ancient, aristocratic monkey. The signore is a gentleman, and the last, shrivelled representative of his race. His only outstanding quality, according to the villagers, is his avarice.
‘Mais — mais, monsieur — je crains que — que — que je vous dérange —’
He spreads wide his hands and bows, looking up at me with implicit brown eyes, so ageless in his wrinkled, monkey’s face, like onyx. He loves to speak French, because then he feels grand. He has a queer, naïve, ancient passion to be grand. As the remains of an impoverished family, he is not much better than a well-to-do peasant. But the old spirit is eager and pathetic in him.
He loves to speak French to me. He holds his chin and waits, in his anxiety for the phrase to come. Then it stammers forth, a little rush, ending in Italian. But his pride is all on edge: we must continue in French.
The hall is cold, yet he will not come into the large room. This is not a courtesy visit. He is not here in his quality of gentleman. He is only an anxious villager.
‘Voyez, monsieur — cet — cet — qu’est-ce que — qu’est-ce que veut dire cet — cela?’
He shows me the paper. It is an old scrap of print, the picture of an American patent door-spring, with directions: ‘Fasten the spring either end up. Wind it up. Never unwind.’
It is laconic and American. The signore watches me anxiously, waiting, holding his chin. He is afraid he ought to understand my English. I stutter off into French, confounded by the laconic phrases of the directions. Nevertheless, I make it clear what the paper says.
He cannot believe me. It must say something else as well. He has not done anything contrary to these directions. He is most distressed.
‘Mais, monsieur, la porte — la porte — elle ferme pas — elle s’ouvre —’
He skipped to the door and showed me the whole tragic mystery. The door, it is shut — ecco! He releases the catch, and pouf! — she flies open. She flies open. It is quite final.
The brown, expressionless, ageless eyes, that remind me of a monkey’s, or of onyx, wait for me. I feel the responsibility devolve upon me. I am anxious.
‘Allow me,’ I said, ‘to come and look at the door.’
I feel uncomfortably like Sherlock Holmes. The padrone protests — non, monsieur, non, cela vous dérange — that he only wanted me to translate the words, he does not want to disturb me. Nevertheless, we go. I feel I have the honour of mechanical England in my hands.
The Casa di Paoli is quite a splendid place. It is large, pink and cream, rising up to a square tower in the centre, throwing off a painted loggia at either extreme of the façade. It stands a little way back from the road, just above the lake, and grass grows on the bay of cobbled pavement in front. When at night the moon shines full on this pale façade, the theatre is far outdone in staginess.
The hall is spacious and beautiful, with great glass doors at either end, through which shine the courtyards where bamboos fray the sunlight and geraniums glare red. The floor is of soft red tiles, oiled and polished like glass, the walls are washed grey-white, the ceiling is painted with pink roses and birds. This is half-way between the outer world and the interior world, it partakes of both.
The other rooms are dark and ugly. There is no mistake about their being interior. They are like furnished vaults. The red-tiled, polished floor in the drawing-room seems cold and clammy, the carved, cold furniture stands in its tomb, the air has been darkened and starved to death, it is perished.
Outside, the sunshine runs like birds singing. Up above, the grey rocks build the sun-substance in heaven, San Tommaso guards the terrace. But inside here is the immemorial shadow.
Again I had to think of the Italian soul, how it is dark, cleaving to the eternal night. It seems to have become so, at the Renaissance, after the Renaissance.
In the Middle Ages Christian Europe seems to have been striving, out of a strong, primitive, animal nature, towards the self-abnegation and the abstraction of Christ. This brought about by itself a great sense of completeness. The two halves were joined by the effort towards the one as yet unrealized. There was a triumphant joy in the Whole.
But the movement all the time was in one direction, towards the elimination of the flesh. Man wanted more and more to become purely free and abstract. Pure freedom was in pure abstraction. The Word was absolute. When man became as the Word, a pure law, then he was free.
But when this conclusion was reached, the movement broke. Already Botticelli painted Aphrodite, queen of the senses, supreme along with Mary, Queen of Heaven. And Michelangelo suddenly turned back on the whole Christian movement, back to the flesh. The flesh was supreme and god-like, in the oneness of the flesh, in the oneness of our physical being, we are one with God, with the Father. God the Father created man in the flesh, in His own image. Michelangelo swung right back to the old Mosaic position. Christ did not exist. To Michelangelo there was no salvation in the spirit. There was God the Father, the Begetter, the Author of all flesh. And there was the inexorable law of the flesh, the Last Judgement, the fall of the immortal flesh into Hell.
This has been the Italian position ever since. The mind, that is the Light; the senses, they are the Darkness. Aphrodite, the queen of the senses, she, born of the sea-foam, is the luminousness of the gleaming senses, the phosphorescence of the sea, the senses become a conscious aim unto themselves; she is the gleaming darkness, she is the luminous night, she is goddess of destruction, her white, cold fire consumes and does not create.
