Rhythm



    NOW that spring is returning, there comes again the old wonder at its loveliness, the old radiant sense of joy, the old touch of sadness, — the sorrow of the world. If we awake in the serene sunlight of some still April dawn, and find our life on the flowery earth very good, we also feel the question which underlies the murmurous twilight, — the disturbing question of the universe to which there is no reply.
    In the morning, as you stroll from the house, the buds are breaking, the grass is springing green and new; there is no need for introspection; it is enough to be alive; self-consciousness is folly. Only the sick are self-conscious; and the first step on the road to [Page 111] health is forgetfulness of self. You realize this as the beauty of April comes over you once more, and all your senses become absorbed in nature and forget to brood idly on themselves.
    But in April there is more than the mere robust delight of the morning; there is the profound sorrow of the spring, the ancient and unutterable loneliness and sadness of human life, which has been going on for so many untold ages, renewing itself in confidence each spring and yet always doomed to impermanence and transiency. Even before we can have our heart’s fill of the dandelions, they are gone; even before we are accustomed to the vanishing music of the birds, it has ceased for another year; and before we are attuned to beauty, that beauty is a thing of remembrance. Then, in the spring, who does not think of things that are never to return, – the handclasps of lovers, the conversations of friends? Where is the princely comrade with whom we lunched at the country club last [Page 112] April? Where is the loyal little companion who went Mayflowering with us last year? Last year? It is twenty years ago. It matters not, one year or twenty; the oblivion of the April rain has borne them all away, with their griefs and delirious joys, to the country over the hill where all the dead centuries have gone before them.
    When the hosts of the rain come back they do not bring the friends they led captive in former years. They come for some of us, and we, like the others, shall not return. Children of the dust, travelling with the wind, “Ah,” we say, “if only the April days would tarry always!” or “If only June would stay!” It seems such a mal-adjustment of time, when there are twelve long months in the year, only to have one June! All the gray winter through, and even all through the spring, we are waiting for the June days, the perfection of the year, and when they come there is not enough to apprehend them. June goes by every year like an express train, while we [Page 113] stand dazed at some little siding. In splendour and power it sweeps by; a gasp of the breath as we attempt to realize its flight, and then June is gone, and there is only another dreary year ahead. It is only in June that life reaches its best, and yet he is a very fortunate man who gets four or five years of June in his lifetime. There are not six years of June in the apportioned three score and ten. And that seems a very modest amount of the perfection of summer for any mortal to possess, does it not? I know I shall never be reconciled to this; but in the Elysian fields I am sure it is arranged differently.
    Well, the meaning of it all? What excuse can Providence have to offer for so niggardly a distribution of happiness through the year? Why so much ice of winter and so little wine of spring? Why not all June and roses? That is a babbler’s question, and the babbler’s answer is “We do not know.”
    As the earth vibrates in her course from autumnal to vernal equinox our heart vibrates [Page 114] between misgiving and elation. The long swing of the planets through their orbits is no more than a single beat of their endless vibration. The pendulum of the sun has a longer arm than the pendulum of the kitchen clock, yet the law of rhythm holds them both. The moon glowing and darkening in the purple night and the firefly gleaming and then extinguished in the meadow have different periods of rhythm, that is all. Not only music is rhythm, but all sound is rhythm. Colour, too, is rhythm, – the light rays of varying length in their vibrations. We are only made up of a mass of vibrations, all our senses being but so many variations of power of perceiving and measuring rhythm.
    Rhythm is primarily motion from one point to another. This is the beginning of life, the first evidence of anything more potent than inert matter. You see how faithfully the rudimentary idea of rhythm is maintained in nature. In her most subtle and complex performances she never resigns that first mode of [Page 115] essential life, but does all things according to ordered rhythm and harmony. So that there could not be any June at one side of the Zodiac without December at the other. The year in its ebb and flow is the pulse-beat of the universe. If I am depressed to-day I know I shall be elated to-morrow. And, as I understand nature, it is wisdom to use her kindly forces for our own good. In unhappiness, therefore, or distress, or misfortune, it is idle to curse or repine; it is more sensible to abide, to wait until the earth has got round to the other side of her annual course and see how the event will appear from over there.
    If to-day we are having an era of war and greed and barbarism, by and by we shall have an era of art and civilization again. Our Mother Nature does not glide ahead like an empty apparition, but walks step by step, like any lovely human, constantly moving in rhythmic progress.
    We must not interfere with nature, to do [Page 116] violence to her rhythm. We must not hold the pendulum back. But we shall best serve ourselves by serving the rhythmic tide of natural force, taking the current as it turns, and enduring in patient faith when it is adverse. And we must notice how all our own small lives imitate the great pattern of Nature, going rhythmically forward and not steadily, from gloom to gladness, despair to elation, success to failure, and back to success again. This knowledge should make us more ready and willing to profit by the favouring periods, to throw ourselves into the opportunity with unreluctant zest, and also to endure with fortitude the backward play of the rhythm of power within us. It should save us from ultimate hopelessness and the profoundness of despair.
    Since it is April, then, let me think most of the gladness and surging life of April, and let me not think sad thoughts on Easter eve. Let me have the confidence of all the spring [Page 117] things, and abandon my spirit without a single fear or a moment’s misgiving to the great, sure, benign power which walks the world this April day [Page 118].