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´╗┐Title: Pageant of Summer
Author: Jefferies, Richard, 1848-1887
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Pageant of Summer" ***

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Transcribed from the 1914 Chatto & Windus edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org



THE PAGEANT OF SUMMER


BY
RICHARD JEFFERIES

LONDON
CHATTO & WINDUS
1914



I.


Green rushes, long and thick, standing up above the edge of the ditch,
told the hour of the year as distinctly as the shadow on the dial the
hour of the day.  Green and thick and sappy to the touch, they felt like
summer, soft and elastic, as if full of life, mere rushes though they
were.  On the fingers they left a green scent; rushes have a separate
scent of green, so, too, have ferns, very different from that of grass or
leaves.  Rising from brown sheaths, the tall stems enlarged a little in
the middle, like classical columns, and heavy with their sap and
freshness, leaned against the hawthorn sprays.  From the earth they had
drawn its moisture, and made the ditch dry; some of the sweetness of the
air had entered into their fibres, and the rushes--the common rushes--were
full of beautiful summer.  The white pollen of early grasses growing on
the edge was dusted from them each time the hawthorn boughs were shaken
by a thrush.  These lower sprays came down in among the grass, and leaves
and grass-blades touched.  Smooth round stems of angelica, big as a gun-
barrel, hollow and strong, stood on the slope of the mound, their tiers
of well-balanced branches rising like those of a tree.  Such a sturdy
growth pushed back the ranks of hedge parsley in full white flower, which
blocked every avenue and winding bird's-path of the bank.  But the "gix,"
or wild parsnip, reached already high above both, and would rear its
fluted stalk, joint on joint, till it could face a man.  Trees they were
to the lesser birds, not even bending if perched on; but though so stout,
the birds did not place their nests on or against them.  Something in the
odour of these umbelliferous plants, perhaps, is not quite liked; if
brushed or bruised they give out a bitter greenish scent.  Under their
cover, well shaded and hidden, birds build, but not against or on the
stems, though they will affix their nests to much less certain supports.
With the grasses that overhung the edge, with the rushes in the ditch
itself, and these great plants on the mound, the whole hedge was wrapped
and thickened.  No cunning of glance could see through it; it would have
needed a ladder to help any one look over.

It was between the may and the June roses.  The may bloom had fallen, and
among the hawthorn boughs were the little green bunches that would feed
the red-wings in autumn.  High up the briars had climbed, straight and
towering while there was a thorn or an ash sapling, or a yellow-green
willow, to uphold them, and then curving over towards the meadow.  The
buds were on them, but not yet open; it was between the may and the rose.

As the wind, wandering over the sea, takes from each wave an invisible
portion, and brings to those on shore the ethereal essence of ocean, so
the air lingering among the wood and hedges--green waves and
billows--became full of fine atoms of summer.  Swept from notched
hawthorn leaves, broad-topped oak-leaves, narrow ash sprays and oval
willows; from vast elm cliffs and sharp-taloned brambles under; brushed
from the waving grasses and stiffening corn, the dust of the sunshine was
borne along and breathed.  Steeped in flower and pollen to the music of
bees and birds, the stream of the atmosphere became a living thing.  It
was life to breathe it, for the air itself was life.  The strength of the
earth went up through the leaves into the wind.  Fed thus on the food of
the Immortals, the heart opened to the width and depth of the summer--to
the broad horizon afar, down to the minutest creature in the grass, up to
the highest swallow.  Winter shows us Matter in its dead form, like the
Primary rocks, like granite and basalt--clear but cold and frozen
crystal.  Summer shows us Matter changing into life, sap rising from the
earth through a million tubes, the alchemic power of light entering the
solid oak; and see! it bursts forth in countless leaves.  Living things
leap in the grass, living things drift upon the air, living things are
coming forth to breathe in every hawthorn bush.  No longer does the
immense weight of Matter--the dead, the crystallized--press ponderously
on the thinking mind.  The whole office of Matter is to feed life--to
feed the green rushes, and the roses that are about to be; to feed the
swallows above, and us that wander beneath them.  So much greater is this
green and common rush than all the Alps.

