Is our Venus to be the frail, insnaring Aphrodite, or the starry, divine Urania?
OUR WOOD LOT IN WINTER.
Our wood lot! Yes, we have arrived at the dignity of owning a wood lot, and for us simple folk there is something invigorating in the thought. To OWN even a small spot of our dear old mother earth hath in it a relish of something stimulating to human nature. To own a meadow, with all its thousand-fold fringes of grasses, its broidery of monthly flowers, and its outriders of birds, and bees, and gold-winged insects—this is something that establishes one's heart. To own a clover patch or a buckwheat field is like possessing a self-moving manufactory for perfumes and sweetness; but a wood lot, rustling with dignified old trees—it makes a man rise in his own esteem; he might take off his hat to himself at the moment of acquisition.
We do not marvel that the land-acquiring passion becomes a mania among our farmers, and particularly we do not wonder at a passion for wood land. That wide, deep chasm of conscious self-poverty and emptiness which lies at the bottom of every human heart, making men crave property as something to add to one's own bareness, and to ballast one's own specific levity, is sooner filled by land than any thing else.
Your hoary New England farmer walks over his acres with a grim satisfaction. He sets his foot down with a hard stamp; here is reality. No moonshine bank stock! no swindling railroads! Here is his bank, and there is no defaulter here. All is true, solid, and satisfactory; he seems anchored to this life by it. So Pope, with fine tact, makes the old miser, making his will on his death bed, after parting with every thing, die, clinging to the possession of his land. He disposes with many a groan of this and that house, and this and that stock and security; but at last the manor is proposed to him.
"The manor! hold!" he cried, "Not that; I cannot part with that!"—and died!
In such terms we discoursed yesterday, Herr Professor and myself, while jogging along in an old-fashioned chaise to inspect a few acres of wood lot, the acquisition of which had let us, with great freshness, into these reflections.
Does any fair lady shiver at the idea of a drive to the woods on the first of February? Let me assure her that in the coldest season Nature never wants her ornaments full worth looking at.
See here, for instance—let us stop the old chaise, and get out a minute to look at this brook—one of our last summer's pets. What is he doing this winter? Let us at least say, "How do you do?" to him. Ah, here he is! and he and Jack Frost together have been turning the little gap in the old stone wall, through which he leaped down to the road, into a little grotto of Antiparos. Some old rough rails and boards that dropped over it are sheathed in plates of transparent silver. The trunks of the black alders are mailed with crystal; and the witch-hazel, and yellow osiers fringing its sedgy borders, are likewise shining through their glossy covering. Around every stem that rises from the water is a glittering ring of ice. The tags of the alder and the red berries of last summer's wild roses glitter now like a lady's pendant. As for the brook, he is wide awake and joyful; and where the roof of sheet ice breaks away, you can see his yellow-brown waters rattling and gurgling among the stones as briskly as they did last July. Down he springs! over the glossy-coated stone wall, throwing new sparkles into the fairy grotto around him; and widening daily from melting snows, and such other godsends, he goes chattering off under yonder mossy stone bridge, and we lose sight of him. It might be fancy, but it seemed that our watery friend tipped us a cheery wink as he passed, saying, "Fine weather, sir and madam; nice times these; and in April you'll find us all right; the flowers are making up their finery for the next season; there's to be a splendid display in a month or two."
Then the cloud lights of a wintry sky have a clear purity and brilliancy that no other months can rival. The rose tints, and the shading of rose tint into gold, the flossy, filmy accumulation of illuminated vapor that drifts across the sky in a January afternoon, are beauties far exceeding those of summer.
Neither are trees, as seen in winter, destitute of their own peculiar beauty. If it be a gorgeous study in summer time to watch the play of their abundant leafage, we still may thank winter for laying bare before us the grand and beautiful anatomy of the tree, with all its interlacing network of boughs, knotted on each twig with the buds of next year's promise. The fleecy and rosy clouds look all the more beautiful through the dark lace veil of yonder magnificent elms; and the down-drooping drapery of yonder willow hath its own grace of outline as it sweeps the bare snows. And these comical old apple trees, why, in summer they look like so many plump, green cushions, one as much like another as possible; but under the revealing light of winter every characteristic twist and jerk stands disclosed.