This is the soul of the Italian since the Renaissance. In the sunshine he basks asleep, gathering up a vintage into his veins which in the night-time he will distil into ecstatic sensual delight, the intense, white-cold ecstasy of darkness and moonlight, the raucous, cat-like, destructive enjoyment, the senses conscious and crying out in their consciousness in the pangs of the enjoyment, which has consumed the southern nation, perhaps all the Latin races, since the Renaissance.
It is a lapse back, back to the original position, the Mosaic position, of the divinity of the flesh, and the absoluteness of its laws. But also there is the Aphrodite-worship. The flesh, the senses, are now self-conscious. They know their aim. Their aim is in supreme sensation. They seek the maximum of sensation. They seek the reduction of the flesh, the flesh reacting upon itself, to a crisis, an ecstasy, a phosphorescent transfiguration in ecstasy.
The mind, all the time, subserves the senses. As in a cat, there is subtlety and beauty and the dignity of the darkness. But the fire is cold, as in the eyes of a cat, it is a green fire. It is fluid, electric. At its maximum it is the white ecstasy of phosphorescence, in the darkness, always amid the darkness, as under the black fur of a cat. Like the feline fire, it is destructive, always consuming and reducing to the ecstasy of sensation, which is the end in itself.
There is the I, always the I. And the mind is submerged, overcome. But the senses are superbly arrogant. The senses are the absolute, the god-like. For I can never have another man’s senses. These are me, my senses absolutely me. And all that is can only come to me through my senses. So that all is me, and is administered unto me. The rest, that is not me, is nothing, it is something which is nothing. So the Italian, through centuries, has avoided our Northern purposive industry, because it has seemed to him a form of nothingness.
It is the spirit of the tiger. The tiger is the supreme manifestation of the senses made absolute. This is the
Tiger, tiger burning bright,
In the forests of the night
of Blake. It does indeed burn within the darkness. But the essential fate, of the tiger is cold and white, a white ecstasy. It is seen in the white eyes of the blazing cat. This is the supremacy of the flesh, which devours all, and becomes transfigured into a magnificent brindled flame, a burning bush indeed.
This is one way of transfiguration into the eternal flame, the transfiguration through ecstasy in the flesh. Like the tiger in the night, I devour all flesh, I drink all blood, until this fuel blazes up in me to the consummate fire of the Infinite. In the ecstacy I am Infinite, I become again the great Whole, I am a flame of the One White Flame which is the Infinite, the Eternal, the Originator, the Creator, the Everlasting God. In the sensual ecstasy, having drunk all blood and devoured all flesh, I am become again the eternal Fire, I am infinite.
This is the way of the tiger; the tiger is supreme. His head is flattened as if there were some great weight on the hard skull, pressing, pressing, pressing the mind into a stone, pressing it down under the blood, to serve the blood. It is the subjugate instrument of the blood. The will lies above the loins, as it were at the base of the spinal column, there is the living will, the living mind of the tiger, there in the slender loins. That is the node, there in the spinal cord.
So the Italian, so the soldier. This is the spirit of the soldier. He, too, walks with his consciousness concentrated at the base of the spine, his mind subjugated, submerged. The will of the soldier is the will of the great cats, the will to ecstasy in destruction, in absorbing life into his own life, always his own life supreme, till the ecstasy burst into the white, eternal flame, the Infinite, the Flame of the Infinite. Then he is satisfied, he has been consummated in the Infinite.
This is the true soldier, this is the immortal climax of the senses. This is the acme of the flesh, the one superb tiger who has devoured all living flesh, and now paces backwards and forwards in the cage of its own infinite, glaring with blind, fierce, absorbed eyes at that which is nothingness to it.
The eyes of the tiger cannot see, except with the light from within itself, by the light of its own desire. Its own white, cold light is so fierce that the other warm light of day is outshone, it is not, it does not exist. So the white eyes of the tiger gleam to a point of concentrated vision, upon that which does not exist. Hence its terrifying sightlessness. The something which I know I am is hollow space to its vision, offers no resistance to the tiger’s looking. It can only see of me that which it knows I am, a scent, a resistance, a voluptuous solid, a struggling warm violence that it holds overcome, a running of hot blood between its Jaws, a delicious pang of live flesh in the mouth. This it sees. The rest is not.
And what is the rest, that which is-not the tiger, that which the tiger is-not? What is this?
What is that which parted ways with the terrific eagle-like angel of the senses at the Renaissance? The Italians said, ‘We are one in the Father: we will go back.’ The Northern races said, ‘We are one in Christ: we will go on.’
