List Of Contents | Contents of The Garden of Survival, by Algernon Blackwood
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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.


I WATCHED the little bird against the paling sky, and my thoughts,
following the happy singing, went slowly backwards into the
half-forgotten past. . . . They led me again through the maze of
gorgeous and mysterious hopes, un-remembered now so many years, that
had marked my childhood. Few of these, if any, it seemed, had known
fulfilment. . . . I stole back with them, past the long exile in great
Africa, into the region of my youth and early boyhood. . . .

And, as though a hand uncovered it deliberately, I recalled an
earliest dream--strangest, perhaps, of all the mysterious dreams of
that far time. It had, I thought, remained unrealized, as, certainly,
till this moment, it had lain forgotten--a boyish dream that behind
the veils of the Future some one waited for me with the patience of a
perfect love that was my due.

The dream reached forward towards some one who must one day appear,
and whose coming would make life sweet and wonderful, fulfilling,
even explaining, the purpose of my being. This dream which I had
thought peculiarly my own, belongs, I learned later, to many, if not
to the race in general, and, with a smile at my own incurable vanity
(and probably a grimace at being neatly duped), I had laid it on one
side. At any rate, I forgot it, for nothing happened to keep it
active, much less revive it.

Now, however, looking backwards, and listening to the singing in the
sky, I recalled what almost seemed to have been its attempt at
realization. Having recovered its earliest appearance, my thought
next leaped forward to the moment that might possibly have been its
reappearance. For memory bore me off without an effort on my part,
and set me abruptly within a room of the house I had come home to,
where Marion sat beside me, singing to the harp she loved. The scene
rose up before me as of yesterday. . .  the emotions themselves
reconstituted. I recalled the deep, half-sad desire to be worthy of
her, to persuade myself I loved as she did, even the curious impulse
to acknowledge an emotion that came and went before it could be
wholly realized--the feeling, namely, that I ought to love her
because--no more, no less is the truth--because she needed it: and
then the blank dismay that followed my failure, as with a kind of
shameful horror before a great purpose that my emptiness left

The very song came back that moved me more than any else she
sang--her favourite it was as well. I heard the twanging of the
strings her fingers plucked. I heard the words:

   "About the little chambers of my heart
    Friends have been coming--going--many a year.
    The doors stand open there.
    Some, lightly stepping, enter; some depart.
    Freely they come and go, at will.
    The walls give back their laughter; all day long
    They fill the house with song.
    One door alone is shut, one chamber still."

With each repetition of the song, I remembered, how at that time my
boyhood's dream came back to me, as though its fulfilment were at
last at hand; as though, somehow, that "door" must open, that "still
chamber" welcome the sweetness and the loveliness of her who sang.
For I could not listen to the music, nor watch her fingers moving
down the strings, her slender wrist and rounded arm, her foot upon the
pedal as she held the instrument so close--without this poignant
yearning that proved ever vain, or this shame of unshed tears my
heart mysteriously acknowledged. To the end, as you know, that door
remained unopened, that chamber still.

It was the singing of this sweet English bird, making articulate for
me the beauty I could not utter, that brought back to memory the
scene, the music, and the words. . . .

I looked round me; I looked up. As I did so, the little creature, with
one last burst of passionate happiness, flew away into the darkness.
And silence followed, so deep that I could hear the murmur of my
blood. . .  an exquisite joy ran through me, making me quiver with
expectancy from head to foot. . . .

And it was then suddenly I became aware that the long-closed door at
last was open, the still chamber occupied. Some one who was pleased,
stretching a hand across the silence and the beauty, drew me within
that chamber of the heart, so that I passed behind the door that was
now a veil, and now a mist, and now a shining blaze of light. . .
passed into a remote and inner stillness where that direct communion
which is wordless can alone take place.

It was, I verily believe, a stillness of the spirit. At the centre of
the tempest, of the whirlpool, of the heart's commotion, there is
peace. I stood close against that source of our life which lies hid
with beauty very far away, and yet so near that it is enclosed in
every hope, in every yearning, and in every tear. For the whisper came
to me, beyond all telling sure.

Beauty had touched me, Wisdom come to birth; and Love, whispering
through the silence those marvellous words that sum up all spiritual
experience, proved it to me:

"Be still--and know. . . ."

