But while his heart went out towards his native town he felt a sharp pang as he remembered that the flower of flowers, the queen of the lilies, had been mowed down by the scythe, and the city which to him had heretofore been an altar was now a tomb. The lovely Virgilian dirge,
Manibus date lilia plenis . . .
rang in his ears, and he thought that he too must bring a gift and scatter lilies on her grave; handfuls of lilies; but they must be unfading flowers, wet with immortal tears. He pondered on this gift. It must be a gift of song, a temple built in verse. But he was still unsatisfied. No dirge, however tender and solemn; no elegy, however soft and majestic; no song, however piteous, could be a sufficient offering for the glorious being who had died in her youth and beauty. But what could he fashion or build? He thought with envy of Arnolfo and of Giotto: the one with his bricks could have built a tomb which would prove to be one of the wonders of the world, and the other with his brush could have fixed her features for ever, for the wonder of future generations. And yet was not his instrument the most potent of all, his vehicle the most enduring? Stones decayed, and colours faded, but verse remained, outliving bronze and marble. Yes, his monument should be more lasting than all the masterpieces of Giotto, than all the proud designs of Arnolfo; but how should it be?
He had reached a narrow lane at the foot of a steep hill covered with corn and dotted with olives. He lay down under a hedge in the shade. The sun was shining on two large bramble bushes which grew on the hedge opposite him. Above him, on his right, was a tall cypress tree standing by itself, and the corn plots stretched up behind him till they reached the rocky summits tufted with firs. Between the two bramble bushes a spider had spun a large web, and he was sitting in the midst of it awaiting his prey. But the bramble and the web were still wet with the morning dew, whose little drops glistened in the sunshine like diamonds. Every tiny thread and filament of the web was dewy and lit by the newly-awakened sun. He lay on his back in the shade and pondered on the shape and nature of his gift of song, and on the deathless flowers that he must grow and gather and lay upon her tomb.
The spider's web caught his eye, and from where he lay the sight was marvellous. The spider seemed like a small globe of fire in the midst of a number of concentric silvery lines studded with dewy gems; it was like a miniature sun in the midst of a system of gleaming stars. The delicate web with its shining films and dewdrops seemed to him as he lay there to be a vision of the whole universe, with all its worlds and stars revolving around the central orb of light. It was as though a veil had been torn away and he were looking on the naked glory of the spheres, the heart of Heaven, the very home of God.
He looked and looked, his whole spirit filled with ineffable awe and breathless humility. He lay gazing on the chance miracle of nature till a passing cloud obscured the sun, and the spider's web wore once more its ordinary appearance. Then he arose with tears in his eyes and gave a great sigh of thankfulness.
"I have found it," he thought, "I will say of her what has never yet been said of any woman. I will paint all Hell, all Purgatory, and all that is in them, to make more glorious the glory of her abode, and I will reveal to man that glory. I will show her in the circle of spotless flame, among the rivers and rings of eternal light, which revolve around the inmost heart, the fiery rose, and move obedient to the Love which moves the sun." And his thought shaped itself into verse and he murmured to himself:
L'amor che muove il sole e l'altre stelle.
Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Stories -by- Maurice Baring