Chrysalis Time

I CANNOT suppose that my friends, the biologists, would, in any degree, feel obliged to me, when I say that, as an animal organism merely, I am able to verify several of their learned conclusions in Evolution. For instance, the Doctrine of Natural Selection — the adaptation of one’s habits and one’s self to any change of situation or climate: I, too, am of the order of hymenoptera; and, on being transferred to a Florida of perpetual sunshine and prosperity I would soon discharge all ideas of industry — let who else will, according to the prescription of that delightful bee-poet, Tom Hood, “mingle poetic honey with tradewax! ”

Again, there is the theory advocated by the nature savants, of Protective Coloring, — a theory which, each of the four seasons of the year, I find myself instinctively practicing, or, at least, desiring to practice. Like the blessed wild goldfinch (who sometimes stays with us all winter), I feel a stirring, ere February is out, to shed the gray outward disguise my soul has all along been wearing, and to come forth in bright aureate splendor, of full summer plumage, — I wish to wear a green kirtle, when the grass burns emerald and even the sunset skies assume chrysoprase. In the winter, were it not for startling the good folk, I would go everywhere in the hibernal attire of the wise little ermine. In autumn — no, there the analogy stops — I would not array me in carmine or imperial orange, though nature is thus minded to do. In the autumn, even in the late summer, a psychic revulsion from this rule of sympathetic or protective coloring, is experienced. Am I actuated by some far — some farthest — ancestral preparation for winter sleep ? I only know that, without intent to observe it, I am as a perpetual witness (and a wondering one) on the ceaseless movement of a lowly life, here, there, everywhere, towards a mysterious investiture, — a housing whose dimension does not, as yet, exist, save in the blind projection of that same lowly life! Brown, white, or gold-colored, the furry, despised groundlings hold their way: they travel to their Mecca — or may it be their Medina ? — and my wonder is pained and half-angered when the broom swerves aside the patient pilgrim, whose refuge is, still, within itself, — on the instant a close hairy ball; but soon lengthward, and straight on again, to the House of Sleep, not yet built (yet built long ago, in the instinct of the caterpillar Urältern!). This migration to Nowhere lays hold of my fancy, with curious hypnotic attraction; so I may be pardoned if, dreamwise, I offer a verse, by way of further interpretation.


Now is the Year’s soft afternoon,
And now a dimness veils the world,
Whose light might be of sun, or moon,
So well in misty swathings furled.
And lo! beneath yon slanting ray,
A creeping life its path pursues;
To fold in self-spun shroud away, —
Its form in changeful sleep to lose!
Ev’n so, the Day, — the Year, perchance,
With all its shimmering afterbloom,
Is clothed, amid its growing trance,
With wefts self-drawn from mystic loom.
In chrysalis, or in cocoon —
Such as the Soul herself might spin,
Were it not well a wdiile to swoon,
Some wingèd, waking life to win ?