I found myself moving slowly across the lawn again towards the house. I
presently heard the wind mousing softly in the limes. The air was fresh
and cool. The first stars were out. I saw the laburnum drooping, as
though thick clusters of these very stars had drifted earthwards among
the branches; I saw the gleam of the lilac; across the dim tangle of the
early roses shone the familiar windows, cosy now with the glow of
lighted lamps. . .  and I became suddenly, in a very intimate sense,
"aware" of the garden. The Presence that walked beside me moved abruptly
closer. This Presence and the garden seemed, as in some divine
mysterious way, inseparable.

There was a stirring of the dimmest and most primitive associations
possible. Memory plunged back among ancestral, even racial, shadows. I
recalled the sweet and tender legend of the beginnings of the world,
when something divine, it was whispered, was intimate with man, and
companioning his earliest innocence, walked with him in that happier
state those childlike poets called--a garden. That childhood of the
world seemed very near.

I found again the conditions of innocence and pristine wonder--of
simplicity. There was a garden in my heart, and some one walked with me
therein. For Life in its simplest form--of breathing leaves and growing
flowers, of trees and plants and shrubs--glowed all about me in the
darkness. The blades of grass, the blossoms hanging in the air, strong
stems and hidden roots, fulfilled themselves with patience upon every
side, brimming with beauty and stillness did not seek to advertise. And
of this simplest form of life--the vegetable kingdom--I became vividly
aware, prodigal, mysterious, yet purposive. The outer garden merged with
the inner, and the Presence walked in both of them. . . .

I was led backwards, far down into my own being. I reached the earliest,
simplest functions by which I myself had come to be, the state where the
frontier lies between that which is dead and that which is alive.
Somewhere between the mineral and vegetable worlds, I knew, that
frontier lay. For the vegetable kingdom alone possesses the power of
converting the mineral or the chemical into the living organism by
absorption; and here, among the leaves and roots and flowers, that power
was sweetly, irresistibly, at work.

It seemed I reached that frontier, and I passed it. Beauty came through
the most primitive aspect of my being.

And so I would tell you, you alone of all the world, that the Presence
walking beside me in the scented darkness came suddenly so close that I
was aware of it in what seemed my earliest and most innocent state of

Beside me, in that old-world garden, walked the Cause of all things. The
Beauty that in you was truth, in Marion tenderness, was harvested: and
somebody was pleased.


ALL this I have told to you because we have known together the closest
intimacy possible to human beings--we have shared beauty.

They said, these many days ago, that you had gone away, that you were
dead. The wind on the Downs, your favourite Downs, your favourite
southwest wind, received your dust, scattering it like pollen into
space. No sign has come to me, no other sign than this I tell you now
in my long letter. It is enough. I know.

There were thus two loves, one unrecognized till afterwards, the other
realized at the time. . . . In the body there was promise. There is now

It is very strange, and yet so simple. Beauty, I suppose, opens the
heart, extends the consciousness. It is a platitude, of course. You
will laugh when I tell you that afterwards I tried to reason it all
out. I am not apparently intellectual. The books I read would fill
your empty room--on aesthetics, art, and what not. I got no result
from any of them, but rather a state of muddle that was, no doubt,
congestion. None of the theories and explanations touched the root of
the matter. I am evidently not "an artist"--that at any rate I
gathered, and yet these learned people seemed to write about
something they had never "lived." I could almost believe that the
writers of these subtle analyses have never themselves felt
beauty--the burn, the rapture, the regenerating fire. They have
known, perhaps, a reaction of the physical nerves, but never this
light within the soul that lifts the horizons of the consciousness and
makes one know that God exists, that death is not even separation,
and that eternity is now.

Metaphysics I studied too. I fooled myself, thirty years after the
proper time for doing so, over the old problem whether beauty lies in
the object seen or in the mind that sees the object. And in the end I
came back hungrily to my simple starting-point--that beauty moved me.
It opened my heart to one of its many aspects--truth, wisdom, joy,
and love--and what else, in the name of heaven, mattered!

I sold the books at miserable prices that made Mother question my
judgment:  coloured plates, costly bindings, rare editions, and all.
Aesthetics, Art, rules and principles might go hang for all I cared
or any good they did me. It was intellect that had devised all these.
The truth was simpler far. I cared nothing for these scholarly
explanations of beauty's genesis and laws of working, because I felt
it. Hunger needs no analysis, does it? Nor does Love. Could anything
be more stultifying? Give to the first craving a lump of bread, and
to the second a tangible man or woman--and let those who have the
time analyse both cravings at their leisure.

