Tales of humour and romance/The Moon

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THE MOON:


A TALE OF THE IMAGINATION.


BY


JEAN PAUL RICHTER.


Look how the floor of Heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold;—
There's not the smallest orb which thou beholdest,
But in his motion like an Angel sings.

Shakespeare.


THE MOON.




DEDICATION

TO MY

FOSTER-SISTER, PHILIPPINA,




I have never yet, my dear foster-sister, had a hit at you girls, for your attachment to the moon, for making it the plaything of your hearts, and the nest-egg round which you arrange all the other stars, when you hatch your fancies out of them. Be it so. But there are other things about which we might talk; for example, that you would rather admire and look at the good moon and its man there cleaving to it, than learn really to know them, just as you do with men beneath the moon. It is alas, no secret, dearest sister, that thousands of girls, have been both married and burried, who have considered that silver world above, as in reality nothing more than a pretty soup-plate of celestial tin, stamped with the man in the moon, just as the English ware is, with the figure of an angel. It may even be questioned, my dear, whether thou thyself knowest that the moon is but a few miles smaller than all Asia. How often must I sing it at thy window, before thou rememberest it, that not only its day lasts half a month, but what is more worth hearing, its night also; so that there, a gay girl who is torn by her mother home from a ball at midnight, will have at least waltzed and whirled her good hundred and fifty hours.—Now tell me Philippina, whether thou thinkest that the moon, or rather its inhabitants, will not, during so long a night, be desirous of seeing and walking about like ourselves, and consequently will require as big a moon as we do, one, at any rate, no smaller than an ordinary coach wheel.—I have it from good authority, that thou hast no notion what the moon sees above it for a moon. Fair fickle one, our Earth is its moon, and appears to those above, no bigger than a bride's-cake. I add too, for the sake of my story, which is to follow, that we can throw no light up to them, (moonlight or earthlight) when we have none here below ourselves, which is the case in an eclipse of the Sun; consequently the inhabitants of the moon during an eclipse of the Sun, can say nothing else than, "We have an eclipse of the Earth to-day."

I beseech you earnestly Philippina, consider those particulars of the moon, on which the whole of my fanciful story is founded, and read them at least twenty times over to your hearers; else the whole will escape you before I have even begun.

I take it uncommonly ill of your parents, that they have not instead of French, which like a bundle of supernumerary keys (as useless as so many honorary lords of the bed-chamber) is used only to keep up the tinkling of a soul-destroying prattle, and never to unlock a single French book,—for you like stories of knight-errantry far better.—I say, I take it ill of them that they have not rather caused you to learn astronomy, a science which bestows on man an elevated heart, an eye which reaches above the earth, wings which elevate him into the immensity of space, and the knowledge of a God who is not finite but eternal.

We may have our fancies about all that is under the moon, or above it either, provided we do not mistake those fancies for realities,—take a magic lantern for a cabinet of pictures,—or a cabinet of pictures for one of natural objects. The astronomer makes an inventory and valuation of the heavens, and comes within a few pounds of the truth; the poet furnishes and adorns them; the former constructs the map of meadows, through which the latter conducts pearly streams, swarming with golden fishes; the former throws measuring lines, the latter, garlands over the moon, and over the earth too.—Thus then, my love, thou canst easily meet with thy knitting-school companions on a lime-tree terrace, and feelingly read over to them fancies such as mine, if it is not done in broad day-light, and if the worship of the mother-church of the earth is not forgotten in the supplementary chapel-service of the moon.

But thou gentle and pallid form, to whom I so often bend my looks to soften my heart,—thou who glimmerest so modestly and makest so modest—thou who displayest thy worth to the silent heavens and not to the noisy earth—to whom I willingly raise my eye when it contains a few superfluous tears, which fall upon the flowers of past happiness blooming in the memory, and lead my thoughts to wander beyond the clouds to the native land of our transplanted wishes, thou lovely form,———————Philippina, it rejoices thy brother's heart that it remains a matter of doubt whom I am here addressing, thee or the moon. To deserve such a doubt, dear sister, is so excellent, I know but one thing superior to it; namely, to be exempted from it,—for resembling the moon in all but its spots and its changeableness.

