The Friendship of Art

by Bliss Carman

The Migratory Mood


    PERHAPS our keenest impulses, our joys and hopes and depressions, spring from tides of influence beyond our control. And we are not altogether to be held responsible for moods. More impalpable than the shadows of flying clouds, our moods sweep over us, changing the complexion of day, moving us to elation or sadness. The folly and utter inconsequence of moods would seem to prove this.

    Whatever the origin of our moods, certainly some of them may clearly be thought to spring from primitive ancestral, almost cosmic, trends of inheritance, and the habits of old generations on the earth. So that many [Page 169] causes we do not take note of are concerned in making our happiness.

    With the vernal change of the year comes our immemorial migratory mood, noted long ago so beautifully by Chaucer in the opening of the Tales, with its description of April, when the pilgrim spirit is abroad. Long before that delightful cavalcade set out for Canterbury, folk had become wanderers and incipient vagabonds in spring; and the old poet’s picture is as fresh and true for this day as it was half a thousand years ago. And perhaps we know the zest of spring even more keenly than our fathers, as we need its refreshment the more. To really know the rapture of April, however, one must have lived a winter in the frozen north, where cold shuts down like an iron lid in November and is never once unlocked until mid-April. Then, indeed, the warm spring days return to these austere hyperborean regions with a radiance unknown to other zones, and their May-time is like relief to a beleaguered city. Fancy for [Page 170] yourself the joy of feeling firm brown earth underfoot after treading the yielding snow for six months together! If you have ever walked half a block through a sandy blizzard and then come suddenly upon the good pavement, you will have some notion of the mere bodily relief.

    But if there is so much pleasurable relief in the mere passing of cold, what pure pleasure of spirit do we not share in the migratory season. Every unfolding leaf is an infection of joy; every wild bird-note has its answering reverberation in ourselves. Perhaps from our small brothers of the air we have inherited a touch of their genius for wandering, and from our dumb kindred of the forest, something of the power of perceptible growth. We, too, unfold in spring, put forth new capacities, and have stirrings for change of scene, for adventures. We feel dimly that we are truly inheritors of the kingdom of freedom, not mere serfs of convention and town.

    This vague, subhuman, primitive longing [Page 171] has its effect, no doubt, in our social customs, our homes and holiday resorts. And if we are growing more strenuous, we are growing more simple and natural as well. “The season” in town grows shorter and shorter, the habit of a country holiday more universal. It is no longer considered smart to flock in huge, hideous hotels; the seclusion of some sleepy farmhouse in a nest of hills is the approved thing, as it is really the better.

    The need we all have of just this migratory movement every year! If you note it, you will perceive the uncomfortable irritability of your friends in spring. They say they are all out of sorts. But all they need is a little natural existence, a cessation from artificial conditions. I read the other day what seemed to me a very clever bit of realism, a story called “Kate Wetherell.” She was one of those slaves of the kitchen said to be common in New England; she became so discouraged that one night she attempted suicide by drowning. But a providential rope saved her [Page 172] life, and the daring midnight venture resulted only in a thorough wetting. Kate went home walking on air, to her tiresome, dull husband and her round of pots. From that day she was a changed woman, with an unquenchable seed of elation within her.

    Poor, driven human soul, how often you fancy that you want to pass from this bitter round of trial and toil, when in reality all you need is a bath and a sleep! Take off those silly, cramping garments, that idiotic silk stock that deforms your neck, those Chinese shoes that deform your feet; get into some sensible flannels, and be away to the hills or the sea! If you would only follow your instinct occasionally, instead of making yourself the uncomfortable cipher of fashion and custom! There is only one way in the world to be distinguished: Follow your instinct! Be yourself, and you’ll be somebody. Be one more blind follower of the blind, and you will have the oblivion you deserve. Instincts were made to be heeded, not to be thwarted. Personality [Page 173] was made to be cherished, not to be annihilated. And it is right to want to move from the narrow and constricting to the broad and ennobling. You cannot go to the country too soon this summer, nor stay too long.

    Let us give ample play to the migratory mood, believing it an inheritance from vaster times and a hint of unmeasured journeys yet to come. Let us become well accustomed to it, attaching ourselves not too firmly to one place, nor to one tenet, nor to one custom, however good. [Page 174]