One might moralize on this—how affliction, which strips us of all ornaments and accessories, and brings us down to the permanent and solid wood of our nature, develops such wide differences in people who before seemed not much distinct.
But here! our pony's feet are now clinking on the icy path under the shadow of the white pines of "our wood lot." The path runs in a deep hollow, and on either hand rise slopes dark and sheltered with the fragrant white pine. White pines are favorites with us for many good reasons. We love their balsamic breath, the long, slender needles of their leaves, and, above all, the constant sibylline whisperings that never cease among their branches. In summer the ground beneath them is paved with a soft and cleanly matting of their last year's leaves; and then their talking seems to be of coolness ever dwelling far up in their fringy, waving hollows. And now, in winter time, we find the same smooth floor; for the heavy curtains above shut out the snow, and the same voices above whisper of shelter and quiet. "You are welcome," they say; "the north wind is gone to sleep; we are rocking him in our cradles. Sit down and be quiet from the cold." At the feet of these slumberous old pines we find many of our last summer's friends looking as good as new. The small, round-leafed partridgeberry weaves its viny mat, and lays out its scarlet fruit; and here are blackberry vines with leaves still green, though with a bluish tint, not unlike what invades mortal noses in such weather. Here, too, are the bright, varnished leaves of the Indian pine, and the vines of feathery green of which our Christmas garlands are made; and here, undaunted, though frozen to the very heart this cold day, is many another leafy thing which we met last summer rejoicing each in its own peculiar flower. What names they have received from scientific god-fathers at the botanic fount we know not; we have always known them by fairy nicknames of our own—the pet names of endearment which lie between Nature's children and us in her domestic circle.
There is something peculiarly sweet to us about a certain mystical dreaminess and obscurity in these wild wood tribes, which we never wish to have brought out into the daylight of absolute knowledge. Every one of them was a self-discovered treasure of our childhood, as much our own as if God had made it on purpose and presented it; and it was ever a part of the joy to think we had found something that no one else knew, and so musing on them, we gave them names in our heart.
We search about amid the sere, yellow skeletons of last summer's ferns, if haply winter have forgotten one green leaf for our home vase—in vain we rake, freezing our fingers through our fur gloves—there is not one. An icicle has pierced every heart; and there are no fern leaves except those miniature ones which each plant is holding in its heart, to be sent up in next summer's hour of joy. But here are mosses—tufts of all sorts; the white, crisp and crumbling, fair as winter frostwork; and here the feathery green of which French milliners make moss rose buds; and here the cup-moss—these we gather with some care, frozen as they are to the wintry earth.
Now, stumbling up this ridge, we come to a little patch of hemlocks, spreading out their green wings, and making, in the ravine, a deep shelter, where many a fresh springing thing is standing, and where we gain much for our home vases. These pines are motherly creatures. One can think how it must rejoice the heart of a partridge or a rabbit to come from the dry, whistling sweep of a deciduous forest under the home-like shadow of their branches. "As for the stork, the fir trees are her house," says the Hebrew poet; and our fir trees, this winter, give shelter to much small game. Often, on the light-fallen snow, I meet their little footprints. They have a naive, helpless, innocent appearance, these little tracks, that softens my heart like a child's footprint. Not one of them is forgotten of our Father; and therefore I remember them kindly.
And now, with cold toes and fingers, and arms full of leafy treasures, we plod our way back to the chaise. A pleasant song is in my ears from this old wood lot—it speaks of green and cheerful patience in life's hard weather. Not a scowling, sullen endurance, not a despairing, hand-dropping resignation, but a heart cheerfulness that holds on to every leaf, and twig, and flower, and bravely smiles and keeps green when frozen to the very heart, knowing that the winter is but for a season, and that the sunshine and bird singings shall return, and the last year's dry flower stalk give place to the risen, glorified flower.