I am, however, with this latter distinction,

Your Brother.

When I related your little story for the first time, Eugenius and Rosamond, whom I dare no longer call by your own names, my friends and I were walking in an English garden. We came opposite to to a newly painted sarcophagus, standing on its pedestal. Beyond it, over the green garden, a white obelisk rose conspicuous, which pointed out the spot where two sister-princesses, had, after a painful separation, again united and embraced, and upon which the inscription ran: "Here we met again."—The summit of the obelisk gleamed already in the rays of the fall moon, and here I related the simple story. But thou, dear reader, trace what will do as well as the real sarcophagus and the obelisk,—the inscription of the sarcophagus in the ashes of the past, and let the letters of the obelisk be imprinted upon your inmost soul with your heart's blood.

Many souls drop like the flowers, yet like the spotless buds, are trodden down in the common earth, and often lie soiled and crushed in the print of a hoof.—You too were crushed, Eugenius and Rosamond! Tender souls like yours have their joys torn from them by three robbers: by the world,—whose rough grasp bestows nothing on their hearts but scars,—by fate, which takes not away the tear from the lovely eye, beaming with lustre, lest that lustre disappear, as we wipe not the moist diamond that it may not grow pale,—by their own hearts, which require too much, enjoy too little, hope too much, bear too little. Rosamond was a pure pearl, pierced by sorrow. Separated from her friends, she still continued to shrink under suffering, like a severed branch of the sensitive plant at the approach of night; her life was a soft genial rain, as that of her husband was a bright and ardent sunshine. In his presence, she turned her eyes away from her sickly child, who in this life was like a light and fluttering butterfly under a pelting rain. The fancy of Eugenius destroyed by its powerful flights, his too weak and delicate corporeal frame; his body tender as the hare-bell, suited not his mighty mind; the place where the sigh sprung, his bosom, was destroyed like his happiness: he had nothing else in the world but his loving heart, and but two beings to fill that heart.

They resolved in the spring to withdraw from the whirlpool of the world, which had dashed so coldly, and so unkindly against their hearts; they caused a quiet hut to be prepared for them upon a lofty mountain, which lay opposite to the silver chain of the Staub-bach. On the first lovely morning of spring, they entered upon their long journey to the mountain. There is a sacredness, which suffering alone can give and purify; the stream of life becomes snow-white, when dashed against the opposing rocks of adversity. There is an elevation, where among ideas of sublimity, no trifling thought can ever mingle; it is when placed upon an alpine height, we behold the summits of the neighbouring mountains, without observing the valleys that connect them together.—Thou hadst that sacredness Rosamond,—and thou that elevation, Eugenius!

The base of the mountain was surrounded by a morning mist, in which three flitting spirits seemed suspended. It was the reflection of the three travellers,—the timid Rosamond was terrified, and imagined she beheld herself Eugenius thought that that which envelopes the mortal spirit, is only a somewhat denser cloud; — and the child grasped at the vapour, and wished to play with his brother in the mist. One solitary invisible angel of futurity accompanied them through life, and upon the mountain; they were so good, and so like each other, that they required but one. At sunrise the angel opened the book of fate; on one and the same leaf was traced the plan of a three-fold life, each line was a day; and when the angel had examined that day's line, he wept and shut the book for ever.

The feeble travellers still required almost one day for the completion of their journey. The earth crept back into the valley, the heavens rested themselves upon the mountains. The weary and now glimmeriug sun appeared to Eugenius like the mirror of the moon; he said to his beloved, as the icy summits of the mountains cast their rosy light upon the earth; "I am so weary but yet so well. Shall we feel thus when we awaken out of those two dreams, the dream of life and the dream of death, when we enter the cloudless moon, as the first welcome shore beyond the hurricane of life?" Rosamond replied; "we shall be better, for the moon as thou hast taught me, is the abode of little children, and their parents remain there beside them, till they themselves become meek and calm as infants, and then they proceed further in their course"—"From world to world, from heaven to heaven," said Eugenius with enthusiasm.

