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Adrien Le Corbeau, The Forest Giant

[Le Gigantesque]

translated from the French
by T. E. Lawrence

Chapter 11 : The Wheel of Life Lived

Time then is not to be divided into centuries and hours and minutes: but just as each atom figures a world in itself, so each moment is an eternity, one link in an endless chain which binds the remotest past to the remotest future. Time's mirror may look with changeless face upon the tens of thousands of events which defile before it and pass away leaving no mark; - but that is not to say that these events are without issue, since their consequences ripple out into space for ever and ever. What has happened never wholly ceases to happen. To mankind a sentiment of it may return in many forms - in a snatch of music, in a perfume, in some subtle vibration or illumination of the atmosphere - and these returns are authentic parcels of the original moment, for time is to be divorced neither from material nor immaterial things. This Present, which to us will so soon be Past, keeps, as it flies, something of its true essence, and will revive its influence a year, a century, thousands of centuries later, in some scent or sound, or unforeseen collocation of circumstance.

This continuing process gives us our only approach to the conception of eternity, for there could be no endless time if the hours lived only once and for all, and then died irremediably. Seconds which have their passage grow enriched in its course and cease, only to revive in a new form, after the same fashion as ourselves who, when death has resolved us, will live again in other combinations of our elements, no particle of which can be lost in space or time. Each second comprehends eternity, as each atom the infinite, and the course of all that is in the universe is rotary, an orbit constant as those of stars or of electrons. Everything wheels about space in circles; and probably movement in time is also circular: so that when we find ourselves strangely imagining things which have been, or things which may sometime be, we can explain ourselves to ourselves with the reflection that our momentary path has doubtless that second crossed the emanations of some instant fully lived by another, long ago.

The sensation that we have already seen or lived or heard something is similarly explained. Each active moment is an amalgam of sentiments and wills and multiple elements which split apart as soon as the purpose is achieved. The moments of its duration then scatter through space and time, taking with them remains of their charged sounds, colours, and scents, with atmospheres of joy or sadness not fully perceptible by our limited senses, but certainly to be opined, and almost to be felt. We may pursue this train of thought a little farther, and be prepared to accept that certain places derive a special atmosphere from the events of which they have been the setting, and may preserve it indefinitely. We are often sensible of particular associations which hang about such and such a feature: one place may instil terror, and others peace, disquietude, mystery, or love, without any apparent quality in their disposition to account for the possession of such power. The reason is that the events or thoughts or actions of which they have been the scene have left traces within the four walls of the room, in the branches of the tree, or in the various features of the place. In fact, the seconds of old time are yet living there, loaded with old association, and as they whirl and vibrate they sensitise us with their invisible rays. If we were endowed with new faculties, sensitive to such influences as now escape us, and with them were able to apprehend and analyse these scattered fragments of the past, these waifs of dead adventures, then we might be able to reconstruct the deeds and lives and deaths, all the unplumbed combinations of circumstance in the cities or countries of our passage. This invisible swarm of “seconds which have been” hems us about, wherever and whenever we go, with its traces of suffering and of delight, of unrest, of clashing, of colour: for the emanations of our souls (like those of the souls of things) are heavy with various essences which may grow faint, but never altogether perish.

In this dead November air a soft musical murmur seemed to hang round the giant tree, as if it were mourning its old age and sadness. In this autumnal dreaminess the tree was living again some of its passed life, hearing the times and moments thronging by, contrasting (even in its least fibre) the brilliancy of yesterday with the sadness of the failing present. The numberless radiations of the air which for centuries had made florid its stem seemed to-day to renew about it their health-giving vibrations. This dust of time, the elements of old situations great and small, had come from near or far as the case was: perhaps from the beginning of things in the depths of the abyss. To-morrow, when the great tree would be no more, it might affect other forms, and make fertile other existences.

We go abroad in a throng of atoms, the basic materials of distant and diverse forms of life. Sometimes they breathe upon us, sometimes we hear them, sometimes we see them. At other times they move us to love or hope or fear, melt us to tenderness, brace us to deep efforts, or daze us with weird portents. To this vagabond star-dust we can ascribe a sometime fit of passion or wrath, of madness or joy. The world about us is all peopled with these spirit-mists. We live red moments and white moments, odorous or musical moments, moments of pain or love, brief or slow, loud or peaceful. Space, to repeat, builds up nature out of its own substance: and likewise unchanging time makes use of its own essence to assemble and arrange and fix the order of events.

