Part of the pang of recalling such moments is a remorseful sense that perhaps we might have held them fast, after all. If only we might bring them back, surely we would find some way to dwell in them for ever. They came upon us so suddenly out of heaven, like some dazzling bird, and we were so bewildered with the wonder of their coming that we stretched out our hands to seize them, only when they were already spreading their wings for flight. But O if the divine bird would but visit us again! What golden nets we would spread for him! What a golden cage of worship we would make ready! Our eyes would never leave his strange plumage, nor would we miss one note of his strange song. But alas! now that we are grown wise and watchful, that “moment eternal” comes to us no more. Perhaps too that sad wisdom which has come to us with the years would least of all avail us, should such moments by some magic chance suddenly return. For it is one of the dangers of the retrospective habit that it incapacitates us for the realization of the present hour. Much dwelling on last year’s snow will make us forget the summer flowers. Dreaming of fair faces that are gone, we will look with unseeing eyes into the fair faces that companion us still. To the Spring we say: “What of all your blossom, and all your singing! Autumn is already at your heels, like a shadow; and Winter waits for you like a marble tomb.” To the hope that still may beckon we say: “Well, what though you be fulfilled, you will pass, like the rest. I shall see you come. We shall dwell together for a while, and then you will go; and all will be as it was before, all as if you had never come at all.” For the retrospective mood, of necessity, begets the anticipatory; we see everything finished before it is begun, and welcome and valediction blend together on our lips. “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been.”
every kiss sealed fast
To feel the first kiss and forebode the last—
that is the shadow that haunts every joy, and sicklies o’er every action of him whom life has thus taught to look before and after.
Youth is not like that, and therein, for older eyes, lies its tragic pathos. Superficial—or, if you prefer it, more normal—observers are made happy by the spectacle of eager and confident young lives, all abloom and adream, turning towards the future with plumed impatient feet. But for some of us there is nothing quite so sad as young joy. The playing of children is perhaps the most unbearably sad thing in the world. Who can look on young lovers, without tears in their eyes? With what innocent faith they are taking in all the radiant lies of life! But perhaps a young mother with her new-born babe on her breast is the most tragical of all pictures of unsuspecting joy, for none of all the trusting sons and daughters of men is destined in the end to find herself so tragically, one might say cynically, fooled.