As they ascended, the sun sank; but as they proceeded more slowly, the mountain tops appeared like outstretching branches concealing the sun. They then hurried onward amid the decaying glimmer of the evening, and when they reached the mountain-hut, the eternal hills had obscured the monarch of the day—the earth had veiled her graves and cities, paying her adoration to heaven, ere that heaven looked down upon her with its starry eyes, and ere the waterfalls had laid aside their rain-bows,—the earth inclined itself towards the sky, which bent over it with its outstretched cloudy arms, tinged with gold, and extended from mountain to mountain,—and the glaciers gleamed with a light which glowed till midnight, and opposite them upon the grave of the sun, was a funeral-pile of clouds raised up out of the glow and the ashes of the evening. Through the glimmering ruddy light, kind heaven caused its evening tears to fall deep down into the earth, even upon the meanest grave and the smallest floweret.

Oh Eugenius, how great must thy soul now become! Earthly life lay at a distance, and in the deep valley before thee, void of all the distortions which we behold in it, from viewing it too near at hand, as the decorative scene when too closely seen is changed from a landscape to a mass of shapeless lines.

The loving pair embraced each other long and tenderly before the Alpine hut, and Eugenius said: "Oh silent eternal heaven, take from us now nothing more!" But his pallid child stood with its drooping snow-drop head before him—he looked at the mother, she turned her moist eye on high, and added softly. "Or take us all at once!"

The angel of futurity, whom I will call the angel of rest, smiled through his tears, and with his wing dispelled upon an evening zephyr the sigh of the parents, that they might not make each other melancholy.

The transparent evening floated around the rosy alp like the limpid ocean, and washed it with its circles of evening waves. The stiller the Earth and the evening became, the more the two souls felt they were now in their proper sphere: they had not a tear too many, not a tear too few, and their happiness required no increase save its repetition. Eugenius like a swan poured his first harmonious tones into the clear atmosphere. The wearied child encompassed in a circle of flowers, leaned against a sun dial, and played with the flowers which it threw around itself, to include the dial in its circle, When the mother at length awoke from the ecstacy into which the music of her husband had thrown her, she caught the large eyes of her child directed towards her. With a heart overflowing with maternal affection she approached her little angel:—he was cold and—dead. His heaven-born life had like other tones been dissipated in the atmosphere of the earth.—Death had breathed upon the butterfly, and it rose up out of the tempestuous streams of the air, into the ever peaceful æther, from the flowers of earth, to the flowers of Paradise.

Flit ye always away happy children! The angel of rest cradles you in the morning of life with his plaintive soothing song,—two weeping mortals carry you and your little coffin, and with garlands of flowers let your body with its rosy cheeks, its unwrinkled brow, and its pure hands, slip down into the second cradle, and you have only exchanged one Paradise for another;—but we, alas, we fall down beneath the destroying tempests of life, our hearts are weary, our faces are furrowed with earthly anxiety and earthly sorrow, and yet our souls cling strongly to this clod!

Turn thou away from Rosamond's piercing shriek—her fixed look and petrified features—if thou hast already felt this maternal sorrow,—look not upon the mother, who, with senseless love, presses convulsively to her bosom the corpse which she can no longer hurt, but upon the father, whose struggling heart although concealed in the silence of his breast, is sorrounded by the adder grasp of grief, and poisoned by drops from the serpent tooth of sorrow. Alas! Ere he could dispel this sorrow his heart was broken. Man staunches his wounds and fails a victim to the scar—Woman overcomes her sorrow seldom, and yet outlives it.—"Remain here," said he, with a tremulous voice, "I will lay it at rest before the moon rises." She said nothing, kissed it in silence, crumbled down its garland of flowers,—sank upon the sun-dial, and laid her cold cheek upon her arm that she might not see her child carried away.