What is the consummation in Christ? Man knows satisfaction when he surpasses all conditions and becomes, to himself, consummate in the Infinite, when he reaches a state of infinity. In the supreme ecstasy of the flesh, the Dionysic ecstasy, he reaches this state. But how does it come to pass in Christ?
It is not the mystic ecstasy. The mystic ecstasy is a special sensual ecstasy, it is the senses satisfying themselves with a self-created object. It is self-projection into the self, the sensuous self satisfied in a projected self.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is this Infinite into which we may be consummated, then, if we are poor in spirit or persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
To be perfect, to be one with God, to be infinite and eternal, what shall we do? We must turn the other cheek, and love our enemies.
Christ is the lamb which the eagle swoops down upon, the dove taken by the hawk, the deer which the tiger devours.
What then, if a man come to me with a sword, to kill me, and I do not resist him, but suffer his sword and the death from his sword, what am I? Am I greater than he, am I stronger than he? Do I know a consummation in the Infinite, I, the prey, beyond the tiger who devours me? By my non-resistance I have robbed him of his consummation. For a tiger knows no consummation unless he kill a violated and struggling prey. There is no consummation merely for the butcher, nor for a hyena. I can rob the tiger of his ecstasy, his consummation, his very _my non-resistance. In my non-resistance the tiger is infinitely destroyed.
But I, what am I? ‘Be ye therefore perfect.’ Wherein am I perfect in this submission? Is there an affirmation, behind my negation, other than the tiger’s affirmation of his own glorious infinity?
What is the Oneness to which I subscribe, I who offer no resistance in the flesh?
Have I only the negative ecstasy of being devoured, of becoming thus part of the Lord, the Great Moloch, the superb and terrible God? I have this also, this subject ecstasy of consummation. But is there nothing else?
The Word of the tiger is: my senses are supremely Me, and my senses are God in me. But Christ said: God is in the others, who are not-me. In all the multitude of the others is God, and this is the great God, greater than the God which is Me. God is that which is Not-Me.
And this is the Christian truth, a truth complementary to the pagan affirmation: ‘God is that which is Me.’
God is that which is Not-Me. In realizing the Not-Me I am consummated, I become infinite. In turning the other cheek I submit to God who is greater than I am, other than I am, who is in that which is not me. This is the supreme consummation. To achieve this consummation I love my neighbour as myself. My neighbour is all that is not me. And if I love all this, have I not become one with the Whole, is not my consummation complete, am I not one with God, have I not achieved the Infinite?
After the Renaissance the Northern races continued forward to put into practice this religious belief in the God which is Not-Me. Even the idea of the saving of the soul was really negative: it was a question of escaping damnation. The Puritans made the last great attack on the God who is Me. When they beheaded Charles the First, the king by Divine Right, they destroyed, symbolically, for ever, the supremacy of the Me who am the image of God, the Me of the flesh, of the senses, Me, the tiger burning bright, me the king, the Lord, the aristocrat, me who am divine because I am the body of God.
After the Puritans, we have been gathering data for the God who is not-me. When Pope said ‘Know then thyself, presume not God to scan, The proper study of mankind is Man,’ he was stating the proposition: A man is right, he is consummated, when he is seeking to know Man, the great abstract; and the method of knowledge is by the analysis, which is the destruction, of the Self. The proposition up to that time was, a man is the epitome of the universe. He has only to express himself, to fulfil his desires, to satisfy his supreme senses.
Now the change has come to pass. The individual man is a limited being, finite in himself. Yet he is capable of apprehending that which is not himself. ‘The proper study of mankind is Man.’ This is another way of saying, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ Which means, a man is consummated in his knowledge of that which is not himself, the abstract Man. Therefore the consummation lies in seeking that other, in knowing that other. Whereas the Stuart proposition was: ‘A man is consummated in expressing his own Self.’
The new spirit developed into the empirical and ideal systems of philosophy. Everything that is, is consciousness. And in every man’s consciousness, Man is great and illimitable, whilst the individual is small and fragmentary. Therefore the individual must sink himself in the great whole of Mankind.
This is the spirituality of Shelley, the perfectibility of man. This is the way in which we fulfil the commandment, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ This is Saint Paul’s, ‘Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known.’
When a man knows everything and understands everything, then he will be perfect, and life will be blessed. He is capable of knowing everything and understanding everything. Hence he is justified in his hope of infinite freedom and blessedness.
The great inspiration of the new religion was the inspiration of freedom. When I have submerged or distilled away my concrete body and my limited desires, when I am like the skylark dissolved in the sky yet filling heaven and earth with song, then I am perfect, consummated in the Infinite. When I am all that is not-me, then I have perfect liberty, I know no limitation. Only I must eliminate the Self.
It was this religious belief which expressed itself in science. Science was the analysis of the outer self, the elementary substance of the self, the outer world. And the machine is the great reconstructed selfless power. Hence the active worship to which we were given at the end of the last century, the worship of mechanized force.