For the thrill I mean is never physical, and has nothing in common
with that acute sensation experienced when the acrobat is seen to
miss the rope in mid-air as he swings from bar to bar. There is no
shock in it, for shock is of the nerves, arresting life; the thrill I
speak of intensifies and sets it rising in a wave that flows. It is of
the spirit. It wounds, yet marvellously. It is unearthly. Therein, I
think, lies its essential quality; by chance, as it were, in writing
this intimate confession, I have hit upon the very word: it is
unearthly, it contains surprise. Yes, Beauty wounds marvellously,
then follows the new birth, regeneration. There is a ravishment of
the entire being into light and knowledge.

The element of surprise is certainly characteristic. The thrill comes
unheralded--a sudden uprush of convincing joy loosed from some store
that is inexhaustible. Unlike the effect of a nervous shock which can
be lived over and reconstituted, it knows no repetition; its climax
is instantaneous, there is neither increase nor declension; it is
unrecoverable; it strikes and is gone. Breaking across the
phantasmagoria of appearances, it comes as a flash of reality, a
lightning recognition of something that cannot be travestied. It is
not in time. It is eternity.

I suspect you know it now with me; in fact I am certain that you
do. . . .

I remember how, many years ago--in that delightful period between
boyhood and manhood when we felt our wings and argued about the
universe--we discovered this unearthly quality in three different
things: the song of a bird, the eyes of a child, and a wild-flower
come upon unexpectedly in a scene of desolation. For in all three, we
agreed, shines that wonder which holds adoration, that joy which is
spontaneous and uncalculated, and that surprise which pertains to
Eternity looking out triumphantly upon ephemeral things.

So, at least, in our youthful eagerness, we agreed; and to this day
one in particular of the three--a bird's song --always makes me think
of God. That divine, ecstatic, simple sound is to me ever both
surprising and unearthly. Each time it takes me by surprise--that
people do not hush their talk to kneel and listen. . . . And of the eyes
of little children--if there is any clearer revelation granted to us
of what is unearthly in the sense of divinity brought close, I do not
know it. Each time my spirit is arrested by surprise, then filled
with wondering joy as I meet that strange open look, so stainless,
accepting the universe as its rightful toy, and, as with the bird and
flower, saying Yes to life as though there could not possibly exist a

The wildflower too: you recall once--it was above Igls when the
Tyrolean snows were melting--how we found a sudden gentian on the
dead, pale grass? The sliding snows had left the coarse tufts stroked
all one way, white and ugly, thickly streaked with mud, no single
blade with any sign of life or greenness yet, when we came upon that
star of concentrated beauty, more blue than the blue sky overhead, the
whole passion of the earth in each pointed petal. A distant
avalanche, as though the hills were settling, the bustle of the
torrent, the wind in the pines and larches, only marked by contrast
the incredible stillness of the heights--then, suddenly, this star of
blue blazing among the desolation. I recall your cry and my
own--wonder, joy, as of something unearthly--that took us by

In these three, certainly, lay the authentic thrill I speak of; while
it lasts, the actual moment seems but a pedestal from which the eyes
of the heart look into Heaven, a pedestal from which the soul leaps
out into the surrounding garden of limitless possibilities which are
its birthright, and immediately accessible. And that, indeed, is the
essential meaning of the thrill--that Heaven is here and now. The
gates of ivory are very tiny; Beauty sounds the elfin horns that
opens them; smaller than the eye of a needle is that opening--upon
the diamond point of the thrill you flash within, and the Garden of
Eternity is yours for ever--now.

I am writing this to you, because I know you listen with your heart,
not with your nerves; and the garden that I write about you know now
better than I do myself. I have but tasted it, you dwell therein,
unaged, unageing. And so we share the flowers; we know the light, the
fragrance and the birds we know together. . . . They tell me--even our
mother says it sometimes with a sigh--that you are far away, not
understanding that we have but recovered the garden of our early
childhood, you permanently, I whenever the thrill opens the happy
gates. You are as near to me as that. Our love was forged inside
those ivory gates that guard that childhood state, facing four ways,
and if I wandered outside a-while, puzzled and lonely, the thrill of
beauty has led me back again, and I, have found your love unchanged,
unaged, still growing in the garden of our earliest memories. I did
but lose my way for a time. . . .

