Yet to the soul how much more!
And why? Answer me that if you can. There, truly, we set our feet on the vanishing road.
Whatever reality, much or little, the personifications of Greek Nature-worship had for the ancient world, there is no doubt that for a certain modern temperament, more frequently met with every day, those personifications are becoming increasingly significant, and one might almost say veritably alive. Forgotten poets may, in the first instance, have been responsible for the particular forms they took, their names and stories, yet even so they but clothed with legend presences of wood and water, of earth and sea and sky, which man dimly felt to have a real existence; and these presences, forgotten or banished for a while in prosaic periods, or under Puritanic repression, are once more being felt as spiritual realities by a world coming more and more to evoke its divinities by individual meditation on, and responsiveness to, the mysterious so-called natural influences by which it feels itself surrounded. Thus the first religion of the world seems likely to be its last. In other words, the modern tendency, with spiritually sensitive folk, is for us to go direct to the fountain-head of all theologies, Nature herself, and, prostrating ourselves before her mystery, strive to interpret it according to our individual “intimations,” listening, attent, for ourselves to her oracles, and making, to use the phrase of one of the profoundest of modern Nature-seers, our own “reading of earth.” Such was Wordsworth’s initiative, and, as some one has said, “we are all Wordsworthians today.” That pagan creed, in which Wordsworth passionately wished himself suckled, is not “outworn.” He himself, in his own austere way, has, more than any one man, verified it for us, so that indeed we do once more nowadays
sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
Nor have the dryads and the fauns been frighted away for good. All over the world they are trooping back to the woods, and whoso has eyes may catch sight, any summer day, of “the breast of the nymph in the brake.” Imagery, of course; but imagery that is coming to have a profounder meaning, and a still greater expressive value, than it ever had for Greece and Rome. All myths that are something more than fancies gain rather than lose in value with time, by reason of the accretions of human experience. The mysteries of Eleusis would mean more for a modern man than for an ancient Greek, and in our modern groves of Dodona the voice of the god has meanings for us stranger than ever reached his ears. Maybe the meanings have a purport less definite, but they have at least the suggestiveness of a nobler mystery. But surely the Greeks were right, and we do but follow them as we listen to the murmur of the wind in the lofty oaks, convinced as they of the near presence of the divine.