Still we continue to worship that which is not-me, the Selfless world, though we would fain bring in the Self to help us. We are shouting the Shakespearean advice to warriors: ‘Then simulate the action of the tiger.’ We are trying to become again the tiger, the supreme, imperial, warlike Self. At the same time our ideal is the selfless world of equity.
We continue to give service to the Selfless God, we worship the great selfless oneness in the spirit, oneness in service of the great humanity, that which is Not-Me. This selfless God is He who works for all alike, without consideration. And His image is the machine which dominates and cows us, we cower before it, we run to serve it. For it works for all humanity alike.
At the same time, we want to be warlike tigers. That is the horror: the confusing of the two ends. We warlike tigers fit ourselves out with machinery, and our blazing tiger wrath is emitted through a machine. It is a horrible thing to see machines hauled about by tigers, at the mercy of tigers, forced to express the tiger. It is a still more horrible thing to see tigers caught up and entangled and torn in machinery. It is horrible, a chaos beyond chaos, an unthinkable hell.
The tiger is not wrong, the machine is not wrong, but we, liars, lip-servers, duplicate fools, we are unforgivably wrong. We say: ‘I will be a tiger because I love mankind; out of love for other people, out of selfless service to that which is not me, I will even become a tiger.’ Which is absurd. A tiger devours because it is consummated in devouring, it achieves its absolute self in devouring. It does not devour because its unselfish conscience bids it do so, for the sake of the other deer and doves, or the other tigers.
Having arrived at the one extreme of mechanical selflessness, we immediately embrace the other extreme of the transcendent Self. But we try to be both at once. We do not cease to be the one before we become the other. We do not even play the roles in turn. We want to be the tiger and the deer both in one. Which is just ghastly nothingness. We try to say, ‘The tiger is the lamb and the lamb is the tiger.’ Which is nil, nihil, nought.
The padrone took me into a small room almost contained in the thickness of the wall. There the Signora’s dark eyes glared with surprise and agitation, seeing me intrude. She is younger than the Signore, a mere village tradesman’s daughter, and, alas, childless.
It was quite true, the door stood open. Madame put down the screw-driver and drew herself erect. Her eyes were a flame of excitement. This question of a door-spring that made the door fly open when it should make it close roused a vivid spark in her soul. It was she who was wrestling with the angel of mechanism.
She was about forty years old, and flame-like and fierily sad. I think she did not know she was sad. But her heart was eaten by some impotence in her life.
She subdued her flame of life to the little padrone. He was strange and static, scarcely human, ageless, like a monkey. She supported him with her flame, supported his static, ancient, beautiful form, kept it intact. But she did not believe in him.
Now, the Signora Gemma held her husband together whilst he undid the screw that fixed the spring. If they had been alone, she would have done it, pretending to be under his direction. But since I was there, he did it himself; a grey, shaky, highly-bred little gentleman, standing on a chair with a long screw-driver, whilst his wife stood behind him, her hands half-raised to catch him if he should fall. Yet he was strangely absolute, with a strange, intact force in his breeding.
They had merely adjusted the strong spring to the shut door, and stretched it slightly in fastening it to the door-jamb, so that it drew together the moment the latch was released, and the door flew open.
We soon made it right. There was a moment of anxiety, the screw was fixed. And the door swung to. They were delighted. The Signora Gemma, who roused in me an electric kind of melancholy, clasped her hands together in ecstasy as the door swiftly shut itself.
‘Ecco!‘ she cried, in her vibrating, almost warlike woman’s voice: ‘Ecco!’
Her eyes were aflame as they looked at the door. She ran forward to try it herself. She opened the door expectantly, eagerly. Pouf! — it shut with a bang.
‘Ecco!‘ she cried, her voice quivering like bronze, overwrought but triumphant.
I must try also. I opened the door. Pouf! It shut with a bang. We all exclaimed with joy.
Then the Signor di Paoli turned to me, with a gracious, bland, formal grin. He turned his back slightly on the woman, and stood holding his chin, his strange horse-mouth grinning almost pompously at me. It was an affair of gentlemen. His wife disappeared as if dismissed. Then the padrone broke into cordial motion. We must drink.
He would show me the estate. I had already seen the house. We went out by the glass doors on the left, into the domestic courtyard.
It was lower than the gardens round it, and the sunshine came through the trellised arches on to the flagstones, where the grass grew fine and green in the cracks, and all was deserted and spacious and still. There were one or two orange-tubs in the light.
Then I heard a noise, and there in the corner, among all the pink geraniums and the sunshine, the Signora Gemma sat laughing with a baby. It was a fair, bonny thing of eighteen months. The Signora was concentrated upon the child as he sat, stolid and handsome, in his little white cap, perched on a bench picking at the pink geraniums.