That childhood state must be amazingly close to God, I suppose, for
though no child is consciously aware of beauty, its whole being cries
Yes to the universe and life as naturally and instinctively as a
flower turns to the sun. The universe lies in its overall pocket of
alpaca, and beauty only becomes a thing apart when the growing
consciousness, hearing the world cry No, steps through the gates to
enquire and cannot find the entrance any more. Beauty then becomes a
signpost showing the way home again. Baudelaire, of course, meant God
and Heaven, instead of "genius" when he said, "Le genie n'est que
l'enfance retrouvee a volonte. . . ."

And so when I write to you, I find myself again within the garden of
our childhood, that English garden where our love shared all the
light and fragrance and flowers of the world together. "Time's but a
golden wind that shakes the grass," and since my thought is with you,
you are with me now. . .  and now means always or it means nothing.

So these relationships are real still among a thousand shadows. Your
beauty was truth, hers was unselfish love. The important thing is to
know you still live, not with regret and selfish grief, but with that
joy and sure conviction which makes the so-called separation a
temporary test, perhaps, but never a final blow. What are the few
years of separation compared to this certainty of co-operation in
eternity? We live but a few years together in the flesh, yet if those
few are lived with beauty and beautifully, the tie is unalterably
forged which fastens us lovingly together for ever.  Where, how,
under what precise conditions it were idle to enquire and
unnecessary--the wrong way too. Our only knowledge (in the scientific
sense) comes to us through our earthly senses. To forecast our future
life, constructing it of necessity upon this earthly sensory
experience, is an occupation for those who have neither faith nor
imagination. All such "heavens" are but clumsy idealizations of the
present--"Happy Hunting Grounds" in various forms: whereas we know
that if we lived beauty together, we shall live it always
--"afterwards," as our poor time-ridden language phrases it. For
Beauty, once known, cannot exclude us. We cooperated with the Power
that makes the universe alive.

And, knowing this, I do not ask for your "return," or for any
so-called evidence that you survive. In beauty you both live now with
less hampered hands, less troubled breath, and I am glad.

Why should you come, indeed, through the gutter of my worn, familiar,
personal desires, when the open channel of beauty lies ever at the
flood for you to use?  Coming in this way, you come, besides, for
many, not for me alone, since behind every thrill of beauty stand the
countless brave souls who lived it in their lives. They have entered
the mighty rhythm that floats the spiral nebulae in space, as it turns
the little aspiring Nautilus in the depths of the sea. Having once
felt this impersonal worship which is love of beauty, they are linked
to the power that drives the universe towards perfection, the power
that knocks in a million un-advertised forms at every human heart:
and that is God.

With that beneficent power you cooperate. I ask no other test. I crave
no evidence that you selfishly remember me. In the body we did not
know so closely. To see into your physical eyes, and touch your hand,
and hear your voice--these were but intermediary methods, symbols, at
the best. For you I never saw nor touched nor heard. I felt you--in
my heart. The closest intimacy we knew was when together we shared
one moment of the same beauty; no other intimacy approaches the
reality of that; it is now strengthened to a degree unrealized
before. For me that is enough. I have that faith, that certainty,
that knowledge. Should you come to me otherwise I must disown you.
Should you stammer through another's earthly lips that you now enjoy
a mere idealized repetition of your physical limitations, I should
know my love, my memory, my hope degraded, nay, my very faith

To summon you in that way makes me shudder. It would be to limit your
larger uses, your wider mission, merely to numb a selfish grief born
of a faithless misunderstanding.

Come to me instead--or, rather, stay, since you have never left--be
with me still in the wonder of dawn and twilight, in the yearning
desire of inarticulate black night, in the wind, the sunshine, and
the rain. It is then that I am nearest to you and to your beneficent
activity, for the same elemental rhythm of Beauty includes us both.
The best and highest of you are there; I want no lesser assurance, no
broken personal revelation. Eternal beauty brings you with an
intimacy unknown, impossible, indeed, to partial disclosure. I should
abhor a halting masquerade, a stammering message less intelligible
even than our intercourse of the body.

Come, then! Be with me, your truth and Marion's tenderness linked
together with what is noblest in myself. Be with me in the simple
loveliness of an English garden where you and I, as boys together,
first heard that voice of wonder, and knew the Presence walking with
us among the growing leaves.


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