Where It Listeth

THERE is, on a certain sylvan estate of my thought, a little area where only the anemone grows, year after year holding the ground in undisturbed tenure. Whenever the wind blows, though never so rudely, bloom runs rife over the anemone bank ; then I mark a swift unfolding and buoyant stirring of petals on which the sun shone and the rain dropped gentle persuasion in vain. I gather at random a handful of these blossoms, well pleased if any lover of the wildgarden recognize a familiar species.

I remember a kinship we have with the wind : Anima, the wind ; also the breath or life of man. Sometimes, on a listless summer day, a sudden gust sweeps the dust of the road into vertical form, bears it along for a few seconds, then mysteriously disperses it. When this happens, it seems to me that I have seen a vague type or semblance of humanity, — dust and spirit imperfectly compounded by some unimaginable ambition in the earthy atoms goaded into momentary, troubled activity.

Air in motion, says the old standing definition. The sailor, who surely should know best, recognizes twelve phases of the wind, of which the first in the series is called “ faint air,” the last “ storm.” Science informs us as to the traveling records made by each: the hurricane’s speed ranges from eighty to one hundred miles an hour, while even gentle air, whose rate is but seven miles an hour, more than keeps up with your average roadster.

Elizabethan Davies, whose verse has touch both of the savant and the transcendentalist, inquires, —

“Lastly, where keep the Winds their revelry,
Their violent turnings, and wild whirling hays,
But in the Air’s translucent gallery ?
Where she herself is turned a hundred ways
While with those maskers wantonly she plays.”

We may thank what we call “ poetic license ” for the permission it gives us to make the vowel long in the word “ wind : ” this pronunciation admirably preserves the prime idea of the sinuous and subtle force exerted by the wandering air. Homer mentions a river, called Ocean, encircling the earth. The true Ocean River, — what is it but the mad stream of the winds forever beating the terrestrial shore ? Homer’s epithets descriptive of the sea instantly come into the mind: the wind, too, is an earthshaker, is many-sounding; full of sea tones, hungry-voiced as the sea itself. Here its current may be running with halcyon smoothness, spreading out in a gentle lake or pool of despond; elsewhere, at the same moment, it courses in rapids, spins cyclones, and buffets the heavens with its huge billows. It may almost be said to have its tides, like the sea ; to encroach upon one coast, eroding it by stealthy pinches, while it temporarily builds up another. This upper ocean stream moulds as it will the under watery plain, and its crafty deity completely overrules the bulky Neptune.

Upon sand and snow the wind leaves an imprint of its wave-like motion, with record of the direction in which it traveled. This invisible swift stream furrows the level snow, and carves a drift as a river does its banks. I almost forget that the wind is not palpable to the eye, so evident is the motion which it everywhere imparts. As a medium of expression, a deep meadow in the month of June will do. Once walking along the edge of such a field, I experienced a slight giddiness, as though I had been looking down on water from a ship’s deck. As the fresh breeze swept over the luxuriant meadow, the long swell and endless succession of waves seemed to me excellent counterfeit of the sea’s surging; even spray was not lacking, for such I counted the gray bloom of the grass marking the crest of each wave. The birds that flew over the field, or dipped under its blossom-spray, by an easy hyperbole of vision became seabirds, and something in their free, abandoned flight gave the fancy countenance. When I hear the wind in the tops of great trees, my first impression is that if I look up I shall see its strong current drawing through them, and, far above their leafy periphery, the broken crests and white caps of the airy sea, — flecks of light, detached cloud driving on or past some shrouded island or main shore, cloud also, but denser, and slower in its drifting. As a child, I thought the stars and the wind were associated ; the higher the wind, the brighter shone the stars. Still, on a breezy night, I find it easy to imagine that their brilliance comes and goes with the wind, like so many bickering flames of torch or candle.

As a description of the long flow and refluence of the wind, the air’s voice with the circumflex accent, I know of no combination of words surpassing in beauty this passage from Hyperion :—

“As when, upon a tranced summer night,
Those green-robed senators of mighty woods,
Tall oaks, branch-charmed by the earnest stars,
Dream, and so dream all night without a stir,
Save from one gradual solitary gust
Which comes upon the silence, and dies off,
As if the ebbing air had but one wave.”

This is the breathing of enchanted solitude, but immeasurable desolation finds a voice in these lines from Morte d’Arthur : —

“An agony
Of lamentation, like a wind, that shrills
All night in a waste land where no one comes,
Or hath come, since the making of the world.”

The tumult of sound, half heroic prophesying, half mournful reminiscence, that runs through the forest roof at the beginning of a storm is heard in the following : —

“A wind arose and rush’d upon the South,
And shook the songs, the whispers, and the shrieks
Of the wild woods together.”

Something stormy in the soul rises to applaud the storm without, and cheer on the combatants, with a “ Blow, blow, thou winter wind,” or a “ Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks ! rage! blow ! ” As I listen, on a December night, to this traveler from the uttermost west, — whose wing, for aught I know, carries siftings from the old snow of Mount Hood or St. Helen, — I am put in mind, now of the claps and shocks of great sea waves, of the panting breath of wild herds driven by prairie fire, of the whizzing of legion arrows ; but softly ! now, by a magical decrescendo, the sound is reported to my ear as merely a mighty rustling of silken garments,—audible proof of invisible éclat at this state levee of the elements. I know how the trees thrill with excitement, swaying to and fro and nodding deliriously, as though the tunes of Amphion were even now tickling their sense for music and dancing. Especially I figure the ecstasy of the pine and the hemlock, whose rocking motion suggests that of a skiff moored in unquiet waters : they would perhaps like to snap their rooty cables, and go reeling away on the vast wind-sea ! If there is anything in heredity, the pine-tree must have an instinct for maritime life; so, I fancy, it foresees and sings a time when it shall become the “ mast of some tall ammiral.”