She laughed, bent forward her dark face out of the shadow, swift into a glitter of sunshine near the sunny baby, laughing again excitedly, making mother-noises. The child took no notice of her. She caught him swiftly into the shadow, and they were obscured; her dark head was against the baby’s wool jacket, she was kissing his neck, avidly, under the creeper leaves. The pink geraniums still frilled joyously in the sunshine.
I had forgotten the padrone. Suddenly I turned to him inquiringly.
‘The Signora’s nephew,’ he explained, briefly, curtly, in a small voice. It was as if he were ashamed, or too deeply chagrined.
The woman had seen us watching, so she came across the sunshine with the child, laughing, talking to the baby, not coming out of her own world to us, not acknowledging us, except formally.
The Signor Pietro, queer old horse, began to laugh and neigh at the child, with strange, rancorous envy. The child twisted its face to cry. The Signora caught it away, dancing back a few yards from her old husband.
‘I am a stranger,’ I said to her across the distance. ‘He is afraid of a stranger.’
‘No, no,’ she cried back, her eyes flaring up. ‘It is the man. He always cries at the men.’
She advanced again, laughing and roused, with the child in her arms. Her husband stood as if overcast, obliterated. She and I and the baby, in the sunshine, laughed a moment. Then I heard the neighing, forced laugh of the old man. He would not be left out. He seemed to force himself forward. He was bitter, acrid with chagrin and obliteration, struggling as if to assert his own existence. He was nullified.
The woman also was uncomfortable. I could see she wanted to go away with the child, to enjoy him alone, with palpitating, pained enjoyment. It was her brother’s boy. And the old padrone was as if nullified by her ecstasy over the baby. He held his chin, gloomy, fretful, unimportant.
He was annulled. I was startled when I realized it. It was as though his reality were not attested till he had a child. It was as if his raison d’être had been to have a son. And he had no children. Therefore he had no raison d’être. He was nothing, a shadow that vanishes into nothing. And he was ashamed, consumed by his own nothingness.
I was startled. This, then, is the secret of Italy’s attraction for us, this phallic worship. To the Italian the phallus is the symbol of individual creative immortality, to each man his own Godhead. The child is but the evidence of the Godhead.
And this is why the Italian is attractive, supple, and beautiful, because he worships the Godhead in the flesh. We envy him, we feel pale and insignificant beside him. Yet at the same time we feel superior to him, as if he were a child and we adult.
Wherein are we superior? Only because we went beyond the phallus in the search of the Godhead, the creative origin. And we found the physical forces and the secrets of science.
We have exalted Man far above the man who is in each one of us. Our aim is a perfect humanity, a perfect and equable human consciousness, selfless. And we obtain it in the subjection, reduction, analysis, and destruction of the Self. So on we go, active in science and mechanics, and social reform.
But we have exhausted ourselves in the process. We have found great treasures, and we are now impotent to use them. So we have said: ‘What good are these treasures, they are vulgar nothings.’ We have said: ‘Let us go back from this adventuring, let us enjoy our own flesh, like the Italian.’ But our habit of life, our very constitution, prevents our being quite like the Italian. The phallus will never serve us as a Godhead, because we do not believe in it: no Northern race does. Therefore, either we set ourselves to serve our children, calling them ‘the future’, or else we turn perverse and destructive, give ourselves joy in the destruction of the flesh.
The children are not the future. The living truth is the future. Time and people do not make the future. Retrogression is not the future. Fifty million children growing up purposeless, with no purpose save the attainment of their own individual desires, these are not the future, they are only a disintegration of the past. The future is in living, growing truth, in advancing fulfilment.
But it is no good. Whatever we do, it is within the greater will towards self-reduction and a perfect society, analysis on the one hand, and mechanical construction on the other. This will dominates us as a whole, and until the whole breaks down, the will must persist. So that now, continuing in the old, splendid will for a perfect selfless humanity, we have become inhuman and unable to help ourselves, we are but attributes of the great mechanized society we have created on our way to perfection. And this great mechanized society, being selfless, is pitiless. It works on mechanically and destroys us, it is our master and our God.
It is past the time to leave off, to cease entirely from what we are doing, and from what we have been doing for hundreds of years. It is past the time to cease seeking one Infinite, ignoring, striving to eliminate the other. The Infinite is twofold, the Father and the Son, the Dark and the Light, the Senses and the Mind, the Soul and the Spirit, the self and the not-self, the Eagle and the Dove, the Tiger and the Lamb. The consummation of man is twofold, in the Self and in Selflessness. By great retrogression back to the source of darkness in me, the Self, deep in the senses, I arrive at the Original, Creative Infinite. By projection forth from myself, by the elimination of my absolute sensual self, I arrive at the Ultimate Infinite, Oneness in the Spirit. They are two Infinites, twofold approach to God. And man must know both.