Fanning so swiftly, the wasp's wings are but just visible as he passes;
did he pause, the light would be apparent through their texture.  On the
wings of the dragon-fly as he hovers an instant before he darts there is
a prismatic gleam.  These wing textures are even more delicate than the
minute filaments on a swallow's quill, more delicate than the pollen of a
flower.  They are formed of matter indeed, but how exquisitely it is
resolved into the means and organs of life!  Though not often consciously
recognized, perhaps this is the great pleasure of summer, to watch the
earth, the dead particles, resolving themselves into the living case of
life, to see the seed-leaf push aside the clod and become by degrees the
perfumed flower.  From the tiny mottled egg come the wings that by-and-by
shall pass the immense sea.  It is in this marvellous transformation of
clods and cold matter into living things that the joy and the hope of
summer reside.  Every blade of grass, each leaf, each separate floret and
petal, is an inscription speaking of hope.  Consider the grasses and the
oaks, the swallows, the sweet blue butterfly--they are one and all a sign
and token showing before our eyes earth made into life.  So that my hope
becomes as broad as the horizon afar, reiterated by every leaf, sung on
every bough, reflected in the gleam of every flower.  There is so much
for us yet to come, so much to be gathered, and enjoyed.  Not for you or
me, now, but for our race, who will ultimately use this magical secret
for their happiness.  Earth holds secrets enough to give them the life of
the fabled Immortals.  My heart is fixed firm and stable in the belief
that ultimately the sunshine and the summer, the flowers and the azure
sky, shall become, as it were, interwoven into man's existence.  He shall
take from all their beauty and enjoy their glory.  Hence it is that a
flower is to me so much more than stalk and petals.  When I look in the
glass I see that every line in my face means pessimism; but in spite of
my face--that is my experience--I remain an optimist.  Time with an
unsteady hand has etched thin crooked lines, and, deepening the hollows,
has cast the original expression into shadow.  Pain and sorrow flow over
us with little ceasing, as the sea-hoofs beat on the beach.  Let us not
look at ourselves but onwards, and take strength from the leaf and the
signs of the field.  He is indeed despicable who cannot look onwards to
the ideal life of man.  Not to do so is to deny our birthright of mind.

The long grass flowing towards the hedge has reared in a wave against it.
Along the hedge it is higher and greener, and rustles into the very
bushes.  There is a mark only now where the footpath was; it passed close
to the hedge, but its place is traceable only as a groove in the sorrel
and seed-tops.  Though it has quite filled the path, the grass there
cannot send its tops so high; it has left a winding crease.  By the hedge
here stands a moss-grown willow, and its slender branches extend over the
sward.  Beyond it is an oak, just apart from the bushes; then the ground
gently rises, and an ancient pollard ash, hollow and black inside, guards
an open gateway like a low tower.  The different tone of green shows that
the hedge is there of nut-trees; but one great hawthorn spreads out in a
semicircle, roofing the grass which is yet more verdant in the still pool
(as it were) under it.  Next a corner, more oaks, and a chestnut in
bloom.  Returning to this spot an old apple tree stands right out in the
meadow like an island.  There seemed just now the tiniest twinkle of
movement by the rushes, but it was lost among the hedge parsley.  Among
the grey leaves of the willow there is another flit of motion; and
visible now against the sky there is a little brown bird, not to be
distinguished at the moment from the many other little brown birds that
are known to be about.  He got up into the willow from the hedge parsley
somehow, without being seen to climb or fly.  Suddenly he crosses to the
tops of the hawthorn and immediately flings himself up into the air a
yard or two, his wings and ruffled crest making a ragged outline; jerk,
jerk, jerk, as if it were with the utmost difficulty he could keep even
at that height.  He scolds, and twitters, and chirps, and all at once
sinks like a stone into the hedge and out of sight as a stone into a
pond.  It is a whitethroat; his nest is deep in the parsley and nettles.
Presently he will go out to the island apple tree and back again in a
minute or two; the pair of them are so fond of each other's affectionate
company, they cannot remain apart.

