The Colour of Life; and other essays on things seen and heard eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 70 pages of information about The Colour of Life; and other essays on things seen and heard.
a principle.  It controls, but not tyrannously, all the life of human action.  Attitude and motion disturb perpetually, with infinite incidents—­inequalities of work, war, and pastime, inequalities of sleep—­the symmetry of man.  Only in death and “at attention” is that symmetry complete in attitude.  Nevertheless, it rules the dance and the battle, and its rhythm is not to be destroyed.  All the more because this hand holds the goad and that the harrow, this the shield and that the sword, because this hand rocks the cradle and that caresses the unequal heads of children, is this rhythm the law; and grace and strength are inflections thereof.  All human movement is a variation upon symmetry, and without symmetry it would not be variation; it would be lawless, fortuitous, and as dull and broadcast as lawless art.  The order of inflection that is not infraction has been explained in a most authoritative sentence of criticism of literature, a sentence that should save the world the trouble of some of its futile, violent, and weak experiments:  “Law, the rectitude of humanity,” says Mr Coventry Patmore, “should be the poet’s only subject, as, from time immemorial, it has been the subject of true art, though many a true artist has done the Muse’s will and knew it not.  As all the music of verse arises, not from infraction but from inflection of the law of the set metre; so the greatest poets have been those the modulus of whose verse has been most variously and delicately inflected, in correspondence with feelings and passions which are the inflections of moral law in their theme.  Law puts a strain upon feeling, and feeling responds with a strain upon law.  Furthermore, Aristotle says that the quality of poetic language is a continual slight novelty.  In the highest poetry, like that of Milton, these three modes of inflection, metrical, linguistical, and moral, all chime together in praise of the truer order of life.”

And like that order is the order of the figure of man, an order most beautiful and most secure when it is put to the proof.  That perpetual proof by perpetual inflection is the very condition of life.  Symmetry is a profound, if disregarded because perpetually inflected, condition of human life.

The nimble art of Japan is unessential; it may come and go, may settle or be fanned away.  It has life and it is not without law; it has an obvious life, and a less obvious law.  But with Greece abides the obvious law and the less obvious life:  symmetry as apparent as the symmetry of the form of man, and life occult like his unequal heart.  And this seems to be the nobler and the more perdurable relation.

THE ILLUSION OF HISTORIC TIME

He who has survived his childhood intelligently must become conscious of something more than a change in his sense of the present and in his apprehension of the future.  He must be aware of no less a thing than the destruction of the past.  Its events and empires stand where they did, and the mere relation of time is as it was.  But that which has fallen together, has fallen in, has fallen close, and lies in a little heap, is the past itself—­time—­the fact of antiquity.

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The Colour of Life; and other essays on things seen and heard from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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