The Enchanted Dusk

THERE was a bright crescent moon in the west, and the skies were everywhere blue as day. Not a star had as yet pulsed through the sunlight to earth. There was no whisper of air; tall and slender, the young trees were grouped about my cabin, motionless, silent, and the lake lay dead and blue under the blue heavens, with the far half of its surface darkened by the shadows of mountains. A group of late-flying curlews cried to each other, a nighthawk answered; far away the mountain whippoorwill whistled its two final bars over and over again, and in the woods behind my cabin a deep-throated owl hooted once. Then, silence. And after a long-interval, while Venus and great Jupiter stepped out from their cerulean veils, and Arcturus throbbed into view, and the dusk gathered in ravines and forests and on the distant slopes, there came, quaveringly, from immeasurable distance, the long, heart-breaking ululation of a wolf.

Lying at half-length in a rope-hammock before my cabin, with the two pines whence I swung nodding to my slight movement, and the others high and still above me, I yielded to the enchantment of the dusk, and the silence, and the melancholy that forever possesses dark wildernesses and frowning hills and forests and hushed lakes. My pipe fell from my hand, and I too grew still and expectant and dreamy, while I waited with Nature. Waited for some miraculous happening, surely, that yet would not appear.

Through all the ages since its fiery birth out of chaos, the world has been waiting, tip-toe, breathless, for this unknown Something, this miracle, this fruition of universal desire. All Nature feels it, thinks it, dreams it, and the essence of the suspense steals over brooding humanity that watches; and so there creeps into the heart of man, by imperceptible impressions, the vague anticipation, and we feel that we are but tarrying in the world, and waiting, — waiting for the miracle. So our dreamers build dreams of the future, and with Tantalus-longing we hope and expect — what, we know not. When some great thing happens as we would desire, or some great soul visibly flames up before us, or some great crisis impends, then for a moment we think this is the predestined. But it passes, and yet we tarry, and yet we anticipate, and in the fervor of our longing we cry for the miracle. And we die, and others take up the vague vigilance. For the instinct is implanted in us; visibly all Nature waits and wonders, and visibly we, imitative passing thoughts of Nature, wait and wonder with her.

The priests and the seers, the poets and the prophets, have from immemorial times felt this anticipatory vigilance of the hushed dusk, and it has brought strange and exalted thoughts to them, until, rapt out of themselves, thrilling with Nature’s expectancy, they have given religious words to the wordless sensation, and have prophesied of the approaching dooms. The fervor and the faith of the coining miracle! All religions throb with it, all dreamers of dreams have interpreted the dumb rapturous ecstasies into mythologie fables and ideal parables, and many of the most exalted have lived their parables and have taught their interpretation of this expectancy of Nature by their very works and lives. Yet the dreamers fade; and the dreams, the fables, are forgotten; and the parables and the holy actions, the works and the religions, like watch-fires, flare and die; yet Nature waits, hushed and attentive, and new souls thrill and stand agog, wideeyed, for the imminent flash. But there are no new words in the silence, no new marvels in the heavens, no new miracles on the earth. The pebbled globe with its human animalcule falls through the eternities, and nothing happens. Yet we wait, and hope, and anticipate, watching vigilantly through the moments ere we vanish, and hush our breathing lest the coming Something strike us unaware.

The world is indeed enchanted, and we watchers brood on a Circean island of infinity, with strange gods in our hearts. The fables of fairy and gnome and elf, of wood-haunting dryad and satyr, of starstriding Olympic deities, are more real than the actual atomic globe, with its unguessable forces and riddled laws. This is the true land of Faerie, where the miracles are so many, and so often encountered in our own persons, that long ago we ceased either to marvel or to wonder; and not the pulsing of the sun, nor the growth of a tree, nor the changeful seasons, nor the birth of a child, fills our souls with the least amazement. If, from one of my dusk-pillaring trees, there should step out before me a graceful sylvan deity, I should not start from my hammock. Already I am satiated with miracles. Looking at my feet in the grasses, if I should see a ring of crystal elves dancing about some pygmy Titania, my delight would contain no poison of doubt or wonder. I have gathered flowers ere now, nor been startled by their beauties. I exist, and that is the utmost miracle; gnome or hamadryad are not above Nature’s creative power if she can produce man. Anything is possible; the heavens and the earth are enchanted, and dusk is peopled by mysteries, and I only know that I, with all of Nature, am waiting and anticipating, and that ere long something should satisfy this universal longing, — some flashing stroke of supreme felicity or agony or atomic dissolution.

We have but to watch through one twilight to have its essence permeate our souls. Ever after, we are enchanted and see the broad day vaguely mysterious and tinged by the recollected dusk. Passing dreams are our portion until we, too, pass. There are shadows that go before us and that cast over everything we encounter and over every one we meet dim adumbrations of our inward essences, so that we see as through the glass, darkly. It would spell madness if we looked and saw the world as it is, wholly external, surrounding us, pressing close in upon us, but in no way a portion of ourselves; if we clasped hands with our fellows and our families, yet saw them as they truly are, no nearer our own souls than the beings who possibly may inhabit some planet of Arcturus; if we saw ourselves wholly alone, cut off by impassable barriers from all other life, quite as segregated as if we dwelt each on his own asteroid. And so our shadows go before and tinge the world with our own personalities, until we see through charmed dusk our environment. Thus our world is Faerie, and we live with dreams, while we wait and keep vigilant watches for the coming destiny that will flash down the heavens.

Though, to us, in everything else the swirling universe changes momently, in that one thing we find no change. At twilight life and Nature stop, breathlessly, and look upward to the skies for a moment, and all of creation is struck by a Niobean fear. And then, with the falling of night, there seems to be one long breath drawn, whether of regret or relief, and the winds move again, and thought reënters man’s mind, and the essential Pan resumes his wonted motionless content. The agony has not fallen, nor the ecstasy been consummated, nor the dissolution darted through infinitude. And again we prophesy and our dust is blown away. It is all Faerie, and unreality; and the dreams possess us until the twilight falls into darkness, and we with it.