Path of Vision; pocket essays of East and West/Part Second, 1

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Path of Vision; pocket essays of East and West by Ameen Rihani
Part Second
I. From Concord to Syria


THE PATH OF VISION

Part Second

I


FROM CONCORD TO SYRIA


WHAT have I brought with me from the Paradise of the New World, you ask. What have I gained in the country of gold and iron, of freedom and trusts? How much have I accumulated in the land of plenty and profusion—how big a draft do I present at the Imperial Ottoman Bank? Ah, yes. These are pertinent questions, my neighbor. I went to America with a lean purse; I came back, alas, not purseful but purseless. Do not conclude from this, however, that I am poor. On the contrary. I deposit in many banks, including the Bank of Wisdom; and my credit is good in many kingdoms, including the Kingdom of the Soul. And of a truth, the more I draw on my accounts, no matter how big the sum, the bigger my balance becomes. This is, indeed, a miracle of the Soul—a paradox not defined or described in the illustrated catalogues of market-men.

"His best companions, innocense and health; And his best riches, ignorance of wealth."

I come back to my native country with no ulterior political or maleficent purpose. I am not here to undermine the tottering throne of his Eminence the Patriarch; nor to rival his Excellency the Pasha in his political jobbery and his éclat; nor to supersede any decorated chic Bey in office; nor to erect a filature near that of my rich neighbor; nor to apply for a franchise to establish a trolley-car system in the Lebanons. "Blameless and harmless the sons of God." And I share with them at least the last attribute, Excellencies and worthy Signiors.

I return to my native country on a little—er—private business,—only, perhaps, to see again the cyclamens of the season. And I have brought with me from the Eldorado across the Atlantic a pair of walking shoes and three books published respectively in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. The good Grey Poet, the Sage of Concord, and the Recluse of Walden are my only companions in this grand congé. Whitman and Emerson and Thoreau are come to pay you a visit, my beloved Syria.

But who are these strangers? I am asked. Why do they come so late? What is their mission to Syria, that is to say, their design upon her? Ah, dear Mother, my companions are neither missionaries, nor tourists, nor philanthropists. They come not to shed tears with you—like the paid mourners of antiquity; they come not to gaze at your ruins and rob you of the remnants of your temples and your gods; they come not to pity your poverty and trim the sacred ragged edges of the garment of your glory. My companions knew and loved you before you became the helpless victim of cormorant hierarchs and decorated obscurants and rogues. Not that they ever visited you in the flesh; but clothed in the supernal and eternal mystery of genius, they continue to live and journey in the world of the human spirit, even like your ancient cedars, even like your sacred legends.

With a little digression I shall endeavor to make my companions better known to you. The elecampane, that most peculiar of perennial herbs, is not a stranger to your roads and fields. Its odor is strong, acrid, penetrating; the slightest touch of it has an immediate and enduring effect. When you approach it, you must, willy-nilly, carry away with you some token of its love. And one of its idiosyncracies is that it only blossoms when the hills and fields are shorn of every other variety of flower. It is the message of Spring to Autumn—the billet doux, as it were, of May to September. It bursts with beautiful yellow flowers, to console the almost flowerless season. And when all the bushes and herbs of the Lebanon coppices and fields are glorying in their fragrance and beauty, the elecampane waves its mucilaginous and wilted branches in perfect self-satisfaction. But when Nature withholds her favors from the wild daughters of Spring, the flowering of the elecampane begins in good earnest. Ay, the life beautiful is not denied even this bold and ungainly plant, which is ubiquitous in these hills. On the waysides, in the fields, on the high ridges, in the pine forests, over terraces and under grapevines, it grows and glories in its abundance—and its pungent generosity. Ah, how it fans and flatters the thistle; how it nestles round the lilies of the valley; how it sprawls beneath the grapevines; how it waves its pennant of self-satisfaction on yonder height! Here, beneath an oak or a pine, it stands erect in its arrogance; there, it is bending over the humble crocus, or sheltering the delicate and graceful cyclamen.

Walt Whitman is the elecampane in the field of poetry.

The furze, on the other hand, is the idol of your heaths and copses. This plant, of course, is not without its thorn. But its smooth and tender stem, its frail and fra- grant yellow blossoms,—those soft, wee shells of amber,—the profusion and the symmetry of its bushes, the delicacy of its tone of mystery, all tend to emphasize its attractive and inviting charms. A furze bush in full bloom is the crowning glory of your heaths and copses, thickly overgrown. In the wadis below, one seldom meets with the furze; it only abounds on hill-tops, among gray cliffs and crannied rocks and boulders, where even the fern and the poppy feel at home. And a little rest on these smooth, fern-spread rock-couches, under the cool and shady arbor of furze-bushes, in their delicate fragrance of mystery, is ineffable delight to a pilgrim soul. Here, indeed, is a happy image of Transcendentalism. Here is Emerson for me—a furze-bush in full bloom.

Now let me go down the valley to introduce to you the third of my companions, the stern and unique Thoreau. You are no doubt acquainted with the terebinth and the nenuphar. They are very rare in your valleys and forests. The terebinth is mantled in a vague and mystic charm; its little heart-shaped pods, filled with gum and incense, bespeak an esoteric beauty. Not that Thoreau ever dealt in incense. What he had of it, he kept for his own beatific self.

Yes, the terebinth is a symbol of the moralist in Thoreau. And the nenuphar, with its delicate and cream-colored blossoms,—the choicest in your dells and dales,—is a symbol of the poet. The first represents for me the vigorous and ruthless thinker; the second, the singer, sweet and quaint. For does not the terebinth stand alone in a pine grove, or beneath some mighty ridge, or over some high and terribly abrupt precipice? And so, too, the nenuphar. The terebinth, moreover, can bear fruits of poetry. Graft upon it a pistachio and it will give forth those delicious and aesthetic nuts,—those little emeralds in golden shells,—so rare outside of Asia.

These, then, are my companions, dear Mother. The terebinth and the nenuphar of your valleys—Thoreau. The flowering furze-bush on your hilltips, with a smooth and mighty boulder for its throne—Emerson. The acrid elecampane in your fields, on your waysides, in your vineyards—Whitman.

And if the symbol does not fit the subject, or the subject is not at ease in the symbol, the fault is not mine; for my American walking shoes are new, and my Oriental eyes are old. But those who slip on the way, believe me, often see deeper than those who do not.