translated from the
by T. E. Lawrence>
Chapter 8 : What the Moon Saw
Meanwhile there were showering down on earth the beams of that moon, mirror and transmitter of the sun, which conveys to us its light without its heat. From the distance came the splashing of water: and on the river bank, where it was nearest to the tree and within sight, lay a man and woman. They were naked, and the water was dripping slowly from their bronzed bodies. They lay aside by side, and the low murmur of their voices and their stifled kisses filled the near air about. Beyond and around them eddied the confused noises of the fields and woods, the scents of evening made lively by the cool damp air, the brightness of the moon's shining on the silvan landscape, a selection of all the sounds and shapes and tints and flavours in the world. The contagion of universal love had caught the lovers, making their eyes hard, their blood hot, their lips red. The everlasting universal thrill which makes the flowers burst into bloom, which makes the insects glitter and the birds sing, was upon these two, flinging them into a mutual passionate embrace.
They were just another instance of the immortal lust of conjoined sexes. Their sighs rustled between their lips like the wind in the grass, they sobbed together like the breaking sea, their flesh tingled with their blood as did the fibres of the forest giant with sap. Their inchoate and always unfulfilled desires took wing in the clear blue evening and became part of the immense and complex harmony of a thousand strains which has reigned since the beginning of the worlds, in the ether, to the stars, about the stars, beyond them, even to the confines of illimitable space.
The great pine-tree in its six thousand years had many times seen substances mating and beings marrying, and was able to record that these two young naked humans were exactly like the thousands of other couples whose loves it had witnessed since that distant time when as a tender plant it had pushed its shy and timid way towards the blue.
For sixty centuries generation of man had succeeded generation beneath the tree, but whatever differences there might have been in their external circumstances or in the superficial accessories of their state, always when in love their couples used to embrace naked on such spring evenings as this, with the same ceremony and as ecstatically as the pair to-day. The forest giant from its lofty crest was thus able to establish that mankind had remained essentially the same through the six thousand years.
Love is the strongest of our passions, but also that which we hide the deepest: whereas we exhibit our ambitions, our pride, our greed, our frenzies, openly. Yet when love does take possession of us it sharpens and exalts our dullest, remotest faculties to the height: but it is a moot point whether we are right to believe it exclusively our work, a sentiment evoked by our own means. There is a disturbing possibility that it may be imposed on us regardless of our will. We are not able to extinguish it, nor to fan it: for its potent causes lie deep beyond our sight, and are fleeting. We often see men carried away by a passion for some one who is not in the least their ideal, and see this passion grow greater or smaller without valid cause. Insignificant trifles, and impressions of the apparent slightest, sometimes have enormous consequences in our lives. Love is called up or frightened away by the faintest ghost of a memory, by the waking impression of a forgotten dream, by some homely detail. The faculty of love has been transmitted through our generations for thousands of years, unchanged: for the tremor which excited our forbears in their caves was, in its kind, of the intensity of the embrace of the sexes to-day.
The truth would seem to be that in love we obey an eternal, general and boundless law. In our conceit we think that no emotion is comparable to the fever of passionate mankind. Yet what can we know of the particular sensations possessing inhuman couples? such as the fervour of a plant in seed, or that colossal attraction which drags planets into the orbits of their suns. Our love-dramas and kisses and excitements are mere examples of the universal spasm.
Let us return to the man and woman within sight of the upper branches of the pine as they lay supine on the green bank of the river taking their ease after happy exertions. The slight sound of their voluptuous sighs had died away down the breeze. The vibrations of their meeting flesh had gone abroad through the blue evening, with the beaded moisture evaporating from their skins, and the heating scents of awakened sex, to become part of the endless waves of ether set up by the motions of the stars, by the odorous love-excitements of birds and beasts and reptiles, by the pollen of seeding plants. Of course the embracing couple did not know it: they knew nothing of the movement of the Spheres and their Rivers of life, nor of their component cells nor of the uncounted tribes of germs living within their bodies. Yet at the very crisis of the amorous passion the infinitely small no doubt bear their part in it to some degree, just as the lovers in their act have contributed to the harmony of the universe. We must try to think of ourselves existing as it were detached, hanging between an external medley of forces beyond our ken, and an internal current of life equally inappreciable by our senses. We seem to become sensitive to exterior sensation only locally, in the parts immediately affected. When lovers kiss the delight of it attacks mouth and heart and spirit alone. We never think that our arms or shoulders may also be concerned.
