The dreamer's season par excellence is the spring. It is then that his dreams arise as irresistibly as the flowers - and, in large measure, because of the flowers. From time immemorial spring, and the flowers of spring, have given the poet more occasion to sing than perhaps has any other time or event of the year. Nor do his dreamy songs seem out of placed Quite the contrary: one accepts them as of the very essentials of the season. And this is the more remarkable when one thinks of what spring really means: the breaking into energy of business, stern and uncompromising, of every living thing. It is the season whose rousing call is to the strenuous worker, and amongst these, obviously, to the dreamy poet. He hears the call, understands it, and, after his own fashion, answers it. He, then, is one of the necessary workers summoned - proof that what is called dreaming, however low it may rank in the estimation of many, has often a place of high and useful purpose in the economy of the world's progress - a place often higher than that of potato-planting (never forgetting, however, that all usefulness is relative, and therefore incomparable).
Now, among all the dreamer's happy hunting-grounds, none can rank higher than the Alps - and, too, the Alps in spring. There is an appeal in this direction as irresistible as it is wide. Upon all hands, and in all things, is striking food for 'Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears, too deep for laughter, too deep for anything more demonstrative than dreaming. Wander forth in the latter days of March or the early days of April up the mountain-side. The sun is brilliant in a cloudless sky, and the Alps, decked in the snows of December, stand superbly mysterious, bathed in a blue fine-weather haze. Spring is afoot, and standing upon the threshold of the Future. Winter's strictest rigours are relaxing. The southward-facing rocks are baring themselves under the sun's increasing and inspiring presence. Numberless patches of yellow-brown turf dapple the lower slopes and pastures, giving the foreground of the landscape a piebald aspect. It is Winter's mantle fast becoming threadbare; and there, through the worn-out parts, hundreds upon hundreds of frail crocuses are peeping, dainty in their new-born white and purple.
'Though not a whisper of her voice he hear, The buried bulb does know The signals of the year, And hails far Summer with his lifted spear.'
It is a moving sight, these frail and lonely legions standing amid such threatening wastes of snow. How radiant and gleaming they are under the sun's encouragement! How brave of them to venture thus early from their hiding! And yet do they carry themselves with no air of bravado. Their dainty bearing is the personification of sweet humility. Their meekness, however, has no taint of trembling. Confidence, begot of duty faithfully performed, lends them a calm and serenity which is positively infectious. Unconscious of all worth, they are a thousand times the worthier and fairer. Indifference, though, is foreign to their nature; and Self has so nice a place as to give full aid to the best of purpose. Meekly dauntless, unselfishly self-assertive, truly do they come to quicken the hopes and gladden the hearts of winter - logged mortals, setting these latter a lesson well worth bearing in mind.
The impulse is to revisit again and again this scene of promise, and watch with intent its gradual realization. But here, in these regions at this season, few things are so certain as the uncertain. Winter has still a living voice in these affairs. Smarting under a sense of its waning rule, vindictively it summons up the remnants of its breath, and hurls a blighting blizzard athwart the scene of promise, nipping the vernal Crocus with its icy blast, and crushing it beneath a foot of snow.
Intrepid flower! You recked naught of 'The Shepheard's Calendar,' and thus 'When the shining sunne laugheth once, You deemen the spring is come attonce.'
But the sun is not yet master of the situation; again 'Comes the breme winter with chamfred browes, Full of wrinckles and frostic furrowes, Drerily shooting his stormy-darte, Which cruddles the blood and pricks the harte.'
Unhappy flower! So much for your pains; so much for duty done! Coming thus intrepidly to brighten a drear world, you have been rudely and contemptuously treated as a thing of inept conceit, of inflated importance, fit only to be disfigured and crushed for your presumption. Herald of prospective floral wonders and rich harvests for Man and his flocks, intent upon an errand of good cheer, you emerged meekly fearless from a safe and snug seclusion, only to be met by Winter in its 'crabbed old age.' in its unseemly death-throes.
Gentian A Verna And The Glacier De Plan-Neve, Les Plans. April.
Ah well! that is the poetry and the pathos of the matter; what is the bald, important truth ? Just this - as the Crocus itself would tell us: our pathos is in large part bathos; and the fate so often overtaking this charming denizen of the Alps is typical of the universal order of things, so severe, so maligned, and yet so inevitably right - an order of seeming injustice which is all the time making for justice. Creation is the child of severity and strictness, not of sentiment. And the child is as capable as it is by reason of this stern upbringing. Nature's injustice is sentiment, and does not exist. But because there is no sentiment, this is not proof of Nature's unkindness. Nature is kind because she is stern. Happiness lies in efficiency. In creating efficient capacity in things Nature shows her kindness: for she creates happiness.
Contemplating this demure and dainty little flower, and meditating upon its condition, one can scarcely escape assimilating something of the happiness and serenity of purpose which pervades it and so much helps it to thrive in the face of such difficulties. Apparently overwhelmed, and its very-existence blighted and crippled, this is not really the case. Patient perseverance has made it a match for the weather; adversity has given it amazing power. Winter may do its worst, and yet this apparently frail little plant not only survives all attacks, but prospers.
'When lowly, with a broken neck, The Crocus lays her cheek to mire,' she does so with easy resignation and content. It is possible there is even a smile - a smile with a world of deep meaning in it - playing about her little face: for she knows that she has conquered; she knows that she has overcome Winter, though this latter may think otherwise, and exult accordingly.
No sooner does the snow retire again than the Crocus, although hampered with the rotting wreckage of its despised blossom, at once throws up its grass-like leaves and commences assiduously to draw in stores to replenish its depleted strength, and to lay up in its earth-protected body provision of energy for future contests with assaulting circumstance. Prematurely cut down in the midst of its loveliest effort, it perseveringly bides its time, gathering in those forces, meanwhile, which shall enable it to make a further brave attempt the next year.
But this is not all: its contented smile means more than this. Through ages of ceaseless striving with circumstance, it has evolved so nice a capacity in itself as to be able to successfully defy circumstance in very large and important measure. For, by infinite patience and dogged tenacity of purpose, it has arrived at keeping its seed-producing chamber beneath the soil at this inclement season. It has caused the stem of its flower to be a connecting-duct between its seed-vessels and its pollen-bearing stamen, so that, brief as may be its bloom's perfection, the early, eager bee, fly, or beetle may successfully achieve the beneficent work of inoculation; or, even should no insects be about, the stigmas, of their own contriving, dust themselves with pollen from the anthers. Should, then, its flower and stem be soon after beaten to the ground, the process of seed - development goes forward below, and will be brought to fruition above the ground under later and more favourable auspices. Thus, through faithful and consistent endeavour to conquer its disabilities, it has evolved, and maintains, an astonishing power for the due expression of its necessity in the face of heavy odds. Surely its smile of equanimity at Winter's threats of extermination is amply justified!
What more inspiring than this cheerful optimism - optimism begot of a sure capacity? Small need, here, for pity and pathos! Better engaged are we in following this little flower's lead by looking facts in the face with that true pessimism, three parts optimism, which nourishes a due and proper energy. For thus may we acquire, as has acquired the Crocus, such efficiency as alone means soundest happiness.
Noting the unconcerned and enviable content of this efficient plant under conditions which, with all our boasted intelligence and resource, would appal us, must we not, in all conscience, exclaim, as Wordsworth exclaimed:
'And I must think, do all I can, That there was pleasure there.'
' If this belief from heaven be sent, If such be Nature's holy plan, Have I not reason to lament What man has made of man?'