Watching the line of the hedge, about every two minutes, either near at
hand or yonder a bird darts out just at the level of the grass, hovers a
second with labouring wings, and returns as swiftly to the cover.
Sometimes it is a flycatcher, sometimes a greenfinch, or chaffinch, now
and then a robin, in one place a shrike, perhaps another is a redstart.
They are flyfishing all of them, seizing insects from the sorrel tips and
grass, as the kingfisher takes a roach from the water.  A blackbird slips
up into the oak and a dove descends in the corner by the chestnut tree.
But these are not visible together, only one at a time and with
intervals.  The larger part of the life of the hedge is out of sight.  All
the thrush-fledglings, the young blackbirds, and finches are hidden, most
of them on the mound among the ivy, and parsley, and rough grasses,
protected, too, by a roof of brambles.  The nests that still have eggs
are not, like the nests of the early days of April, easily found; they
are deep down in the tangled herbage by the shore of the ditch, or far
inside the thorny thickets which then looked mere bushes, and are now so
broad.  Landrails are running in the grass concealed as a man would be in
a wood; they have nests and eggs on the ground for which you may search
in vain till the mowers come.

Up in the corner a fragment of white fur and marks of scratching show
where a doe has been preparing for a litter.  Some well-trodden runs lead
from mound to mound; they are sandy near the hedge where the particles
have been carried out adhering to the rabbits' feet and fur.  A crow
rises lazily from the upper end of the field, and perches in the
chestnut.  His presence, too, was unsuspected.  He is there by far too
frequently.  At this season the crows are always in the mowing-grass,
searching about, stalking in winding tracks from furrow to furrow,
picking up an egg here and a foolish fledgling that has wandered from the
mound yonder.  Very likely there may be a moorhen or two slipping about
under cover of the long grass; thus hidden, they can leave the shelter of
the flags and wander a distance from the brook.  So that beneath the
surface of the grass and under the screen of the leaves there are ten
times more birds than are seen.

Besides the singing and calling, there is a peculiar sound which is only
heard in summer.  Waiting quietly to discover what birds are about, I
become aware of a sound in the very air.  It is not the midsummer hum
which will soon be heard over the heated hay in the valley and over the
cooler hills alike.  It is not enough to be called a hum, and does but
just tremble at the extreme edge of hearing.  If the branches wave and
rustle they overbear it; the buzz of a passing bee is so much louder, it
overcomes all of it that is in the whole field.  I cannot define it,
except by calling the hours of winter to mind--they are silent; you hear
a branch crack or creak as it rubs another in the wood, you hear the hoar
frost crunch on the grass beneath your feet, but the air is without sound
in itself.  The sound of summer is everywhere--in the passing breeze, in
the hedge, in the broad-branching trees, in the grass as it swings; all
the myriad particles that together make the summer are in motion.  The
sap moves in the trees, the pollen is pushed out from grass and flower,
and yet again these acres and acres of leaves and square miles of grass
blades--for they would cover acres and square miles if reckoned edge to
edge--are drawing their strength from the atmosphere.  Exceedingly minute
as these vibrations must be, their numbers perhaps may give them a volume
almost reaching in the aggregate to the power of the ear.  Besides the
quivering leaf, the swinging grass, the fluttering bird's wing, and the
thousand oval membranes which innumerable insects whirl about, a faint
resonance seems to come from the very earth itself.  The fervour of the
sunbeams descending in a tidal flood rings on the strung harp of earth.
It is this exquisite undertone, heard and yet unheard, which brings the
mind into sweet accordance with the wonderful instrument of nature.

By the apple tree there is a low bank, where the grass is less tall and
admits the heat direct to the ground; here there are blue flowers--bluer
than the wings of my favourite butterflies--with white centres--the
lovely bird's-eyes, or veronica.  The violet and cowslip, bluebell and
rose, are known to thousands; the veronica is overlooked.  The ploughboys
know it, and the wayside children, the mower and those who linger in
fields, but few else.  Brightly blue and surrounded by greenest grass,
imbedded in and all the more blue for the shadow of the grass, these
growing butterflies' wings draw to themselves the sun.  From this island
I look down into the depth of the grasses.  Red sorrel spires--deep
drinkers of reddest sun wine--stand the boldest, and in their numbers
threaten the buttercups.  To these in the distance they give the gipsy-
gold tint--the reflection of fire on plates of the precious metal.  It
will show even on a ring by firelight; blood in the gold, they say.
Gather the open marguerite daisies, and they seem large--so wide a disc,
such fingers of rays; but in the grass their size is toned by so much
green.  Clover heads of honey lurk in the bunches and by the hidden
footpath.  Like clubs from Polynesia the tips of the grasses are varied
in shape: some tend to a point--the foxtails--some are hard and
cylindrical; others, avoiding the club shape, put forth the slenderest
branches with fruit of seed at the ends, which tremble as the air goes
by.  Their stalks are ripening and becoming of the colour of hay while
yet the long blades remain green.

