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An essay by John Galsworthy


Title:     Felicity
Author: John Galsworthy [More Titles by Galsworthy]

When God is so good to the fields, of what use are words--those poor husks of sentiment! There is no painting Felicity on the wing! No way of bringing on to the canvas the flying glory of things! A single buttercup of the twenty million in one field is worth all these dry symbols--that can never body forth the very spirit of that froth of May breaking over the hedges, the choir of birds and bees, the lost-travelling down of the wind flowers, the white-throated swallows in their Odysseys. Just here there are no skylarks, but what joy of song and leaf; of lanes lighted with bright trees, the few oaks still golden brown, and the ashes still spiritual! Only the blackbirds and thrushes can sing-up this day, and cuckoos over the hill. The year has flown so fast that the apple-trees have dropped nearly all their bloom, and in "long meadow" the "daggers" are out early, beside the narrow bright streams. Orpheus sits there on a stone, when nobody is by, and pipes to the ponies; and Pan can often be seen dancing with his nymphs in the raised beech-grove where it is always twilight, if you lie still enough against the far bank.

Who can believe in growing old, so long as we are wrapped in this cloak of colour and wings and song; so long as this unimaginable vision is here for us to gaze at--the soft-faced sheep about us, and the wool-bags drying out along the fence, and great numbers of tiny ducks, so trustful that the crows have taken several.

Blue is the colour of youth, and all the blue flowers have a "fey" look. Everything seems young too young to work. There is but one thing busy, a starling, fetching grubs for its little family, above my head--it must take that flight at least two hundred times a day. The children should be very fat.

When the sky is so happy, and the flowers so luminous, it does not seem possible that the bright angels of this day shall pass into dark night, that slowly these wings shall close, and the cuckoo praise himself to sleep, mad midges dance-in the evening; the grass shiver with dew, wind die, and no bird sing . . . .

Yet so it is. Day has gone--the song and glamour and swoop of wings. Slowly, has passed the daily miracle. It is night. But Felicity has not withdrawn; she has but changed her robe for silence, velvet, and the pearl fan of the moon. Everything is sleeping, save only a single star, and the pansies. Why they should be more wakeful than the other flowers, I do not know. The expressions of their faces, if one bends down into the dusk, are sweeter and more cunning than ever. They have some compact, no doubt, in hand.

What a number of voices have given up the ghost to this night of but one voice--the murmur of the stream out there in darkness!

With what religion all has been done! Not one buttercup open; the yew-trees already with shadows flung down! No moths are abroad yet; it is too early in the year for nightjars; and the owls are quiet. But who shall say that in this silence, in this hovering wan light, in this air bereft of wings, and of all scent save freshness, there is less of the ineffable, less of that before which words are dumb?

It is strange how this tranquillity of night, that seems so final, is inhabited, if one keeps still enough. A lamb is bleating out there on the dim moor; a bird somewhere, a little one, about three fields away, makes the sweetest kind of chirruping; some cows are still cropping. There is a scent, too, underneath the freshness-sweet-brier, I think, and our Dutch honeysuckle; nothing else could so delicately twine itself with air. And even in this darkness the roses have colour, more beautiful perhaps than ever. If colour be, as they say, but the effect of light on various fibre, one may think of it as a tune, the song of thanksgiving that each form puts forth, to sun and moon and stars and fire. These moon-coloured roses are singing a most quiet song. I see all of a sudden that there are many more stars beside that one so red and watchful. The flown kite is there with its seven pale worlds; it has adventured very high and far to-night-with a company of others remoter still. . . .

This serenity of night! What could seem less likely ever more to move, and change again to day? Surely now the world has found its long sleep; and the pearly glimmer from the moon will last, and the precious silence never again yield to clamour; the grape-bloom of this mystery never more pale out into gold . . . .

And yet it is not so. The nightly miracle has passed. It is dawn. Faint light has come. I am waiting for the first sound. The sky as yet is like nothing but grey paper, with the shadows of wild geese passing. The trees are phantoms. And then it comes--that first call of a bird, startled at discovering day! Just one call--and now, here, there, on all the trees, the sudden answers swelling, of that most sweet and careless choir. Was irresponsibility ever so divine as this, of birds waking? Then--saffron into the sky, and once more silence! What is it birds do after the first Chorale? Think of their sins and business? Or just sleep again? The trees are fast dropping unreality, and the cuckoos begin calling. Colour is burning up in the flowers already; the dew smells of them.

The miracle is ended, for the starling has begun its job; and the sun is fretting those dark, busy wings with gold. Full day has come again. But the face of it is a little strange, it is not like yesterday. Queer-to think, no day is like to a day that's past and no night like a night that's coming! Why, then, fear death, which is but night? Why care, if next day have different face and spirit? The sun has lighted buttercup-field now, the wind touches the lime-tree. Something passes over me away up there.

It is Felicity on her wings!


[The end]
John Galsworthy's essay: Felicity