The Garden of Survival

by Algernon Blackwood

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Chapter IX

NOW, do not be alarmed lest I shall attempt to describe a list of fanciful unrealities that borrowed life from a passing emotion merely; the emotion was permanent, the results enduring. Please believe the honest statement that, with the singing of that bird, the pent-up stress in me became measurably articulate. Some bird in my heart, long caged, rang out in answering inner song.

It is also true, I think, that there were no words in me at the moment, and certainly no desire for speech. Had a companion been with me, I should probably have merely lit my pipe and smoked in silence; if I spoke at all, I should have made some commonplace remark: "It's late; we must be going in to dress for dinner. . . ." As it was, however, the emotion in me, answering the singing of the bird, became, as I said, measurably articulate. I give you simple facts, as though this were my monthly Report to the Foreign Office in days gone by. I spoke no word aloud, of course. It was rather that my feelings found utterance in the rapturous song I listened to, and that my thoughts knew this relief of vicarious expression, though of inner and inaudible expression. The beauty of scene and moment were adequately recorded, and for ever in that song. They were now part of me.

Unaware of its perfect mission the bird sang, of course because it could not help itself; perhaps some mating thrush, perhaps a common blackbird only; I cannot say; I only realized that no human voice, no human music, even of the most elaborate and inspired kind, could have made this beauty, similarly articulate. And, for a moment I knew my former pain that I could not share this joy, this beauty, with others of my kind, that, except for myself, the loveliness seemed lost and wasted. There was no spectator, no other listener; the sweet spring night was lavish for no audience; the revelation had been repeated, would be repeated, a thousand thousand times without recognition and without reward.

Then, as I listened, memory, it seemed, took yearning by the hand, and led me towards that inner utterance I have mentioned. There was no voice, least of all that inner voice you surely have anticipated. But there was utterance, as though my whole being combined with nature in its birth.

Into the mould of familiar sentences of long ago it ran, yet nearer at last to full disclosure, because the pregnant sentences had altered:

"I need your forgiveness born of love. . ." passed through me with the singing of the bird.

I listened with the closest inner attention I have ever known. I paused. My heart brimmed with an expectant wonder that was happiness. And the happiness was justified. For the familiar sentence halted before its first sorrowful completion; the poignant close remained unuttered--because it was no longer true.

Out of deep love in me, new-born, that held the promise of fulfilment, the utterance concluded:

". . . I have found a better way. . . ."

Before I could think or question, and almost as though a whisper of the wind went past, there rose in me at once this answering recognition. It seemed authentically convincing; it was glorious; it was full of joy:

"That beauty which was Marion lives on, and lives for me."

It was as though a blaze of light shone through me; somewhere in my body there were tears of welcome; for this recognition was to me reunion.

It must seem astonishing for me, a mere soldier and Colonial Governor, to confess you that I stood there listening to the song for a long interval of what I can only term, with utmost sincerity, communion. Beauty and love both visited me; I believe that truth and wisdom entered softly with them. As I wrote above, I saw my own insignificance, yet, such was the splendour in me, I knew my right as well. It could be ever thus. My attitude alone prevented. I was not excluded, not cut off. This Beauty lay ready to my hand, always available, for ever, now. It was not unharvested. But more--it could be shared with others; it was become a portion of myself, and that which is part of my being must, inevitably and automatically, be given out.

It was, thus, nowhere wasted or unharvested; it offered with prodigal opportunity a vehicle for that inspiration which is love, and being love of purest kind, is surely wisdom too. The dead, indeed, do not return, yet they are active, and those who lived beauty in their lives are still, through that beauty, benevolently active.

I will give you now the change instantaneously produced in me:

There rose in me another, deeper point of view that dispelled as by magic the disenchantment that had chilled these first days of my return. I stood here in this old-world garden, but I stood also in the heart of that beauty, so carefully hidden, so craftily screened behind the obvious, that strong and virile beauty which is England. Within call of my voice, still studying by lamplight now the symbols of her well-established strength, burning, moreover, with the steady faith which does not easily break across restraint, and loving the man as she had loved the little boy, sat one, not wondering perhaps at my unspoken misunderstanding, yet hoping, patiently and in silence, for its removal in due time. In the house of our boyhood, of our earliest play and quarrels, unchanged and unchangeable, knowing simply that I had "come home again to her," our mother waited. . . .

I need not elaborate this for you, you for whom England and our mother win almost a single, undivided love. I had misjudged, but the cause of my misjudgment was thus suddenly removed. A subtler understanding insight, a sympathy born of deeper love, something of greater wisdom, in a word, awoke in me. The thrill had worked its magic as of old, but this time in its slower English fashion, deep, and characteristically sure. To my country (that is, to my first experience of impersonal love) and to my mother (that is, to my earliest acquaintance with personal love) I had been ready, in my impatience, to credit an injustice. Unknown to me, thus, there had been need of guidance, of assistance. Beauty, having cleared the way, had worked upon me its amazing alchemy.

There, in fewest possible words, is what had happened.

I remember that for a long time, then, I waited in the hush of my childhood's garden, listening, as it were, with every pore, and conscious that some one who was pleased interpreted the beauty to my soul. It seemed, as I said, a message of a personal kind. It was regenerative, moveover, in so far that life was enlarged and lifted upon a nobler scale; new sources of power were open to me; I saw a better way. Irresistibly it came to me again that beauty, far from being wasted, was purposive, that this purpose was of a redeeming kind, and that some one who was pleased co-operated with it for my personal benefit. No figure, thank God, was visible, no voice was audible, but a presence there indubitably was, and, whether I responded or otherwise, would be always there.

And the power was such that I felt as though the desire of the planet itself yearned through it for expression.


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