Each kind is repeated a hundred times, the foxtails are succeeded by
foxtails, the narrow blades by narrow blades, but never become
monotonous; sorrel stands by sorrel, daisy flowers by daisy.  This bed of
veronica at the foot of the ancient apple has a whole handful of flowers,
and yet they do not weary the eye.  Oak follows oak and elm ranks with
elm, but the woodlands are pleasant; however many times reduplicated,
their beauty only increases.  So, too, the summer days; the sun rises on
the same grasses and green hedges, there is the same blue sky, but did we
ever have enough of them?  No, not in a hundred years!  There seems
always a depth, somewhere, unexplored, a thicket that has not been seen
through, a corner full of ferns, a quaint old hollow tree, which may give
us something.  Bees go by me as I stand under the apple, but they pass on
for the most part bound on a long journey, across to the clover fields or
up to the thyme lands; only a few go down into the mowing-grass.  The
hive bees are the most impatient of insects; they cannot bear to entangle
their wings beating against grasses or boughs.  Not one will enter a
hedge.  They like an open and level surface, places cropped by sheep, the
sward by the roadside, fields of clover, where the flower is not deep
under grass.



II.


It is the patient humble-bee that goes down into the forest of the mowing-
grass.  If entangled, the humble-bee climbs up a sorrel stem and takes
wing, without any sign of annoyance.  His broad back with tawny bar
buoyantly glides over the golden buttercups.  He hums to himself as he
goes, so happy is he.  He knows no skep, no cunning work in glass
receives his labour, no artificial saccharine aids him when the beams of
the sun are cold, there is no step to his house that he may alight in
comfort; the way is not made clear for him that he may start straight for
the flowers, nor are any sown for him.  He has no shelter if the storm
descends suddenly; he has no dome of twisted straw well thatched and
tiled to retreat to.  The butcher-bird, with a beak like a crooked iron
nail, drives him to the ground, and leaves him pierced with a thorn but
no hail of shot revenges his tortures.  The grass stiffens at nightfall
(in autumn), and he must creep where he may, if possibly he may escape
the frost.  No one cares for the humble-bee.  But down to the flowering
nettle in the mossy-sided ditch, up into the tall elm, winding in and out
and round the branched buttercups, along the banks of the brook, far
inside the deepest wood, away he wanders and despises nothing.  His nest
is under the rough grasses and the mosses of the mound, a mere tunnel
beneath the fibres and matted surface.  The hawthorn overhangs it, the
fern grows by, red mice rustle past.

It thunders, and the great oak trembles; the heavy rain drops through the
treble roof of oak and hawthorn and fern.  Under the arched branches the
lightning plays along, swiftly to and fro, or seems to, like the swish of
a whip, a yellowish-red against the green; a boom! a crackle as if a tree
fell from the sky.  The thick grasses are bowed, the white florets of the
wild parsley are beaten down, the rain hurls itself, and suddenly a
fierce blast tears the green oak leaves and whirls them out into the
fields; but the humble-bee's home, under moss and matted fibres, remains
uninjured.  His house at the root of the king of trees, like a cave in
the rock, is safe.  The storm passes and the sun comes out, the air is
the sweeter and the richer for the rain, like verses with a rhyme; there
will be more honey in the flowers.  Humble he is, but wild; always in the
field, the wood; always by the banks and thickets; always wild and
humming to his flowers.  Therefore I like the humble-bee, being, at heart
at least, for ever roaming among the woodlands and the hills and by the
brooks.  In such quick summer storms the lightning gives the impression
of being far more dangerous than the zigzag paths traced on the autumn
sky.  The electric cloud seems almost level with the ground, and the
livid flame to rush to and fro beneath the boughs as the little bats do
in the evening.