But he must never confuse them. They are eternally separate. The lion shall never lie down with the lamb. The lion eternally shall devour the lamb, the lamb eternally shall be devoured. Man knows the great consummation in the flesh, the sensual ecstasy, and that is eternal. Also the spiritual ecstasy of unanimity, that is eternal. But the two are separate and never to be confused. To neutralize the one with the other is unthinkable, an abomination. Confusion is horror and nothingness.
The two Infinites, negative and positive, they are always related, but they are never identical. They are always opposite, but there exists a relation between them. This is the Holy Ghost of the Christian Trinity. And it is this, the relation which is established between the two Infinites, the two natures of God, which we have transgressed, forgotten, sinned against. The Father is the Father, and the Son is the Son. I may know the Son and deny the Father, or know the Father and deny the Son. But that which I may never deny, and which I have denied, is the Holy Ghost which relates the dual Infinites into One Whole, which relates and keeps distinct the dual natures of God. To say that the two are one, this is the inadmissible lie. The two are related, by the intervention of the Third, into a Oneness.
There are two ways, there is not only One. There are two opposite ways to consummation. But that which relates them, like the base of the triangle, this is the constant, the Absolute, this makes the Ultimate Whole. And in the Holy Spirit I know the Two Ways, the Two Infinites, the Two Consummations. And knowing the Two, I admit the Whole. But excluding One, I exclude the Whole. And confusing the two, I make nullity nihil.
‘Mais,’ said the Signore, starting from his scene of ignominy, where his wife played with another man’s child, ‘mais — voulez-vous vous promener dans mes petites terres?’
It came out fluently, he was so much roused in self-defence and self-assertion.
We walked under the pergola of bony vine-stocks, secure in the sunshine within the walls, only the long mountain, parallel with us, looking in.
I said how I liked the big vine-garden, I asked when it ended. The pride of the padrone came back with a click. He pointed me to the terrace, to the great shut lemon-houses above. They were all his. But — he shrugged his Italian shoulders — it was nothing, just a little garden, vous savez, monsieur. I protested it was beautiful, that I loved it, and that it seemed to me very large indeed. He admitted that today, perhaps, it was beautiful.
‘Perchè— parce que — il fait un tempo — così— très bell’— très beau, ecco!’
He alighted on the word beau hurriedly, like a bird coming to ground with a little bounce.
The terraces of the garden are held up to the sun, the sun falls full upon them, they are like a vessel slanted up, to catch the superb, heavy light. Within the walls we are remote, perfect, moving in heavy spring sunshine, under the bony avenue of vines. The padrone makes little exclamatory noises that mean nothing, and teaches me the names of vegetables. The land is rich and black.
Opposite us, looking down on our security, is the long, arched mountain of snow. We climbed one flight of steps, and we could see the little villages on the opposite side of the lake. We climbed again, and could see the water rippling.
We came to a great stone building that I had thought was a storehouse, for open-air storage, because the walls are open halfway up, showing the darkness inside and the corner pillar very white and square and distinct in front of it.
Entering carelessly into the dimness, I started, for at my feet was a great floor of water, clear and green in its obscurity, going down between the walls, a reservoir in the gloom. The Signore laughed at my surprise. It was for irrigating the land, he said. It stank, slightly, with a raw smell; otherwise, I said, what a wonderful bath it would make. The old Signore gave his little neighing laugh at the idea.
Then we climbed into a great loft of leaves, ruddy brown, stored in a great bank under the roof, seeming to give off a little red heat, as they gave off the lovely perfume of the hills. We passed through, and stood at the foot of the lemon-house. The big, blind building rose high in the sunshine before us.
All summer long, upon the mountain slopes steep by the lake, stands the rows of naked pillars rising out of the green foliage like ruins of temples: white, square pillars of masonry, standing forlorn in their colonnades and squares, rising up the mountain-sides here and there, as if they remained from some great race that had once worshipped here. And still, in the winter, some are seen, standing away in lonely places where the sun streams full, grey rows of pillars rising out of a broken wall, tier above tier, naked to the sky, forsaken.
They are the lemon plantations, and the pillars are to support the heavy branches of the trees, but finally to act as scaffolding of the great wooden houses that stand blind and ugly, covering the lemon trees in the winter.
