List Of Contents | Contents of The Garden of Survival, by Algernon Blackwood
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

with a hand lawn-mower was gone, and dusk already veiled the cedars,
when I found myself leaning against the wooden gate that opened into the
less formal part beyond the larches.

The house was not visible from where I stood. I smelt the May, the
lilac, the heavy perfume everywhere of the opening year; it rose about
me in waves, as though full-bosomed summer lay breathing her great
promises close at hand, while spring, still lingering, with bright eyes
of dew,' watched over her. Then, suddenly, behind these richer scents, I
caught a sweeter, wilder tang than anything they contained, and turning,
saw that the pines were closer than I knew. A waft of something purer,
fresher, reached my nostrils on a little noiseless wind, as, leaning
across the gate, I turned my back upon the cultivated grounds and gazed
into a region of more natural, tangled growth.

The change was sudden. It was exquisite, sharp and unexpected, too, as
with a little touch of wonder. There was surprise in it. For the garden,
you will remember, melts here insensibly into a stretch of scattered
pines, where heather and bracken cover wide reaches of unreclaimed and
useless land. Irregular trails of whitish sand gleamed faintly before
the shadows swallowed them, and in the open patches I saw young
silver-birches that made me think of running children arrested in
mid-play. They stood outlined very tenderly against the sky; their
slender forms still quivered; their feathery hair fell earthwards as
they drew themselves together, bending their wayward little heads before
the approaching night. Behind them, framed by the darker pines into a
glowing frieze, the west still burned with the last fires of the sunset;
I could see the heather, rising and falling like a tumbled sea against
the horizon, where the dim heave of distant moorland broke the

And the dusk now held this region in its magic. So strange, indeed, was
the contrast between the ebony shadows and the pools and streaks of
amberish light, that I looked about me for a moment, almost sharply.
There was a touch of the unearthly in this loveliness that bewildered
sight a little. Extraordinarily still the world was, yet there seemed
activity close upon my footsteps, an activity more than of inanimate
Nature, yet less than of human beings. With solidarity it had nothing to
do, though it sought material expression. It was very near. And I was
startled, I recognized the narrow frontier between fear and wonder. And
then I crossed it.

For something stopped me dead. I paused and stared. My heart began to
beat more rapidly. Then, ashamed of my moment's hesitation, I was about
to move forward through the gate, when again I halted. I listened, and
caught my breath. I fancied the stillness became articulate, the shadows
stirred, the silence was about to break.

I remember trying to think; I wanted to relieve the singular tension by
finding words, if only inner words,--when, out of the stillness, out of
the silence, out of the shadows--something happened. Some faculty of
judgment, some attitude in which I normally clothed myself, were
abruptly stripped away. I was left bare and sensitive. I could almost
have believed that my body had dropped aside, that I stood there naked,
unprotected, a form-less spirit, stirred and lifted by the passing

And then it came. As with a sword-thrust of blinding sweetness, I was
laid open. Yet so instant, and of such swiftness, was the stroke, that I
can only describe it by saying that, while pierced and wounded, I was
also healed again.

Without hint or warning, Beauty swept me with a pain and happiness well
nigh intolerable. It drenched me and was gone. No lightning flash could
have equalled the swiftness of its amazing passage; something tore in
me; the emotion was enveloping but very tender; it was both terrible yet
dear. Would to God I might crystallize it for you in those few mighty
words which should waken in yourself--in every one!--the wonder and the
joy. It contained, I felt, both the worship that belongs to awe and the
tenderness of infinite love which welcomes tears. Some power that was
not of this world, yet that used the details of this world to manifest,
had visited me.

No element of surprise lay in it even. It was too swift for anything but
joy, which of all emotions is the most instantaneous: I had been empty,
I was filled. Beauty that bathes the stars and drowns the very universe
had stolen out of this wild morsel of wasted and uncared-for English
garden, and dropped its transforming magic into--me. At the very moment,
moreover, when I had been ready to deny it altogether. I saw my
insignificance, yet, such was the splendour it had wakened in me, knew
my right as well. It could be ever thus; some attitude in myself alone
prevented. . . .

And--somebody was pleased.

This personal ingredient lay secure in the joy that assuredly remained
when the first brief intolerable ecstasy had passed. The link I desired
to recognize was proved, not merely strengthened. Beauty had cleft me
open, and a message, if you will, had been delivered. This personal hint
persisted; I was almost aware of conscious and intelligent direction.
For to you I will make the incredible confession, that I dare phrase the
experience in another fashion, equally true: In that flashing instant I
stood naked and shelterless to the gaze of some one who had looked upon
me. I was aware of sight; of eyes in which "burning memory lights love
home." These eyes, this sight had gazed at me, then turned away. For in
that blinding sweetness there was light, as with the immediate
withdrawal again there was instant darkness. I was first visible, then
concealed. I was clothed again and covered.

And the thick darkness that followed made it appear as though night, in
one brief second, had taken the place of dusk.

Trembling, I leaned across the wooden gate and waited while the darkness
settled closer. I can swear, moreover, that it was neither dream, nor
hope, nor any hungry fantasy in me that then recognized a further
marvel--I was no longer now alone.

A presence faced me, standing breast-high in the bracken. The garden had
been empty; somebody now walked there with me.

It was, as I mentioned, the still hour between the twilight and the
long, cool dark of early summer. The little breeze passed whispering
through the pines. I smelt the pungent perfume of dry heather, sand, and
bracken. The horizon, low down between the trunks, shone gold and
crimson still, but fading rapidly. I stood there for a long time
trembling; I was a part of it; I felt that I was shining, as though my
inner joy irradiated the world about me. Nothing in all my life has been
so real, so positive. I was assuredly not alone. . . .

The first sharp magic, the flash that pierced and burned, had gone its
way, but Beauty still stood so perilously near, so personal, that any
moment, I felt, it must take tangible form, betray itself in visible
movement of some sort, break possibly into audible sound of actual
speech. It would not have surprised me--more, it would have been natural
almost--had I felt a touch upon my hands and lips, or caught the murmur
of spoken words against my ear.

Yet from such direct revelation I shrank involuntarily and by instinct.
I could not have borne it then. I had the feeling that it must mar and
defile a wonder already great enough; there would have lain in it, too,
a betrayal of the commonplace, as of something which I could not
possibly hold for true. I must have distrusted my own senses even, for
the beauty that cleft me open dealt directly with the soul alone,
leaving the senses wholly disengaged. The Presence was not answerable to
any lesser recognition.

Thus I shrank and turned away, facing the familiar garden and the "wet
bird-haunted English lawn," a spiritual tenderness in me still dreading
that I might see or hear or feel, destroying thus the reality of my
experience. Yet there was, thank God, no speech, no touch, no movement,
other than the shiver of the birches, the breath of air against my
cheek, the droop and bending of the nearer pine boughs. There was no
audible or visible expression; I saw no figure breast-high in the
bracken. Yet sound there was, a moment later. For, as I turned away, a
bird upon a larch twig overhead burst into sudden and exultant song.


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

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

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

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: