Without hint or warning, Beauty swept me with a pain and happiness well nigh intolerable. It drenched me and was gone. No lightning flash could have equalled the swiftness of its amazing passage; something tore in me; the emotion was enveloping but very tender; it was both terrible yet dear. Would to God I might crystallize it for you in those few mighty words which should waken in yourself--in every one!--the wonder and the joy. It contained, I felt, both the worship that belongs to awe and the tenderness of infinite love which welcomes tears. Some power that was not of this world, yet that used the details of this world to manifest, had visited me.
No element of surprise lay in it even. It was too swift for anything but joy, which of all emotions is the most instantaneous: I had been empty, I was filled. Beauty that bathes the stars and drowns the very universe had stolen out of this wild morsel of wasted and uncared-for English garden, and dropped its transforming magic into--me. At the very moment, moreover, when I had been ready to deny it altogether. I saw my insignificance, yet, such was the splendour it had wakened in me, knew my right as well. It could be ever thus; some attitude in myself alone prevented. . . .
And--somebody was pleased.
This personal ingredient lay secure in the joy that assuredly remained when the first brief intolerable ecstasy had passed. The link I desired to recognize was proved, not merely strengthened. Beauty had cleft me open, and a message, if you will, had been delivered. This personal hint persisted; I was almost aware of conscious and intelligent direction. For to you I will make the incredible confession, that I dare phrase the experience in another fashion, equally true: In that flashing instant I stood naked and shelterless to the gaze of some one who had looked upon me. I was aware of sight; of eyes in which "burning memory lights love home." These eyes, this sight had gazed at me, then turned away. For in that blinding sweetness there was light, as with the immediate withdrawal again there was instant darkness. I was first visible, then concealed. I was clothed again and covered.
And the thick darkness that followed made it appear as though night, in one brief second, had taken the place of dusk.
Trembling, I leaned across the wooden gate and waited while the darkness settled closer. I can swear, moreover, that it was neither dream, nor hope, nor any hungry fantasy in me that then recognized a further marvel--I was no longer now alone.
A presence faced me, standing breast-high in the bracken. The garden had been empty; somebody now walked there with me.
It was, as I mentioned, the still hour between the twilight and the long, cool dark of early summer. The little breeze passed whispering through the pines. I smelt the pungent perfume of dry heather, sand, and bracken. The horizon, low down between the trunks, shone gold and crimson still, but fading rapidly. I stood there for a long time trembling; I was a part of it; I felt that I was shining, as though my inner joy irradiated the world about me. Nothing in all my life has been so real, so positive. I was assuredly not alone. . . .
The first sharp magic, the flash that pierced and burned, had gone its way, but Beauty still stood so perilously near, so personal, that any moment, I felt, it must take tangible form, betray itself in visible movement of some sort, break possibly into audible sound of actual speech. It would not have surprised me--more, it would have been natural almost--had I felt a touch upon my hands and lips, or caught the murmur of spoken words against my ear.
Yet from such direct revelation I shrank involuntarily and by instinct. I could not have borne it then. I had the feeling that it must mar and defile a wonder already great enough; there would have lain in it, too, a betrayal of the commonplace, as of something which I could not possibly hold for true. I must have distrusted my own senses even, for the beauty that cleft me open dealt directly with the soul alone, leaving the senses wholly disengaged. The Presence was not answerable to any lesser recognition.
Thus I shrank and turned away, facing the familiar garden and the "wet bird-haunted English lawn," a spiritual tenderness in me still dreading that I might see or hear or feel, destroying thus the reality of my experience. Yet there was, thank God, no speech, no touch, no movement, other than the shiver of the birches, the breath of air against my cheek, the droop and bending of the nearer pine boughs. There was no audible or visible expression; I saw no figure breast-high in the bracken. Yet sound there was, a moment later. For, as I turned away, a bird upon a larch twig overhead burst into sudden and exultant song.
The Garden of Survival -by- Algernon Blackwood