In November, when cold winds came down and snow had fallen on the mountains, from out of the storehouses the men were carrying timber, and we heard the clang of falling planks. Then, as we walked along the military road on the mountain-side, we saw below, on the top of the lemon gardens, long, thin poles laid from pillar to pillar, and we heard the two men talking and singing as they walked across perilously, placing the poles. In their clumsy zoccoli they strode easily across, though they had twenty or thirty feet to fall if they slipped. But the mountain-side, rising steeply, seemed near, and above their heads the rocks glowed high into the sky, so that the sense of elevation must have been taken away. At any rate, they went easily from pillar-summit to pillar-summit, with a great cave of space below. Then again was the rattle and clang of planks being laid in order, ringing from the mountain-side over the blue lake, till a platform of timber, old and brown, projected from the mountain-side, a floor when seen from above, a hanging roof when seen from below. And we, on the road above, saw the men sitting easily on this flimsy hanging platform, hammering the planks. And all day long the sound of hammering echoed among the rocks and olive woods, and came, a faint, quick concussion, to the men on the boats far out. When the roofs were on they put in the fronts, blocked in between the white pillars withhold, dark wood, in roughly made panels. And here and there, at irregular intervals, was a panel of glass, pane overlapping pane in the long strip of narrow window. So that now these enormous, unsightly buildings bulge out on the mountain-sides, rising in two or three receding tiers, blind, dark, sordid-looking places.
In the morning I often lie in bed and watch the sunrise. The lake lies dim and milky, the mountains are dark blue at the back, while over them the sky gushes and glistens with light. At a certain place on the mountain ridge the light burns gold, seems to fuse a little groove on the hill’s rim. It fuses and fuses at this point, till of a sudden it comes, the intense, molten, living light. The mountains melt suddenly, the light steps down, there is a glitter, a spangle, a clutch of spangles, a great unbearable sun-track flashing across the milky lake, and the light falls on my face. Then, looking aside, I hear the little slotting noise which tells me they are opening the lemon gardens, a long panel here and there, a long slot of darkness at irregular intervals between the brown wood and the glass stripes.
‘Voulez-vous‘— the Signore bows me in with outstretched hand —’voulez-vous entrer, monsieur?’
I went into the lemon-house, where the poor threes seem to mope in the darkness. It is an immense, dark, cold place. Tall lemon trees, heavy with half-visible fruit, crowd together, and rise in the gloom. They look like ghosts in the darkness of the underworld, stately, and as if in life, but only grand shadows of themselves. And lurking here and there, I see one of the pillars, But he, too, seems a shadow, not one of the dazzling white fellows I knew. Here we are trees, men, pillars, the dark earth, the sad black paths, shut in in this enormous box. It is true, there are long strips of window and slots of space, so that the front is striped, and an occasional beam of light fingers the leaves of an enclosed tree and the sickly round lemons. But it is nevertheless very gloomy.
‘But it is much colder in here than outside,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ replied the Signore, ‘now. But at night — I think —’
I almost wished it were night to try. I wanted to imagine the trees cosy. They seemed now in the underworld. Between the lemon trees, beside the path, were little orange trees, and dozens of oranges hanging like hot coals in the twilight. When I warm my hands at them the Signore breaks me off one twig after another, till I have a bunch of burning oranges among dark leaves, a heavy bouquet. Looking down the Hades of the lemon-house, the many ruddy-clustered oranges beside the path remind me of the lights of a village along the lake at night, while the pale lemons above are the stars. There is a subtle, exquisite scent of lemon flowers. Then I notice a citron. He hangs heavy and bloated upon so small a tree, that he seems a dark green enormity. There is a great host of lemons overhead, half-visible, a swarm of ruddy oranges by the paths, and here and there a fat citron. It is almost like being under the sea.
At the corners of the path were round little patches of ash and stumps of charred wood, where fires had been kindled inside the house on cold nights. For during the second and third weeks in January the snow came down so low on the mountains that, after climbing for an hour, I found myself in a snow lane, and saw olive orchards on lawns of snow.
The padrone says that all lemons and sweet oranges are grafted on a bitter-orange stock. The plants raised from seed, lemon and sweet orange, fell prey to disease, so the cultivators found it safe only to raise the native bitter orange, and then graft upon it.
And the maestra — she is the schoolmistress, who wears black gloves while she teaches us Italian — says that the lemon was brought by St Francis of Assisi, who came to the Garda here and founded a church and a monastery. Certainly the church of San Francesco is very old and dilapidated, and its cloisters have some beautiful and original carvings of leaves and fruit upon the pillars, which seem to connect San Francesco with the lemon. I imagine him wandering here with a lemon in his pocket. Perhaps he made lemonade in the hot summer. But Bacchus had been before him in the drink trade.
Looking at his lemons, the Signore sighed. I think he hates them. They are leaving him in the lurch. They are sold retail at a halfpenny each all the year round. ‘But that is as dear, or dearer, than in England,’ I say. ‘Ah, but,’ says the maestra, ‘that is because your lemons are outdoor fruit from Sicily. Però — one of our lemons is as good as two from elsewhere.’
It is true these lemons have an exquisite fragrance and perfume, but whether their force as lemons is double that of an ordinary fruit is a question. Oranges are sold at fourpence halfpenny the kilo — it comes about five for twopence, small ones. The citrons are sold also by weight in Salò for the making of that liqueur known as ‘Cedro’. One citron fetches sometimes a shilling or more, but then the demand is necessarily small. So that it is evident, from these figures, the Lago di Garda cannot afford to grow its lemons much longer. The gardens are already many of them in ruins, and still more ‘Da Vendere’.
