Silence, whose drowsy eyelids
are soft leaves,
And whose half-sleeping eyes are the blue flowers,
On whose still breast the water-lily heaves,
And all her speech the whisper of the showers.
Made of all things that in
the water sway,
The quiet reed kissing the arrowhead,
The willows murmuring, all a summer day,
“Silence”—sweet word, and ne’er so softly said
As here along this path of
Where all things dream, and nothing else is done
But all such gentle businesses as these
Of leaves and rippling wind, and setting sun
Turning the stream to a long
lane of gold,
Where the young moon shall walk with feet of pearl,
And, framed in sleeping lilies, fold on fold.
Gaze at herself like any mortal girl.
But, after all, trees are perhaps the best expression of silence, massed as they are with the merest hint of movement, and breathing the merest suggestion of a sigh; and seldom have I seen such abundance and variety of trees as along our old canal—cedars and hemlocks and hickory dominating green slopes of rocky pasture, with here and there a clump of silver birches bent over with the strain of last year’s snow; and all along, near by the water, beech and basswood, blue-gum and pin-oak, ash, and even chestnut flourishing still, in defiance of blight. Nor have I ever seen such sheets of water-lilies as starred the swampy thickets, in which elder and hazels and every conceivable bush and shrub and giant grass and cane make wildernesses pathless indeed save to the mink and the water-snake, and the imagination that would fain explore their glimmering recesses.
No, nothing except birds and trees, water-lilies and such like happenings, ever happens along the old canal; and our nearest to a human event was our meeting with a lonely, melancholy man, sitting near a moss-grown water-wheel, smoking a corn-cob pipe, and gazing wistfully across at the Ramapo Hills, over which great sunlit clouds were billowing and casting slow-moving shadows. Stopping, we passed him the time of day and inquired when the next barge was due. For answer he took a long draw at his corn-cob, and, taking his eyes for a moment from the landscape, said in a far-away manner that it might be due any time now, as the spring had come and gone, and implying, with a sort of sad humour in his eyes, that spring makes all things possible, brings all things back, even an old slow-moving barge along the old canal.
“What do they carry on the canal?” I asked the melancholy man, the romantic green hush and the gleaming water not irrelevantly flashing on my fancy that far-away immortal picture of the lily-maid of Astolat on her strange journey, with a letter in her hand for Lancelot.
“Coal,” was his answer; and, again drawing at his corn-cob, he added, with a sad and understanding smile, “once in a great while.” Like most melancholy men, he seemed to have brains, in his way, and to have no particular work on hand, except, like ourselves, to dream.