Evening came down wan and weeping over the uncertain scene. The mist thickened into clouds like smoke, whilst silence and a baseless lethargy soaked through the sluggish air. The giant tree loomed straight and huge in the twilight, its form as ever, its colours those which it had assumed on so many evenings. Neither shape nor appearance was different from those with which it had fronted the autumns of many years, and their intricate pallors; but never before had it looked so desolate in the desolate splendour of its setting. Its sadness was as patent as the sadness of the landscape: and since neither the content nor the surface of this November gloaming appeared different from those of past autumns the source of this changed feeling had to be searched for. There was no motion in the tree, nor stirring of a blade of grass, nor strange gleam through the fog; nor did the chill air feel endued with a particular quality: yet this depression over the world was true and heavy, weighing down all spirits and things from some unknown direction, and by imperceptible means. It could only have been the product of secret universal influences vibrating in space as a cloud of invisible particles able to link time to matter, as dreams to reality.

The giant was weary, the giant was sick: and the mysterious sorrow of its pain was diffused about it like an odour. The low clouds continued to collect together, darkening with their purple masses the violet striations of the unwholesome sky. The still country-side was suddenly stirred by a faint shudder. It was that the sun had set. The first approach of evening yet held relics of the light of day: and through it came another sudden tremor, which awoke the slumbering air, and the inert earth, the pale grass, the scattered pebbles in the plain, the roosting birds, the beasts in their dens, men in their houses, and insects in their inmost hiding-places. The pine-tree in turn felt this invisible convulsion penetrate strangely from its crest to its roots.

The convulsion was invisible, indefinable and immense, and yet its cause seemed wholly hidden. What was this swarm of vivified instants (lived perhaps millions of years ago) which had drifted into the district of the giant pine? How far had they come, these fulfilled seconds, whose course had once been run? Were they the time-and space-enfeebled echo of a cataclysm in some unknown world ? (when ? and where ?) or the travail of a blind sun lost in space, yet casting its ominous enigmatic messages across the worlds?

These very real astral influences, active upon men and also upon all that exists, are understood by us usually in an unworthy and insufficient degree. It is admitted that we are at times bound by the forces of distant heavenly bodies, but this can hardly be as individuals, nor can their waves, when they sway us, be sent forth expressly on our petty account. We must not be so simple as to think that the existence of any one among us can interest or engross the whole activity of a sphere or that its labouring is to make smooth the way of a single man. We feel its influence when our path crosses the direction of its discharged waves; but all beings, all plants, hills, peoples, countries in the same case are influenced at the same time as ourselves, and in a like fashion.

This may explain why associations of things are sometimes swayed to a common feeling or purpose by invisible means. We often note that a sense of gaiety or of suffering, of liveliness or of resignation, of calm or disquietude imposes itself on us and on our neighbours, quite independently of our own state of mind. Both animate and inanimate things are subject to such changes of state, which may last a long or a short time, may be restricted or general, but which generally lead their objects in an undesigned direction. Such forms have probably played a wide and yet undetected part in the history of mankind, and also in the physical history of the globe: they may account for some of our unexpected and abrupt departures from the usual manner, for the irregular impulses which make us commit acts foreign to our normal will and nature. So that the unknown, into which pass our dead acts and ideas, may itself conceal also the sources of our resolutions and of our performances.

The evening closed in yet more, its clouds slowly veiling the heavens, while the mists thickened, and covered up the ground: yet the unnameable trouble, which so mysteriously gripped the region, had faded as mysteriously as it had come. Unchanged, in its surrounding silence and circumstances stood the giant, serene once more. True it was still tired, and the sap in its veins felt enfeebled by advancing age; but the sense of misery and desolation just now weighing upon it had been lifted. The dismal pomp of invisible minutes of grief had wended its way past, invisibly. These sad, dark, disaster-laden minutes - from what black event, and whence had they been derived? What incalculable journey had they made? and whither would their uncontrolled and endless course next tend? And the great tree itself, standing there so stiff under that autumn sky, so remote from ours - what can have been these detached moments of its life and being which come from its stem to interest us, to bring to our lamp-lighted room the ghosts of its joy and the shades of its pain? What were these acts, these enjoyed moments of the giant's life, that they can so float about us, murmur to us, hold our interest, that even to our dreams come memories and broken incidents of what it was? that as the tale of its death draws near to be told, we feel grief for that huge ruddy trunk?

Perhaps it is because the thoughts which take wing from our souls, as from the souls of things, are so many parcels of vital essence, which pass over the face of the mirror of changeless time, and look into it and are pictured there, and then break up and rearrange themselves, but never die.

Chapter 12 >>

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