We went out of the shadow of the lemon-house on to the roof of the section below us. When we came to the brink of the roof I sat down. The padrone stood behind me, a shabby, shaky little figure on his roof in the sky, a little figure of dilapidation, dilapidated as the lemon-houses themselves.
We were always level with the mountain-snow opposite. A film of pure blue was on the hills to the right and the left. There had been a wind, but it was still now. The water breathed an iridescent dust on the far shore, where the villages were groups of specks.
On the low level of the world, on the lake, an orange-sailed boat leaned slim to the dark-blue water, which had flecks of foam. A woman went down-hill quickly, with two goats and a sheep. Among the olives a man was whistling.
‘Voyez,’ said the padrone, with distant, perfect melancholy. ‘There was once a lemon garden also there — you see the short pillars, cut off to make a pergola for the vine. Once there were twice as many lemons as now. Now we must have vine instead. From that piece of land I had two hundred lire a year, in lemons. From the vine I have only eighty.’
‘But wine is a valuable crop,’ I said.
‘Ah — così-così! For a man who grows much. For me — poco, poco — peu.’
Suddenly his face broke into a smile of profound melancholy, almost a grin, like a gargoyle. It was the real Italian melancholy, very deep, static.
‘Vous voyez, monsieur — the lemon, it is all the year, all the year. But the vine — one crop —?’
He lifts his shoulders and spreads his hands with that gesture of finality and fatality, while his face takes the blank, ageless look of misery, like a monkey’s. There is no hope. There is the present. Either that is enough, the present, or there is nothing.
I sat and looked at the lake. It was beautiful as paradise, as the first creation. On the shores were the ruined lemon-pillars standing out in melancholy, the clumsy, enclosed lemon-houses seemed ramshackle, bulging among vine stocks and olive trees. The villages, too, clustered upon their churches, seemed to belong to the past. They seemed to be lingering in bygone centuries.
‘But it is very beautiful,’ I protested. ‘In England —’
‘Ah, in England,’ exclaimed the padrone, the same ageless, monkey-like grin of fatality, tempered by cunning, coming on his face, ‘in England you have the wealth — les richesses — you have the mineral coal and the machines, vous savez. Here we have the sun —’
He lifted his withered hand to the sky, to the wonderful source of that blue day, and he smiled, in histrionic triumph. But his triumph was only histrionic. The machines were more to his soul than the sun. He did not know these mechanisms, their great, human-contrived, inhuman power, and he wanted to know them. As for the sun, that is common property, and no man is distinguished by it. He wanted machines, machine production, money, and human power. He wanted to know the joy of man who has got the earth in his grip, bound it up with railways, burrowed it with iron fingers, subdued it. He wanted this last triumph of the ego, this last reduction. He wanted to go where the English have gone, beyond the Self, into the great inhuman Not Self, to create the great unliving creators, the machines, out of the active forces of nature that existed before flesh.
But he is too old. It remains for the young Italian to embrace his mistress, the machine.
I sat on the roof of the lemon-house, with the lake below and the snowy mountain opposite, and looked at the ruins on the old, olive-fuming shores, at all the peace of the ancient world still covered in sunshine, and the past seemed to me so lovely that one must look towards it, backwards, only backwards, where there is peace and beauty and no more dissonance.
I thought of England, the great mass of London, and the black, fuming, laborious Midlands and north-country. It seemed horrible. And yet, it was better than the padrone, this old, monkey-like cunning of fatality. It is better to go forward into error than to stay fixed inextricably in the past.
Yet what should become of the world? There was London and the industrial counties spreading like a blackness over all the world, horrible, in the end destructive. And the Garda was so lovely under the sky of sunshine, it was intolerable. For away, beyond, beyond all the snowy Alps, with the iridescence of eternal ice above them, was this England, black and foul and dry, with her soul worn down, almost worn away. And England was conquering the world with her machines and her horrible destruction of natural life. She was conquering the whole world.
And yet, was she not herself finished in this work? She had had enough. She had conquered the natural life to the end: she was replete with the conquest of the outer world, satisfied with the destruction of the Self. She would cease, she would turn round; or else expire.
If she still lived, she would begin to build her knowledge into a great structure of truth. There it lay, vast masses of rough-hewn knowledge, vast masses of machines and appliances, vast masses of ideas and methods, and nothing done with it, only teeming swarms of disintegrated human beings seething and perishing rapidly away amongst it, till it seems as if a world will be left covered with huge ruins, and scored by strange devices of industry, and quite dead, the people disappeared, swallowed up in the last efforts towards a perfect, selfless society.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52