The Works of "Fiona Macleod", Volume V, The Winged Destiny
TOTo you, dear friend, let me dedicate this bind weed of thoughts and dreams, which had their life by the grey shores you, also, love. Have you not wandered there often, seeking forgetfulness, and, wandering, found peace?
J. A. G.
You are in your southern home, by cairn waters where mine are foam-white, and under blue skies where mine are dark with cloud and wind: and yet, of all I know, few do so habitually dwell in that fragrant, forgetting and forgot, old world of ours, whose fading voice is more and more lost in the northern seas. The South is beautiful, but has not the secrets of the North. Do you, too, not hold Iona, motherland of all my dreams, as something rare and apart, one who has her own lovely solitude and her own solitary loveliness that is like no other loveliness? In your heart, as in mine, it lies an island of revelation and of peace. For you, too, is the enduring spell of those haunted lands where the last dreams of the Gael are gathered, dwelling in sunset beauty.
In this book I have dealt--as, I hope, in all I write--only with things among which my thought has moved, searching, remembering, examining, sometimes dreaming. Slightly to adapt a comment I read somewhere recently:--while it is true that certain ideas monopolise my imagination, I do not wilfully ignore the lesser nor even the ignoble things of life; above all, I do not dishonestly seek to seem unaware of or to hide them. It is only that I have no time to attend to them, being otherwise busy.
I think the fundamental idea of this book, as of all my thought in these things from which the book has risen like a phantom out of haunted woods, is utterable in the noble phrase of Renank: "J'avais le sentiment de l'infini et de 1'éternel, et de là mes sourires pour les choses qui passent. Mais l'Esprit ne passe point." Nor am I so much concerned to set others right, for which I am not qualified, as to interpret, for which I may be: remembering as I do Goethe's words, "If you call a bad thing bad, you do little; if you call a good thing good, you do much." To each his interest. I shall rest content if I am of the horizon-makers, however humbly; if I may be among those who extend the horizons.
You who know the way of the wind in my mind know that I do not, as some say, "dwell only in the past," or that personal sorrow is the one magnet of my dreams. It is not the night-wind in sad hearts only that I hear, or the sighing of vain futilities; but, often, rather an emotion akin to that mysterious Sorrow of Eternity in love with tears, of which Blake speaks in Vala. It is, at times at least I feel it so, because Beauty is more beautiful there. It is the twilight hour in the heart, as joy is the heart's morning. Perhaps I love best the music that leads one into the moon-lit coverts of dreams, and old silence, and unawaking peace. But music, like the rose of the Greeks, is "the thirty petalled one," and every leaf is the gate of an equal excellence. The fragrance of all is joy, the beauty of all is Sorrow: but the Rose is one--Rosa Sempiterna, the Rose of Life. As to the past, it is because of what is there, that I look back: not because I do not see what is here to-day, or may be here to-morrow. It is because of what is to be gained that I look back; of what is supremely worth knowing there, of knowing intimately: of what is supremely worth remembering, of remembering constantly: not only as an exile dreaming of the land left behind, but as one travelling in narrow defiles who looks back for familiar fires on the hills, or upward to the familiar stars where is surety. In truth, is not all creative art remembrance: is not the very spirit of ideal art the recapture of what has gone away from the world, that by an imperious spiritual law is for ever withdrawing, to come again newly?
You wrote to me once, "Beware of the beauty that you seek." You would have me bow down only before the beauty that is beyond the last careful words of ivory and pale gold, beyond even the airs of the enchanted valleys where Music is.
And, to-day, with a wind of the south coming across glad water, and greenness uplifting itself from the grass to the foam of leaves on swaying elms, I realise in truth how small is the measure of beauty that any can give, saying "I have gathered this." Yonder yellow butterfly hovering over the grass-hid nest of the shrew-mouse . . . I think of it as a living flower of the sun, earth-wafted, wondering at the creature of the sod: but how poor that is compared with the excelling simplicity of the unknown peasant who, long ago, tenderly called the shrew-mouse an dallag fheoir, the little blind one of the grass, and the butterfly dealan Dhé, the little flame of God. The one is the beauty of fantasy, the other is the beauty of a child's mind matured in joy. And so it is with Beauty. We dwell on this loveliness, or on that: and some white one, flame-winged, passes us on the way, saying, "It is Loveliness I seek, not lovely things."
In truth, Beauty is the light that we call imagination--the radiance, the glow, the bloom: we think of it as in those lines of Prometheus Unbound:
"Beloved and most beautiful, who wearest
The shadow of that soul by which I live."
Beauty is less a quality of things than a spiritual energy: it lies not in the things seen but in harmonious perception. Yet, also, it can dwell apart, in the sanctuary of this flower or of that woman's face. But in itself it is as impersonal as dew, as secret and divine and immortal--for, as you will remember, Midir, the lord of sleep and youth and love, the son of Angus, lord of death and the years and the winged passions, was made of dew, of the secret dews: Midir of the twilight, of the secret, and silent peoples, of the veiled immortalities. It can exist for us in one face, on one form, in one spirit, on the lifted waters, on the hills of the west, in trampling marches of sound, in delicate airs, but it is in all of these, and everywhere: wherever the imagination is become light, and that light is the light of flame. To each the star of his desire: but Beauty is beyond the mortal touch of number, as of change and time. Has any ever spoken more deeply of this than Plato, when in that vision of Perfect Beauty in the Banquet he writes: "It is not like any face or hands or bodily thing; it is not word nor thought; it is not in something else, neither living thing, nor earth nor heaven; only by itself in its own way in one form it for ever Is."
Is it not he also, the wise and noble dreamer, who make Socrates say in the Phoedrus, "Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods . . . give me beauty in the inward soul."
The vision of the few. Yes. But a handful of pine-seed will cover mountains with the green majesty of forest. And so I too will set my face to the wind and throw my handful of seed on high:--
Cuiridh mi m'aodann anns a' ghaoith
'Us tilgim baslach caoin an aird.
But you--you are of the little clan, for whom this book is: you who have gone upon dark ways, and have known the starless road, and perchance on that obscure way learned what we have yet to learn. For you, and such as you, it is still a pleasure to gather bindweed of thoughts and dreams; still a pleasure to set these dreams, these thoughts, to the airs and pauses and harmonies of considered speech. So, by your acceptance of this book, let me be not only of your fellowship but of that little scattered clan to whom the wild bees of the spirit come, as secret wings in the dark, with the sound and breath of forgotten things.
Return to Volume V, Contents