"Socrates.—'However, you and Simmias appear to me as if you wished to sift this subject more thoroughly, and to be afraid, like children, lest, on the soul's departure from the body, winds should blow it away.'
* * * * *
"Upon this Cebes said, 'Endeavor to teach us better, Socrates. * * * Perhaps there is a childish spirit in our breast, that has such a dread. Let us endeavor to persuade him not to be afraid of death, as of hobgoblins.'
"'But you must charm him every day,' said Socrates, 'until you have quieted his fears.'
"'But whence, O Socrates,' he said, 'can we procure a skilful charmer for such a case, now you are about to leave us.'
"'Greece is wide, Cebes,' he replied: 'and in it surely there are skilful men, and there are also many barbarous nations, all of which you should search, seeking such a charmer, sparing neither money nor toil, as there is nothing on which you can more reasonably spend your money.'"—(Last conversation of Socrates with his disciples, as narrated by Plato in the Phaedo.)
* * * * *
"We need that Charmer, for our hearts are sore With longings for the things that may not be; Faint for the friends that shall return no more; Dark with distrust, or wrung with agony.
"What is this life? and what to us is death? Whence came we? whither go? and where are those Who, in a moment stricken from our side, Passed to that land of shadow and repose?
"And are they all dust? and dust must we become? Or are they living in some unknown clime? Shall we regain them in that far-off home, And live anew beyond the waves of time?
"O man divine! on thee our souls have hung; Thou wert our teacher in these questions high; But, ah, this day divides thee from our side, And veils in dust thy kindly-guiding eye.
"Where is that Charmer whom thou bidst us seek? On what far shores may his sweet voice be heard? When shall these questions of our yearning souls Be answered by the bright Eternal Word?"
So spake the youth of Athens, weeping round, When Socrates lay calmly down to die; So spake the sage, prophetic of the hour When earth's fair morning star should rise on high.
They found Him not, those youths of soul divine, Long seeking, wandering, watching on life's shore— Reasoning, aspiring, yearning for the light, Death came and found them—doubting as before.
But years passed on; and lo! the Charmer came— Pure, simple, sweet, as comes the silver dew; And the world knew him not—he walked alone, Encircled only by his trusting few.
Like the Athenian sage rejected, scorned, Betrayed, condemned, his day of doom drew nigh; He drew his faithful few more closely round, And told them that his hour was come to die.
"Let not your heart be troubled," then he said; "My Father's house hath mansions large and fair; I go before you to prepare your place; I will return to take you with me there."
And since that hour the awful foe is charmed, And life and death are glorified and fair. Whither he went we know—the way we know— And with firm step press on to meet him there.
PILGRIM'S SONG IN THE DESERT.
'Tis morning now—upon the eastern hills Once more the sun lights up this cheerless scene; But O, no morning in my Father's house Is dawning now, for there no night hath been.
Ten thousand thousand now, on Zion's hills, All robed in white, with palmy crowns, do stray, While I, an exile, far from fatherland, Still wandering, faint along the desert way.
O home! dear home! my own, my native home! O Father, friends, when shall I look on you? When shall these weary wanderings be o'er, And I be gathered back to stray no more?
O thou, the brightness of whose gracious face These weary, longing eyes have never seen,— By whose dear thought, for whose beloved sake, My course, through toil and tears, I daily take,—
I think of thee when the myrrh-dropping morn Steps forth upon the purple eastern steep; I think of thee in the fair eventide, When the bright-sandalled stars their watches keep.
And trembling hope, and fainting, sorrowing love, On thy dear word for comfort doth rely; And clear-eyed Faith, with strong forereaching gaze, Beholds thee here, unseen, but ever nigh.