Meanwhile the silvery morn of the moon illumined the still features of the child, and the father said: "Break up, oh Moon, that I may see the land where he dwells Rise up Elysium, that I may imagine I behold in thee the place in which his soul resides.—Oh child—my darling child,—knowest thou me—heardest thou me,—hast thou found a countenance as lovely as thine own above—a face as fair?—oh thou cherub's lip, thou cherub's eye!—Alas, there is now no spirit stirring within!"

He spread a bed of flowers beneath the child, instead of all those things by which we are surrounded when laid down to rest amid the silence of the tomb, but his heart broke when he was about to cover the infant's pallid lips and open eyes with flowers and earth, and a stream of tears fell first into the grave. When, with the green turf he had raised up the little mound, he felt that he was weary of his journey, and weary of life, and that in the thin mountain-air his breast was falling into ruins—the icy chill of death sat down upon his heart. He looked round with a longing eye for the wretched mother—she had long stood trembling behind him—and they fell, in silence, into each other's arms, and their eyes could scarce afford another tear.

At length the glorious moon poured her light from behind a gleaming icy peak, over the speechless pair, and showed them its white stormless vales, and the glimmering light with which it tranquilizes man.—"Mother! look up," said Eugenius, "there is thy son—behold upon the moon, the white blooming groves in which our boy is wandering."—The father felt a burning fire consuming his inmost heart—his eye, from gazing upon the moon, grew blind to every thing which possessed no light—lofty images placed themselves in shining streams before him, and there arose within him, thoughts above the level of humanity, and too mighty for the grasp of memory,—he heard in bis ear, melodies like those which charm us in our dreams, melodies which cannot be created when awake. Death and delight pressed his weary tongue: "Rosamond, wherefore sayest thou nothing? Seest thou thy child?—I look over the wide extended earth, even till I reach the moon: there my son flies amid angels—fair flowers are his cradle, the zephyr of Spring plays over him—children lead him—angels teach him—God loves him—oh the darling cherub, thou smilest too, the silver light of Paradise flies around thy little mouth,—thou knowest no one, and callest for thy parents—Rosamond, give me thy hand, we will go,—we will die.—

The weak corporeal chain became longer. His rising spirit fluttered higher on the boundaries of life. He seized the astonished mother with a convulsive grasp, and stammered out, as his eye became blind, and while sinking to the ground: "Rosamond, where art thou—I fly—I die—let us go together!"

His, heart broke—his spirit fled—but Rosamond remained not with him, for fate tore her from his dying grasp, and threw her back alive upon the earth. She felt his hand, and when she found it deadly cold, she laid it softly upon her bosom, fell slowly upon her bended kness, raised up her face, cheered beyond expression; towards the starry night turned her large and happy eyes, dry from their tearless sockets, up into heaven, and looked calmly around for some celestial form who would descend and bear her up. She firmly believed that she would immediately die, and in an imploring voice said: "Come now, angel of rest, come take my heart and carry it to my beloved—angel of rest, leave me not so long with the dead. Is there nothing invisible around me?—Angel of death, thou must be near me, for thou hast even now torn from my embrace, two darling souls, and allowed them to ascend—I am dead too—draw my burning soul from its cold kneeling corpse!"

She looked with a frantic restlessness around the empty sky. At that moment a star burned in its quiet wilderness, and took its arrowy course to the earth. Transported with joy, she extended her arms, and thought the angel of rest would have thrown himself into her embrace;—but the star, alas! disappeared,—she remained; "Not yet,—do I not die yet, merciful father?" sighed the poor Rosamond.

In the east a cloud arose,—passed over the moon,—bent its course through the sky, and stood over the most tormented heart on earth. She bent back her head, and looking up, said with an imploring look; "strike down upon my bosom, and release my soul!" But as the dark cloud passed over her head, descended through the sky, and sank behind the mountains, she exclaimed amid a thousand tears: "Can I not die,—can I not die?"