Caught by such a cloud, I have stayed under thick larches at the edge of
plantations.  They are no shelter, but conceal one perfectly.  The wood
pigeons come home to their nest trees; in larches they seem to have
permanent nests, almost like rooks.  Kestrels, too, come home to the
wood.  Pheasants crow, but not from fear--from defiance; in fear they
scream.  The boom startles them, and they instantly defy the sky.  The
rabbits quietly feed on out in the field between the thistles and rushes
that so often grow in woodside pastures, quietly hopping to their
favourite places, utterly heedless how heavy the echoes may be in the
hollows of the wooded hills.  Till the rain comes they take no heed
whatever, but then make for shelter.  Blackbirds often make a good deal
of noise; but the soft turtle-doves coo gently, let the lightning be as
savage as it will.  Nothing has the least fear.  Man alone, more
senseless than a pigeon, put a god in vapour; and to this day, though the
printing press has set a foot on every threshold, numbers bow the knee
when they hear the roar the timid dove does not heed.  So trustful are
the doves, the squirrels, the birds of the branches, and the creatures of
the field.  Under their tuition let us rid ourselves of mental terrors,
and face death itself as calmly as they do the livid lightning; so
trustful and so content with their fate, resting in themselves and
unappalled.  If but by reason and will I could reach the godlike calm and
courage of what we so thoughtlessly call the timid turtle-dove, I should
lead a nearly perfect life.

The bark of the ancient apple tree under which I have been standing is
shrunken like iron which has been heated and let cool round the rim of a
wheel.  For a hundred years the horses have rubbed against it while
feeding in the aftermath.  The scales of the bark are gone or smoothed
down and level, so that insects have no hiding-place.  There are no
crevices for them, the horsehairs that were caught anywhere have been
carried away by birds for their nests.  The trunk is smooth and columnar,
hard as iron.  A hundred times the mowing-grass has grown up around it,
the birds have built their nests, the butterflies fluttered by, and the
acorns dropped from the oaks.  It is a long, long time, counted by
artificial hours or by the seasons, but it is longer still in another
way.  The greenfinch in the hawthorn yonder has been there since I came
out, and all the time has been happily talking to his love.  He has left
the hawthorn indeed, but only for a minute or two, to fetch a few seeds,
and comes back each time more full of song-talk than ever.  He notes no
slow movement of the oak's shadow on the grass; it is nothing to him and
his lady dear that the sun, as seen from his nest, is crossing from one
great bough of the oak to another.  The dew even in the deepest and most
tangled grass has long since been dried, and some of the flowers that
close at noon will shortly fold their petals.  The morning airs, which
breathe so sweetly, come less and less frequently as the heat increases.
Vanishing from the sky, the last fragments of cloud have left an
untarnished azure.  Many times the bees have returned to their hives, and
thus the index of the day advances.  It is nothing to the greenfinches;
all their thoughts are in their song-talk.  The sunny moment is to them
all in all.  So deeply are they rapt in it that they do not know whether
it is a moment or a year.  There is no clock for feeling, for joy, for
love.

And with all their motions and stepping from bough to bough, they are not
restless; they have so much time, you see.  So, too, the whitethroat in
the wild parsley; so, too, the thrush that just now peered out and partly
fluttered his wings as he stood to look.  A butterfly comes and stays on
a leaf--a leaf much warmed by the sun--and shuts his wings.  In a minute
he opens them, shuts them again, half wheels round, and by-and-by--just
when he chooses, and not before--floats away.  The flowers open, and
remain open for hours, to the sun.  Hastelessness is the only word one
can make up to describe it; there is much rest, but no haste.  Each
moment, as with the greenfinches, is so full of life that it seems so
long and so sufficient in itself.  Not only the days, but life itself
lengthens in summer.  I would spread abroad my arms and gather more of it
to me, could I do so.

All the procession of living and growing things passes.  The grass stands
up taller and still taller, the sheaths open, and the stalk arises, the
pollen clings till the breeze sweeps it.  The bees rush past, and the
resolute wasps; the humble-bees, whose weight swings them along.  About
the oaks and maples the brown chafers swarm, and the fern-owls at dusk,
and the blackbirds and jays by day, cannot reduce their legions while
they last.  Yellow butterflies, and white, broad red admirals, and sweet
blues; think of the kingdom of flowers which is theirs!  Heavy moths
burring at the edge of the copse; green, and red, and gold flies: gnats,
like smoke, around the tree-tops; midges so thick over the brook, as if
you could haul a netful; tiny leaping creatures in the grass; bronze
beetles across the path; blue dragonflies pondering on cool leaves of
water-plantain.  Blue jays flitting, a magpie drooping across from elm to
elm; young rooks that have escaped the hostile shot blundering up into
the branches; missel thrushes leading their fledglings, already strong on
the wing, from field to field.  An egg here on the sward dropped by a
starling; a red ladybird creeping, tortoise-like, up a green fern frond.
Finches undulating through the air, shooting themselves with closed
wings, and linnets happy with their young.

