“Solitary the Thrush”

    FROM where I happen to be sitting this afternoon there is nothing in the world but trees and birds. One measure of a man is his capacity for enduring solitude. I should be sorry to predict anything of a character from this knowledge alone; though there are familiar quotations on the subject. Certainly a little solitude now and again is good for most of us. It lets our busy, every-day, toiling, anxious self have a respite; and it gives our deeper, more serene self a chance to be heard. In solitary moments the stress of life is lightened or removed altogether, and we possess our souls (after a little practice) in enduring calm. Indeed, I fancy the expert in solitude brings home from his radiant contemplation [Page 185] a fund of joyful patience to serve him in stormy hours. The wildest confusion of circumstance, the direst calamity, are powerless to undo him quite. Even under sorrow and irreparable grief he retains something of the great primal tolerance and unshaken solidity of nature.
    For it is when we are most alone and withdrawn into our profounder selves that we are most completely in accord with the spirit of the universe, by whatever name it may be called. So that he who takes time to be alone occasionally is in reality preparing himself for meeting his fellows with greater sympathy and understanding. When we allow ourselves to be engrossed unceasingly in the smaller, outward, trivial details of existence, and in superficial human intercourse, we lose our power of approaching our friends through the profounder channels of sympathy and appreciation. We become so thoroughly habituated to living on the surface that we seem to have no core of being left in us. This is [Page 186] the real cause of the very vapidity of society. Human intercourse, very likely, is the crowning end and aim of nature. But that implies human nature at its best, and we cannot too constantly be giving ourselves away without replenishing our individuality from that deeper intercourse which solitude affords.
    But the great beautiful wildernesses of the earth are not the only regions where solitude may be sought. The world of art and the world of religion will serve equally well for our retirement.
    For the past hour a brown thrush has been fluting in the thicket here, inducing the most thoughtless to meditation. Why is it that his song seems so entrancing to us? Is it not because on hearing it we are arrested midway in our occupation, and invited to partake of the silence while we expectantly await the next burst of the golden notes? It is the same hypnotic power that charms us in music; it stills our superficial, unnecessary self and allows our wiser, deeper self a moment or an [Page 187] hour of freedom. Music is the most primitive and widely beloved of the arts; and it is one of the most powerful for this reason.
    “I can always leave off talking, when I hear a master play.”
    Again, when a great drama is on the boards, there is all the direct appeal of its beautiful story and setting, the enlisting of our attention, the ennobling and intensifying of our sentiment; but at the same time there is the no less potent, though unnoted, spell of silence it is casting over us. We grow still to listen, and as we are absorbed in the spectacle, spirit finds its opportunity for unstifled growth. This may even be the great function of sleep; we do not know. Certainly we can rest perfectly well without sleep. Perhaps sleep comes from the soul’s imperative demand for solitude, its need for intercourse with some spiritual profundity from which it springs.
    In all our more obvious existence, our physical and mental existence, too much solitude [Page 188] is a dangerous menace. It is only in community of life that sanity and health are maintained. For, superior and noble as the spiritual part of man is, it is too simple, too unworldly, to be entrusted with the control of affairs here and now, perhaps. So that while solitude is supremely important, it is not exclusively so. But that is a caution few of us need. For the most part, we are too absorbed with the loaves and fishes to be at all curious about the miracle.
    Let me, then, to cultivate a taste for solitude. And for this, one need not be morose nor anti-social; for as solitude is not a physical need, so it may be had even in company. But repose of mind, if it is not quite solitary, is at least a tendency toward solitude. It is only in reticence that speech gathers force; it is only from rest that activity can arise. So it is only by being sometimes alone that we can ever be fit for friendship, companionship, or love.
    So the thrush may chant for you from his [Page 189] green sanctuary for half a day and send you back strangely elated and encouraged for new endeavour. These vague suggestions which I have set down as he sang may be quite valueless, and you, when you hear him, may have entirely different thoughts. It does not matter at all. We shall both have profited as we could by the engrossing music of the forest. And these crude ephemeral words will no more be lost than are his liquid notes in the deep ravine. They have served to embody for me my own hour of tranquility. You, when you come to the woods, will find your own suitable words more appropriate and fresh than these. For, though this afternoon and its sylvan melody have perished in the shadows of the mountains, you, when you arrive, shall find others as fair and significant awaiting you [Page 190].