And yet ... and yet ... Experience is indeed Mephistopheles in this: We must pay him for all this wisdom. Is it the old price? Is it our souls? I wonder.
This at least is true: that, while indeed he has opened our eyes to all this beauty that was hidden to us, shown us beauty, indeed, where we could see but evil before, we miss something from our delight in these faces. We can appreciate more beauty, but do we appreciate any quite as much as in those old days when we were such passionate monotheists of the beautiful? Alas! We are priests no more, are we even lovers? But we are wonderful connoisseurs.
It is our souls.
THE SNOWS OF YESTER-YEAR
Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan? As I transcribe once more that ancient sigh, perhaps the most real sigh in all literature, it is high mid-summer, and the woodland surrounding the little cabin in which I am writing lies in a trance of green and gold, hot and fragrant and dizzy with the whirring of cicadas, under the might of the July sun. Bees buzz in and out through my door, and sometimes a butterfly flits in, flutters a while about my bookshelves, and presently is gone again, in search of sweets more to his taste than those of the muses, though Catullus is there, with
sweeter than wild honey dripping down,
Which once in Rome to Lesbia he sang.
As I am caught by the dream-drowsy spell of the hot murmuring afternoon, and my eyes rest on the thick vines clustering over the rocks, and the lush grasses and innumerable underbrush, so spendthrift in their crowding luxuriance, I try to imagine the ground as it was but four months ago still in the grasp of winter, when the tiniest blade of grass, or smallest speck of creeping green leaf, seemed like a miracle, and it was impossible to realize that under the broad snowdrifts a million seeds, like hidden treasure, were waiting to reveal their painted jewels to the April winds. Snow was plentiful then, to be had by the ton—but now, the thought suddenly strikes me, and brings home with new illuminating force Villon’s old refrain, that though I sought the woodland from end to end, ransacked its most secret places, not one vestige of that snow, so lately here in such plenty, would it be possible to find. Though you were to offer me a million dollars for as much as would fill the cup of a wild rose, say even a hundred million, I should have to see all that money pass me by. I can think of hardly anything that it couldn’t buy—but such a simple thing as last year’s snow!
Could there be a more poignant symbol of irreclaimable vanished things than that so happily hit on by the old ballade-maker:
Nay, never ask this week,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year,
Save with thus much for an overword—
But where are the snows of yester-year?