Golden dandelion discs--gold and orange--of a hue more beautiful, I
think, than the higher and more visible buttercup.  A blackbird,
gleaming, so black is he, splashing in the runlet of water across the
gateway.  A ruddy kingfisher swiftly drawing himself, as you might draw a
stroke with a pencil, over the surface of the yellow buttercups, and away
above the hedge.  Hart's-tongue fern, thick with green, so green as to be
thick with its colour, deep in the ditch under the shady hazel boughs.
White meadow-sweet lifting its tiny florets, and black-flowered sedges.
You must push through the reed grass to find the sword-flags; the stout
willow-herbs will not be trampled down, but resist the foot like
underwood.  Pink lychnis flowers behind the withy stoles, and little
black moorhens swim away, as you gather it, after their mother, who has
dived under the water-grass, and broken the smooth surface of the
duckweed.  Yellow loosestrife is rising, thick comfrey stands at the very
edge; the sandpipers run where the shore is free from bushes.  Back by
the underwood the prickly and repellent brambles will presently present
us with fruit.  For the squirrels the nuts are forming, green beechmast
is there--green wedges under the spray; up in the oaks the small knots,
like bark rolled up in a dot, will be acorns.  Purple vetches along the
mounds, yellow lotus where the grass is shorter, and orchis succeeds to
orchis.  As I write them, so these things come--not set in gradation, but
like the broadcast flowers in the mowing-grass.

Now follows the gorse, and the pink rest-harrow, and the sweet lady's
bedstraw, set as it were in the midst of a little thorn-bush.  The broad
repetition of the yellow clover is not to be written; acre upon acre, and
not one spot of green, as if all the green had been planed away, leaving
only the flowers to which the bees come by the thousand from far and
near.  But one white campion stands in the midst of the lake of yellow.
The field is scented as though a hundred hives of honey had been emptied
on it.  Along the mound by it the bluebells are seeding, the hedge has
been cut and the ground is strewn with twigs.  Among those seeding
bluebells and dry twigs and mosses I think a titlark has his nest, as he
stays all day there and in the oak over.  The pale clear yellow of
charlock, sharp and clear, promises the finches bushels of seed for their
young.  Under the scarlet of the poppies the larks run, and then for
change of colour soar into the blue.  Creamy honeysuckle on the hedge
around the cornfield, buds of wild rose everywhere, but no sweet petal
yet.  Yonder, where the wheat can climb no higher up the slope, are the
purple heath-bells, thyme and flitting stone-chats.

The lone barn shut off by acres of barley is noisy with sparrows.  It is
their city, and there is a nest in every crevice, almost under every
tile.  Sometimes the partridges run between the ricks, and when the bats
come out of the roof, leverets play in the waggon-track.  At even a fern-
owl beats by, passing close to the eaves whence the moths issue.  On the
narrow waggon-track which descends along a coombe and is worn in chalk,
the heat pours down by day as if an invisible lens in the atmosphere
focussed the sun's rays.  Strong woody knapweed endures it, so does
toadflax and pale blue scabious, and wild mignonette.  The very sun of
Spain burns and burns and ripens the wheat on the edge of the coombe, and
will only let the spring moisten a yard or two around it; but there a few
rushes have sprung, and in the water itself brooklime with blue flowers
grows so thickly that nothing but a bird could find space to drink.  So
down again from this sun of Spain to woody coverts where the wild hops
are blocking every avenue, and green-flowered bryony would fain climb to
the trees; where grey-flecked ivy winds spirally about the red rugged
bark of pines, where burdocks fight for the footpath, and teazle-heads
look over the low hedges.  Brake-fern rises five feet high; in some way
woodpeckers are associated with brake, and there seem more of them where
it flourishes.  If you count the depth and strength of its roots in the
loamy sand, add the thickness of its flattened stem, and the width of its
branching fronds, you may say that it comes near to be a little tree.
Beneath where the ponds are bushy mare's-tails grow, and on the moist
banks jointed pewterwort; some of the broad bronze leaves of water-weeds
seem to try and conquer the pond and cover it so firmly that a wagtail
may run on them.  A white butterfly follows along the waggon-road, the
pheasants slip away as quietly as the butterfly flies, but a jay
screeches loudly and flutters in high rage to see us.  Under an ancient
garden wall among matted bines of trumpet convolvulus, there is a hedge-
sparrow's nest overhung with ivy on which even now the last black berries
cling.