Walking in white with thee, she dimly sees, All beautiful, these lovely ones withdrawn, With whom my heart went upward, as they rose, Like morning stars, to light a coming dawn.
All sinless now, and crowned, and glorified, Where'er thou movest move they still with thee, As erst, in sweet communion by thy side, Walked John and Mary in old Galilee.
But hush, my heart! 'Tis but a day or two Divides thee from that bright, immortal shore. Rise up! rise up! and gird thee for the race! Fast fly the hours, and all will soon be o'er.
Thou hast the new name written in thy soul; Thou hast the mystic stone he gives his own. Thy soul, made one with him, shall feel no more That she is walking on her path alone.
MARY AT THE CROSS.
"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother."
O wondrous mother! Since the dawn of time Was ever joy, was ever grief like thine? O, highly favored in thy joy's deep flow, And favored e'en in this, thy bitterest woe!
Poor was that home in simple Nazareth, Where thou, fair growing, like some silent flower, Last of a kingly line,—unknown and lowly, O desert lily,—passed thy childhood's hour.
The world knew not the tender, serious maiden, Who, through deep loving years so silent grew, Filled with high thoughts and holy aspirations, Which, save thy Father, God's, no eye might view.
And then it came, that message from the Highest, Such as to woman ne'er before descended; Th' almighty shadowing wings thy soul o'erspread, And with thy life the Life of worlds was blended.
What visions, then, of future glory filled thee, Mother of King and kingdom yet unknown— Mother, fulfiller of all prophecy, Which through dim ages wondering seers had shown!
Well did thy dark eye kindle, thy deep soul Rise into billows, and thy heart rejoice; Then woke the poet's fire, the prophet's song Tuned with strange, burning words thy timid voice.
Then in dark contrast came the lowly manger, The outcast shed, the tramp of brutal feet; Again, behold earth's learned, and her lowly, Sages and shepherds, prostrate at thy feet.
Then to the temple bearing, hark! again What strange, conflicting tones of prophecy Breathe o'er the Child, foreshadowing words of joy, High triumph, and yet bitter agony.
O, highly favored thou, in many an hour Spent in lone musing with thy wondrous Son, When thou didst gaze into that glorious eye, And hold that mighty hand within thy own.
Blessed through those thirty years, when in thy dwelling He lived a God disguised, with unknown power, And thou, his sole adorer,—his best love,— Trusting, revering, waitedst for his hour.
Blessed in that hour, when called by opening heaven With cloud, and voice, and the baptizing flame, Up from the Jordan walked th' acknowledged stranger, And awe-struck crowds grew silent as he came.
Blessed, when full of grace, with glory crowned, He from both hands almighty favors poured, And, though he had not where to lay his head, Brought to his feet alike the slave and lord.
Crowds followed; thousands shouted, "Lo, our King!" Fast beat thy heart; now, now the hour draws nigh: Behold the crown—the throne! the nations bend. Ah, no! fond mother, no! behold him die.
Now by that cross thou tak'st thy final station, And shar'st the last dark trial of thy Son; Not with weak tears or woman's lamentation, But with high, silent anguish, like his own.
Hail, highly favored, even in this deep passion, Hail, in this bitter anguish—thou art blest— Blest in the holy power with him to suffer Those deep death pangs that lead to higher rest.
All now is darkness; and in that deep stillness The God-man wrestles with that mighty woe; Hark to that cry, the rock of ages rending— "'Tis finished!" Mother, all is glory now!
By sufferings mighty as his mighty soul Hath the Jehovah risen—forever blest; And through all ages must his heart-beloved Through the same baptism enter the same rest.
"Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man; thou shalt keep them secretly as in a pavilion from the strife of tongues."
When winds are raging o'er the upper ocean, And billows wild contend with angry roar, 'Tis said, far down beneath the wild commotion, That peaceful stillness reigneth evermore.
Far, far beneath, the noise of tempest dieth, And silver waves chime ever peacefully, And no rude storm, how fierce soe'er he flieth, Disturbs the Sabbath of that deeper sea.