Yet on reflection it would seem incontestable that the mere localisation of the conscious emotion cannot prevent its being shared generally by our whole being. The kiss, though expressed only by our lips, is a product of the vitality of all our organs: and likewise in each of our actions we, from our tiny sector of the world, share in the universal harmony, though we cannot know the extent of our contribution nor trace its course through the clash of external forces.
It is a grave thought that in this indescribable whole the separate items of activity undergo an identical evolutionary process. When the sky was blue, in the piercing sunlight of a fragrant summer-time, the forest giant attained its highest pitch, as its branches were rich and supple with sap. Then came days of decline. Under a feeble sun and a lack-lustre sky the air grew cold and faint: and the tree entered on a phase of decline, slow at first but increasing in speed till almost precipitate. Declines and falls have also (like all else) their charts of intensity growing to a climax and falling away inevitably thereafter. A stone flung into the air has a history like the giant tree. It shoots up, up, to its highest point, dwells on it, as it were, for a fraction of a second, and then turns to fall, gently at first, but later coming down with an increasing rush. This change up and change down seem to be one of the prime laws of life and of matter and of energy, from the boundless existence of the constellations to the atoms and the inexpressible complexities of nature. Everything seems subject to such a process and our imaginations cannot conceive anything exempt, or anything which will ever be exempt. A stone flung up and falling, a branch budding and growing bare, a fire flaring up and going out, a sentiment being born, developing and dying, everything good or bad in events and in things, in the animal creation, and in plants, in suns and in particles, in everything that is or happens, exhibit obedience to this universal law of change, growth and decay. Detached atoms retain the character and share the fate of their former whole.
The lovers on the sloping river-bank near the giant tree were thus reproducing the universal harmony, in their narrow and temporary harmony, as they clipped and twined together in rhythmical counter-charge of their inmost emotions. They were so much larger than the insects which shone red in the sunset or turned green in the moonshine: they were so much smaller than the tree: yet in their degree and kind they were in accord with the course of nature, as expressed in the force which linked the fireflies and made the tree bear seed. They partook of the ambitions which coming from the mists of time and from the chaos of space make planets revolve in their orbits and electrons whirl together: and if our insatiable curiosity makes us seek to know, however dimly, what is going on up there or down there, let us tell ourselves that we are part of all that is, that we obey the very laws which govern alike the unimaginable whole and its hugest components, and that therefore our infinitesimal experience if we can expand or contract it indefinitely may guide us as to the experiences both of the greatest and of the smallest.
Poor loving couple whom we have left sobbing with pleasure in the harmonious and fragrant evening-light! It was written that their transport should die, like all else in this world, and that a falling cadence should close it, making its course one with those of the suns and trees. The conviction that our joys are transient may make us sad: but we can draw consolation from the idea that all the dwellers in chaos are within the law. By taking thought we can make strong our souls, and still them, with the certain knowledge of our utter helplessness.
Yes, the moment was good for the man and woman by the tall and splendid tree, as they throbbed together in the new sensitiveness of their overcharged emotion: but remorselessly decline will follow on the climax, not merely in the case of the love that grows faint, but for the summer which must yield place to winter, for youth on which old age is waiting, for the spray of water which rises to its height only to fall, for the suns which to-day dazzle us, but for some few ten thousand years are doomed to a slow expiry till they shall go round and round their unyielding prisons of space in blind stiff loneliness. The spiral of being leaps up rapidly to its brilliant apogee, and then runs down again into obscurity while the ring-waves of each action expand ever outward in the infinite.