There are minute white flowers on the top of the wall, out of reach, and
lichen grows against it dried by the sun till it looks ready to crumble.
By the gateway grows a thick bunch of meadow geranium, soon to flower;
over the gate is the dusty highway road, quiet but dusty, dotted with the
innumerable foot-marks of a flock of sheep that has passed.  The sound of
their bleating still comes back, and the bees driven up by their feet
have hardly had time to settle again on the white clover beginning to
flower on the short roadside sward.  All the hawthorn leaves and briar
and bramble, the honeysuckle, too, is gritty with the dust that has been
scattered upon it.  But see--can it be?  Stretch a hand high, quick, and
reach it down; the first, the sweetest, the dearest rose of June.  Not
yet expected, for the time is between the may and the roses, least of all
here in the hot and dusty highway; but it is found--the first rose of
June.

Straight go the white petals to the heart; straight the mind's glance
goes back to how many other pageants of summer in old times!  When
perchance the sunny days were even more sunny; when the stilly oaks were
full of mystery, lurking like the Druid's mistletoe in the midst of their
mighty branches.  A glamour in the heart came back to it again from every
flower; as the sunshine was reflected from them, so the feeling in the
heart returned tenfold.  To the dreamy summer haze, love gave a deep
enchantment, the colours were fairer, the blue more lovely in the lucid
sky.  Each leaf finer, and the gross earth enamelled beneath the feet.  A
sweet breath on the air, a soft warm hand in the touch of the sunshine, a
glance in the gleam of the rippled waters, a whisper in the dance of the
shadows.  The ethereal haze lifted the heavy oaks and they were buoyant
on the mead, the rugged bark was chastened and no longer rough, each
slender flower beneath them again refined.  There was a presence
everywhere, though unseen, on the open hills, and not shut out under the
dark pines.  Dear were the June roses then because for another gathered.
Yet even dearer now with so many years as it were upon the petals; all
the days that have been before, all the heart-throbs, all our hopes lie
in this opened bud.  Let not the eyes grow dim, look not back but
forward; the soul must uphold itself like the sun.  Let us labour to make
the heart grow larger as we become older, as the spreading oak gives more
shelter.  That we could but take to the soul some of the greatness and
the beauty of the summer!

Still the pageant moves.  The song-talk of the finches rises and sinks
like the tinkle of a waterfall.  The greenfinches have been by me all the
while.  A bullfinch pipes now and then further up the hedge where the
brambles and thorns are thickest.  Boldest of birds to look at, he is
always in hiding.  The shrill tone of a goldfinch came just now from the
ash branches, but he has gone on.  Every four or five minutes a chaffinch
sings close by, and another fills the interval near the gateway.  There
are linnets somewhere, but I cannot from the old apple tree fix their
exact place.  Thrushes have sung and ceased; they will begin again in ten
minutes.  The blackbirds do not cease; the note uttered by a blackbird in
the oak yonder before it can drop is taken up by a second near the top of
the field, and ere it falls is caught by a third on the left-hand side.
From one of the topmost boughs of an elm there fell the song of a willow
warbler for a while; one of the least of birds, he often seeks the
highest branches of the highest tree.

