Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets
1900-1930


 

 

Selected Essays and Reviews

by Bliss Carman

Edited by Terry Whalen


 

Easter Eve*


 

Perhaps one must say that Christmas Day is the happiest festival of the Christian year, but certainly none has more fine subtle gladness than Easter. On Christmas morning we celebrate the great fact of being human; we commemorate the coming of one who was intensely a man, known, seen, touched, and beloved of our own very kind, a perfect comrade and son, the embodiment of all we know to be best in mortal beings. At Easter we celebrate the immortal fancy of an imperishable life. It is the season of rapture, of lyric belief in more than human possibility, the day on which the timorous soul is summoned to put trust in the very frailest probability, yet with the stoutest, most stubborn faith. Laying aside doubt and the prosy mind; the soul now and again asserts her right to an hour of pure idealism where the solid and safe of actuality can have no part. She insists that conviction is enough, that proof is not necessary, that her beloved dream must come true because she has dreamed it so often and so hard. She will hear no cold discouragement from her scientific sister mind; she persists in being fondly wilful in her own sweet way. What do the plain deductions of all the doctors of all the schools count with her? Is not her own intuition more reliable? Shall she forsake the warm, comfortable doctrine of beautiful immortality for the barren desolation of the fleeting fact? It is moods of the spirit such as this that one commemorates in the Easter celebrations.

Apart from the accepted religious significance of the day, there is still a whole cult of lovely and encouraging natural religion clinging about the Easter holiday which we ought to be very loath to discard. Rather, indeed, let us foster all the gentle associations and customs of the day. For if we are compelled to change our way of thinking on religious themes, we are not compelled to change our way of feeling about them. And the essence of religion is the emotion, not the thought-the sure and certain conviction, not the logical conclusion. The foundations of life are still far beyond the reach of investigation; but among the realities of life as we perceive it is the sense of loving trust in continual goodness and abiding love. Why should you and I vex ourselves about the problem of immortality for the soul? You, with all your old-time religious certainties, are not more joyously convinced of it than I, though I can offer you not a single proof.

On the eve of such a festival in the midst of spring, what memories return with the April winds! The breath of approaching life sifts through the trees and grasses, the sound of running water stirs in the wild places, the birds make songs as they fly, there is everywhere the renewal of the ancient rapture of earth, yet in the twilight one remembers all those glad experiences which are to be repeated no more, and the faces of unreturning friends. So that if Easter is the gladdest of days the eve of Easter is the saddest. It is now that I remember my vanished friend. In vain you speak to me of comfort or solace; in vain you offer me the consolations of some supreme faith. It is not lofty nobility of resignation that will aid me; I care not for all the sacraments and sanctions of your oldest religion; neither dogma nor theory can avail to help me here; for after all I ask so little. I only want to see my friend again, to run my arm about his shoulder, to see his slow, comfortable smile, to hear that gracious, melodious voice. It is just these common, human, earthly, unecstatic things I crave. And yet they are denied. Is it not hard? Time, you say, will assuage this desolation? No, for as time goes on I shall only need him the more. I shall be more and more impoverished by his absence, for hardly a day goes by that I would not have profited by his friendship. In this crisis, in that dilemma, I should be so enriched by his encouragement, his fortitude, his calm, his sympathy, his insight. And wanting all this, I am poorer every minute that he is away.

Yet you tell me that it is the fairest of April days, in the best of worlds. Yes, I know; I know all that; and I yield to no one in this foolish modern devotion to nature; but I tell you the universal human experience is right, 'tis friends and not places that make the world. And you cannot fool my heavy heart with the windy consolations of the pines, nor the solemn anthem of the sea. I want something more common, less stupendous, more human. Ah, but give me one more day with the man who was my friend!

No, it is not the law. The gods themselves cannot control the Fates. I shall not find his like again. But every April as the earth revives, and the returning forces of the grain and the sun and the vital air being renewal of joys to the creatures of this globe, I shall feel the renewed want of him, and I shall listen for him in vain in our accustomed haunts. There is no mitigation to that sorrow. But in the memory of this great human, loving kindness there is the seed of an imperishable joy, the sufficient foundation for at least one man's faith. His influence remains; indeed, it grows and ripens about me; and as it has become invisible, it has also become more strong. Through the subtle avenues of affection I partake somewhat of his generous endowments. You shall find that I and all of his friends are tempered by the quality of his personality. If he is no longer here as an apparent force in the world of affairs, those whom he loved are made the unconscious vessels of his imperishable power, the instruments of that potent spirit. Even when we grieve for him, his influence is transforming us to the likeness of something better than our former daily selves; as we begin to share in the impersonal greatness (however imperfectly) with which he is invested.

Is it not true for you as well as for me? Have you not some friend to recall at the great spring festival? And glad as you have been for the actual fact of sober existence, are you not equally glad for the unsubstantial fancy of immortality? Do you not assent to the fine and ancient faith which is embodied in the celebration of Easter?


"Easter Eve," Commercial Advertiser, Apr. 14, 1900 [back]