Art and Nature

by George Arnold

George Arnold


N the dusk of summer even, when the roses
slowly swayed
To and fro, in gentle breezes that around the
trellis played,
And the rising moon wrought wonders of fantastic light and shade,
I walked up and down with Florence, underneath the linden-trees,
Listening to the ocean murmurs, rising, falling,
with the breeze...
Murmurs faint but fraught with music, hints of
dreams and prophecies.


Far below us, where the beetling cliff its dizzy
depth sheered down,
We could hear the song and laughter of the
merry-making town, -
That the murmurs of the ocean and the wind
were vain to drown;
And above the rocks there flaunted, now and
then, a lurid light,
As the harshly hissing rocket climbed along its
fiery height,
Piercing, with its savage splendor, the soft'
beauty of the night.


Noise of drums and trumpets mingled with the
cadence of the seas;
Bursts of wine-begotten laughter soiled the freshness of the breeze;
And the heavy tramp of soldiers shook the lofty
There, upon a rustic sofa, where the moonlight
whitely slept,
And a rustic roof gave shelter from the dew
that heaven wept,
We sat down to break the silence that till then
we both had kept.


Florence said: "How grates this feasting, this
wild noise of blatant mirth,
On the holy peace that hovers o'er the ocean
and the earth!
Why should man's best sense of pleasure to
such sights and sounds give birth?
Why not seek a calm expression for fulfilment
of desire?
Must our triumphs and successes all be writ in
words of fire, —
Words that leave but bitter ashes when their
fitful sparks expire?


"Thus it is with men... they trample on the
dignity of man...
With our purest joys have mingled, ever since
the world began,
Brazen blasts, and blazing rockets, and the deafening rataplan!
Yet the moon in silent grandeur rises from the
flashing sea,
And the stars burn on forever, and the winds
blow ever free,
Calm, yet joyous, with an inner sense of holy


"Yes," I said, "'t is in our nature we are
somehow coarsely made;
And we think that our emotions, to be real,
must be displayed;
That our feelings must be measured by our
folly and parade.
Yet, perhaps, we err not greatly; man needs
symbols, and we find
In this fire and smoke and clamor that seethe
upward on the wind
Some external type of triumph gained by sword
or gained by mind.


"Thus, the deepest-thinking student, when his
daily task is done
And his cloister is illumined by the last rays
of the sun,
Lays his ponderous ancient volumes in their
alcove, one by one,
And goes forth to seek companions in the cellar
or the hall,
Where the clinking of the goblets, and the dancing-leader's call,
And the hum of pleasant music on his weary
ear may fall."


Florence took the word up quickly: "Ay, your
parallel is true;
And that all you men thus trifle is the greater
shame for you!
Are no deities more worthy than the mad Bacchante crew?
O you men! the wise and simple to the selfsame tenets cling;
To the search for sensuous pleasures you your
highest talents bring,
And your peals of shallow laughter through the
holiest chambers ring!


You.. confess it, now!.. are longing to be
yonder, down below,
Where through thick, black clouds of smoke demoniac bonfires redly glow,
Like the old, fiend-lighted beacons on the Brocken
long ago!
You too love the brazen clamor, rattling drum,
and trumpet's strain,
And the gaudy rocket cutting this fair, moonlit
sky in twain,
More than grand old ocean's music and the
calm of Hesper's reign!"
"No," I said, "you judge us harshly; wine and
laughter are not ends,
They are means to that enjoyment whereto
every spirit tends;
And't is wise that man his labor with his pleasure sometimes blends.
Would you have us all ascetics, scorning what
our natures crave,
Toiling on, and noting nothing of the outer
fabric, save
It might be a gilded sunset, or the moonlight
on the wave?"


As I spoke, a filmy vapor, edged with pearl and
silver gray,
Passed across the moon's broad circle, as it
floated on its way,
And a glittering path of diamonds far athwart
the ocean lay:
All the heavenly vault seemed opened where
the moon in ether rode,
And like Cleopatra's jewels on the dusk the
planets glowed,
While, below, the smoky bonfires made a vulgar


"There!" said Florence, then outstretching her
white hand toward the sea,
"Dian thus asserts her greatness, - her fair right
of royalty;
Keep you all your baleful beacons,- leave the
moon and stars to me!"
Then she drew her robe about her, for the air
was growing chill,
And we homeward strolled together, by the path
around the hill,
Silently, and gazing seaward, where the moonpath glittered still.

Last updated September 17, 2022