The Device

IF I might take unto myself a device, not for the family silver, but for my own contemplation, it would be this: a tall man in rude attire standing in the midst of a high hill-road, the sun rising out of the sea at one side, the land stretching off and off, with hidden rivers and villages, to the other side. And above him there would be an apple-tree, blowing continually in a west wind; but having more fruit than leaves, for I think the time would be autumn.

The man I see to be journeying always, and smiling as if he had no fear. For he is always young; weary often, but always young.

He is my soul. He is a pilgrim or a vagabond; perchance he is both. The road is the highway made by generations on generations of pilgrims and vagabonds who have gone on quests throughout all time. Yet now he is alone, for the soul must travel far without pleasant company.

It is on a hill that he is, for the conquest of hills is needful in that journey. And since I would have the soul always setting forth at dawn, as it were, the sun comes up mightily out of the sea, which is a deep limitless divine glory. But his golden setting is beyond the lands, the abode of men and women, of love and sorrow and labor.

As for the apple-tree with few leaves and much fruit, I think it is the Tree of Joy. But why the wind is ever from the west, so that the few leaves point like withered yellow tongues to the sea, I do not understand. I see it so, but its meaning is not plain to me.

The time is autumn. That is a time not like spring with its restless languor and tremulous leaping beauty, nor like summer, sated with colored heat. The autumn is a keen time, a superb time; when a man is strong to journey and the wind is bold to blow.

That is my device.

If one asks me what the quest of my soul may be, I cannot tell him duly. Sometimes it is no more than a shadow on the hills, or the wing of a wandering moth; and again, it is a planet, great fires in space, the very sun himself. Then perhaps it is a wind, a song, a delicate curve of sound, or the hoarse thunder of waves. The eager soul desires knowledge, too, of old intricate things, stored in books and minds of wise men; or of new intricate things, hidden since the first light, in the earth and the air and the fleeing elements. And then it desires knowledge of men’s hearts. And then, a thing whereto I dare not give a name. But it is beneath and beyond all the rest.

Now as I meditate upon it, I perceive that this is the most common, most worn device, belonging to all men since the beginning of days.

This being so, I am fain of an answer to two questions. I have no desire for the name of the quest. Perhaps I know that name. But these things I do not understand with clearness.

Wherefore should the apple-tree, the tree of joy, if it be that, blow ever towards the rising sun and the sea ?

And if every traveling soul must pass that tree, why have so many the appearance of hunger and meagreness ? Is the right to eat thereof denied to some ?

Some one in all of the world should know these things, for every one must traverse that road.

I am fain to be told.