Each wind has its own weather significance quite constant in value. “ When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower ; and so it is. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass,” — prognostics that still hold good. The world around, the east wind is known as a malicious dispenser both of physical and spiritual ill. Beyond question, he would be hailed as the benefactor of his race who should invent some method of hermetically sealing the east wind ; yet, could this be done, immediately some one of the other three would undertake the discharge of its suppressed neighbor’s duties. It is said that at Buenos Ayres the wind from the north is the most dreaded. During its continuance, citizens who are compelled to be outof-doors wear split beans upon their temples to relieve the headache which it causes, and a special increase of crime is noted.

Why does the world’s literature teem with fond reference to the south and the south wind’s: amenity ? The poets are all in the northern hemisphere ! Had there been bards in Patagonia and New Zealand, it is safe to say that the balmy north wind would have wandered through the gardens of their rhetoric, or the nipping and eager south wind would have scathed their flowers. Who is quite able to fancy that the weather of the South Pole is every whit as frosty as that of the North ?

Formerly the winds were thought to be amenable to the will of magicians, or of other mortals superhumanly favored. Not to go back so far as Æolus Hippotades and his gifts to Ulysses, we may find in the Anatomy of Melancholy an interesting account of a certain king of Sweden, who had an “ enchanted cap, by virtue of which, and some magical murmur or whispering terms, he could command spirits, trouble the air, and make the wind stand which way he would ; insomuch that when there was any great wind or storm the common people were wont to say the king now had on his conjuring cap.” Once the credulous vanity of man could be persuaded that the elements were agitated at the approach of calamity to himself. On the 19th of May, 1663, Sir Samuel Pepys made the following entry in his immortal diary : “ Waked with a very high wind, and said to my wife, ‘ I pray God I hear not the death of any great person, this wind is so high ! ’ fearing that the queen might be dead. So up and by coach to St. James’s, and hear that Sir W. Compton died yesterday.” It would be edifying to know something more about the wind-gauge used by old Pepys in making his necrological calculations ; for instance, the exact volume of disturbed air corresponding with the demise of a person in any given rank of the nobility. Presumably, an English yeoman might have died, and not so much as a zephyr have troubled the good old chronicler’s slumbers with intelligence of the fact.

The idle wind ? How so sure that it is idle ? Though it pipes in the keyhole and soughs in the boughs of the roof-tree, that is not its main employ. The brown-studying mortal, who hums or whistles a tune while engaged with the solution of some vast mechanical or ideal problem, I should not call idle. Because I am unadvised of its affairs, shall I presume to call the west wind a vagrant ?

Though I lack the conjuring cap, as also knowledge of the whispering terms by means of which I could make the wind stand according to my pleasure, perhaps I can induce it to do me a good turn. Given a small crevice between the two sashes of a window; a couple of wedges (of pine let them be) ; a waxed thread of silk stretched between them in the crevice, through which the stream of the wind glides, as water in a race to serve some skillful enterprise of man : and now I have a musical instrument, Simpler in its construction, and yet not unlike that from which " the God of winds drew sounds of deep delight,” to charm the dwellers of Castle Indolence. It is pleasing to know that the last of the minstrels still lives, and may be won to come and play at your casement, if you will but provide a harp for his use. As soon as the thread is stretched in the crevice, and the wind comes upon it, I seem to listen to the smooth continuation of an old-time or old-eternity music which I have not heard before, only because my ear lacked the true sense of hearing. The wind bloweth where it listeth; and these sounds, breathed through a trivial instrument, are always coming and going between earth and heaven, free, elemental, mysterious, horn of a spirit unsearchable. Yet they seem to admit of human interpretation, and I hear in them both requiem and jubilate, the canticle of comforted sorrow and the voice of hope. Sometimes, with the ebbing of the wind, a cadence just fails of completion, — like a bright gossamer, that, running through the sunshine, presently dips into shade and becomes invisible. But the inner ear keeps a vibration, and imagination fills up the interval until the wind returns. Then I prove that

“ Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter.”

This harp of the wind is also, by turns, flute and shrill fife, silver bells and the “ horns of elfland faintly blowing.” Occasionally it emits a strain of exquisite purity, resembling the highest and clearest of violin tones prolonged under the bow of a master. The minstrel strikes many varying notes of the music of nature, — the faint tinkling of a small brook, the far-away cheer of migrating birds, the summer-afternoon droning of bees in the hive, and even the guttural tremolo of frogs heard in the distance. Under a sudden violent stress of the wind the strings of the harp (for I sometimes add a second string) shriek with dissonant agony. Each discordant sound, I imagine, is but the strayed and mismated fragment of some harmonious whole, of which nothing now remains except this solitary wandering clamor. All these remnants of wrecked musical unities, perhaps forced together by secret compulsion, seem bewailing in unknown tongues their perpetual alienation from harmony. Of such character might all discord be said to be.

Following the slim thread of this Æolian rivulet I find the way to sleep. My dreams are mingled and tempered sweetly by the bland spirit of the harp, that through the dark, oblivious hours plays on, unweaving all evil spells of the night.

“Be not afeard ; the isle is full of noises,
Sound, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again.”

To which may be added the pleasant consideration that I “ have my music for nothing.”

Edith M. Thomas.