A yellowhammer has just flown from a bare branch in the gateway, where he
has been perched and singing a full hour.  Presently he will commence
again, and as the sun declines will sing him to the horizon, and then
again sing till nearly dusk.  The yellowhammer is almost the longest of
all the singers; he sits and sits and has no inclination to move.  In the
spring he sings, in the summer he sings, and he continues when the last
sheaves are being carried from the wheat field.  The redstart yonder has
given forth a few notes, the whitethroat flings himself into the air at
short intervals and chatters, the shrike calls sharp and determined,
faint but shrill calls descend from the swifts in the air.  These
descend, but the twittering notes of the swallows do not reach so
far--they are too high to-day.  A cuckoo has called by the brook, and now
fainter from a greater distance.  That the titlarks are singing I know,
but not within hearing from here; a dove, though, is audible, and a
chiffchaff has twice passed.  Afar beyond the oaks at the top of the
field dark specks ascend from time to time, and after moving in wide
circles for a while descend again to the corn.  These must be larks; but
their notes are not powerful enough to reach me, though they would were
it not for the song in the hedges, the hum of innumerable insects, and
the ceaseless "crake, crake" of landrails.  There are at least two
landrails in the mowing-grass; one of them just now seemed coming
straight towards the apple tree, and I expected in a minute to see the
grass move, when the bird turned aside and entered the tufts and wild
parsley by the hedge.  Thence the call has come without a moment's pause,
"crake, crake," till the thick hedge seems filled with it.  Tits have
visited the apple tree over my head, a wren has sung in the willow, or
rather on a dead branch projecting lower down than the leafy boughs, and
a robin across under the elms in the opposite hedge.  Elms are a
favourite tree of robins--not the upper branches, but those that grow
down the trunk, and are the first to have leaves in spring.

The yellowhammer is the most persistent individually, but I think the
blackbirds when listened to are the masters of the fields.  Before one
can finish, another begins, like the summer ripples succeeding behind
each other, so that the melodious sound merely changes its position.  Now
here, now in the corner, then across the field, again in the distant
copse, where it seems about to sink, when it rises again almost at hand.
Like a great human artist, the blackbird makes no effort, being fully
conscious that his liquid tone cannot be matched.  He utters a few
delicious notes, and carelessly quits the green stage of the oak till it
pleases him to sing again.  Without the blackbird, in whose throat the
sweetness of the green fields dwells, the days would be only partly
summer.  Without the violet, all the bluebells and cowslips could not
make a spring, and without the blackbird, even the nightingale would be
but half welcome.  It is not yet noon, these songs have been ceaseless
since dawn; this evening, after the yellowhammer has sung the sun down,
when the moon rises and the faint stars appear, still the cuckoo will
call, and the grasshopper lark, the landrail's "crake, crake" will echo
from the mound, a warbler or a blackcap will utter his notes, and even at
the darkest of the summer night the swallows will hardly sleep in their
nests.  As the morning sky grows blue, an hour before the sun, up will
rise the larks, singing and audible now, the cuckoo will recommence, and
the swallows will start again on their tireless journey.  So that the
songs of the summer birds are as ceaseless as the sound of the waterfall
which plays day and night.

I cannot leave it; I must stay under the old tree in the midst of the
long grass, the luxury of the leaves, and the song in the very air.  I
seem as if I could feel all the glowing life the sunshine gives and the
south wind calls to being.  The endless grass, the endless leaves, the
immense strength of the oak expanding, the unalloyed joy of finch and
blackbird; from all of them I receive a little.  Each gives me something
of the pure joy they gather for themselves.  In the blackbird's melody
one note is mine; in the dance of the leaf shadows the formed maze is for
me, though the motion is theirs; the flowers with a thousand faces have
collected the kisses of the morning.  Feeling with them, I receive some,
at least, of their fulness of life.  Never could I have enough; never
stay long enough--whether here or whether lying on the shorter sward
under the sweeping and graceful birches, or on the thyme-scented hills.
Hour after hour, and still not enough.  Or walking the footpath was never
long enough, or my strength sufficient to endure till the mind was weary.
The exceeding beauty of the earth, in her splendour of life, yields a new
thought with every petal.  The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty
are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay
among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time.  Let
the shadow advance upon the dial--I can watch it with equanimity while it
is there to be watched.  It is only when the shadow is _not_ there, when
the clouds of winter cover it, that the dial is terrible.  The invisible
shadow goes on and steals from us.  But now, while I can see the shadow
of the tree and watch it slowly gliding along the surface of the grass,
it is mine.  These are the only hours that are not wasted--these hours
that absorb the soul and fill it with beauty.  This is real life, and all
else is illusion, or mere endurance.  Does this reverie of flowers and
waterfall and song form an ideal, a human ideal, in the mind?  It does;
much the same ideal that Phidias sculptured of man and woman filled with
a godlike sense of the violet fields of Greece, beautiful beyond thought,
calm as my turtle-dove before the lurid lightning of the unknown.  To be
beautiful and to be calm, without mental fear, is the ideal of nature.  If
I cannot achieve it, at least I can think it.

* * * * *

BILLING AND SONS, LTD., PRINTERS, GUILDFORD





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