So to the heart that knows thy love, O Purest, There is a temple, sacred evermore, And all the babble of life's angry voices Die in hushed stillness at its peaceful door.
Far, far away, the roar of passion dieth, And loving thoughts rise calm and peacefully, And no rude storm, how fierce soe'er he flieth, Disturbs the soul that dwells, O Lord, in thee.
O, rest of rests! O, peace serene, eternal! THOU ever livest; and thou changest never; And in the secret of thy presence dwelleth Fulness of joy—forever and forever.
ABIDE IN ME AND I IN YOU.
THE SOUL'S ANSWER.
That mystic word of thine, O sovereign Lord, Is all too pure, too high, too deep for me; Weary of striving, and with longing faint, I breathe it back again in prayer to thee.
Abide in me, I pray, and I in thee; From this good hour, O, leave me nevermore; Then shall the discord cease, the wound be healed, The lifelong bleeding of the soul be o'er.
Abide in me—o'ershadow by thy love Each half-formed purpose and dark thought of sin; Quench, e'er it rise, each selfish, low desire, And keep my soul as thine, calm and divine.
As some rare perfume in a vase of clay Pervades it with a fragrance not its own, So, when thou dwellest in a mortal soul, All heaven's own sweetness seems around it thrown.
The soul alone, like a neglected harp, Grows out of tune, and needs a hand divine; Dwell thou within it, tune, and touch the chords, Till every note and string shall answer thine.
Abide in me; there have been moments pure When I have seen thy face and felt thy power; Then evil lost its grasp, and passion, hushed, Owned the divine enchantment of the hour.
These were but seasons beautiful and rare; "Abide in me,"—and they shall ever be; Fulfil at once thy precept and my prayer— Come and abide in me, and I in thee.
WHEN I AWAKE I AM STILL WITH THEE.
Still, still with thee, when purple morning breaketh, When the bird waketh and the shadows flee; Fairer than morning, lovelier than the daylight, Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with thee!
Alone with thee, amid the mystic shadows, The solemn hush of nature newly born; Alone with thee in breathless adoration, In the calm dew and freshness of the morn.
As in the dawning o'er the waveless ocean The image of the morning star doth rest, So in this stillness thou beholdest only Thine image in the waters of my breast.
Still, still with thee! as to each new-born morning A fresh and solemn splendor still is given, So doth this blessed consciousness, awaking, Breathe, each day, nearness unto thee and heaven.
When sinks the soul, subdued by toil, to slumber, Its closing eye looks up to thee in prayer, Sweet the repose beneath thy wings o'ershading, But sweeter still to wake and find thee there.
So shall it be at last, in that bright morning When the soul waketh and life's shadows flee; O, in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning, Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with thee!
CHRIST'S VOICE IN THE SOUL.
"Come ye yourselves into a desert place and rest a while; for there were many coming and going, so that they had no time so much as to eat."
'Mid the mad whirl of life, its dim confusion, Its jarring discords and poor vanity, Breathing like music over troubled waters, What gentle voice, O Christian, speaks to thee?
It is a stranger—not of earth or earthly; By the serene, deep fulness of that eye,— By the calm, pitying smile, the gesture lowly,— It is thy Savior as he passeth by.
"Come, come," he saith, "into a desert place, Thou who art weary of life's lower sphere; Leave its low strifes, forget its babbling noise; Come thou with me—all shall be bright and clear.
"Art thou bewildered by contesting voices, Sick to thy soul of party noise and strife? Come, leave it all, and seek that solitude Where thou shalt learn of me a purer life.
"When far behind the world's great tumult dieth, Thou shalt look back and wonder at its roar; But its far voice shall seem to thee a dream, Its power to vex thy holier life be o'er.
"There shalt thou learn the secret of a power, Mine to bestow, which heals the ills of living; To overcome by love, to live by prayer, To conquer man's worst evils by forgiving."