Poor Rosamond! sorrow coiled itself together, sprang serpent-like upon thy breast, and pressed its poisonous teeth within; but a compassionate spirit threw the opium of insensibility over thy heart, and the spasms of pain were changed into a gentle thrill.

She awoke in the morning distracted; she still saw the sun and the corpse of her husband, but her eye had poured out all its tears, her bursting heart like a cracked bell had lost all its tones: she murmured merely, "wherefore can I not die?" She returned to the hut cold and comfortless, but breathed nothing more than these words. Every night she visited half an hour later the corpse of her Eugenius, and hit precisely the moment of the rising of the waning moon, and said while her tearless eye rested upon its decaying form, "wherefore can I not die?"

Indeed! wherefore canst thou not die sweet soul, since the cold earth has already sucked from all thy wounds, the hot poison wherewith the human heart is palsied? But I turn my eye from this sorrow, and look up to the glimmering moon, where Eugenius opens his eyes among smiling children, and his own dear boy falls fluttering upon his breast———How silent all is in the dusky entrance of the second world, a rainbow of light silvers over the bright fields of the first heavens, and little balls of fire hang instead of the sparkling dew around the flowers and mountains—the azure of the sky[1] swells darker over the plains of lillies, and the tones of music are in the thin atmosphere but distant echoes—Night-flowers alone send forth an odour and waver sportively around the quiet prospect—there the heart is calm—there the eye is dry—there the wish is dumb—children flutter like humming bees around the breast, still throbbing and sunk amongst flowers, and the dream of the soul after death represents its earthly life, as our dreams here below picture childhood with the glowing and magic colouring of perfection.

Eugenius looked from the moon towards the Earth which during the long moon-day of two earthly weeks, floated like a thin white cloud in the azure sky; but he recognised not his old mother-land. At length the Sun went down upon the moon, and our Earth rested immoveable, large and glimmering upon the pure horizon of Elysium, and poured over the odour-breathing gardens its soft gleamings, like the prismatic spray of the water-fall over the green meadow. Then, he recognised the world upon which he had left a sore afflicted heart, and his soul although surrounded by joy, became filled with sadness and with ceaseless longing for the dear object of his former existence, who still mourned in that world below.—"O my Rosamond! wherefore fleest thou not from a globe where thou art no longer beloved?" and he looked beseechingly to the angel of Rest and said: "Beloved! Take me from this land of grief and conduct me down to my affectionate Rosamond, that I may see her, and be the mournful partner of her sorrow." Then suddenly his soul as if freed from every bond began to fly—clouds fluttered around him as if they supported him in his flight, and swelling, carried him away and concealed him in their waves—he sank through the rosy glimmer of evening as through blooming flowers, and through the succeeding gloom as through shady groves, and through a moist atmosphere wherein his eye became full of drops—then he heard a whisper around him, like an almost forgotten dream of childhood—then a distant complaint, which became louder and louder—a complaint which opened up afresh his closed wounds—the complaint was from Rosamond's voice—at length she herself stood before him irrecognisable,—alone,—hapless,—tearless,—colourless.

And Rosamond dreamed on Earth, and it seemed to her as if the Sun took unto itself wings, and became an angel—and she thought the angel drew down the moon, which became a face of mildness, and under the approaching face, a well known form at length appeared. It was Eugenius, and she raised herself to meet him, but when wrapt with joy, she gave utterance to the exclamation—"Now I am dead!"—the two dreams, his and hers both vanished, and the two beings were once more severed.

Eugenius awoke on high, the earth still stood glimmering in the clear sky—his heart palpitated, his eye burned with a tear which had never yet fallen upon the moon.—Rosamond awoke below, and a large warm dew-drop hung in a flower upon her bosom; the sultry cloud of her soul had fallen down in a soft shower of tears, her heart became light and sunny, her eye hung softly on the dawning sky, the world was strange to her, but not hateful, and her hands moved as if they beckoned on those that were dead.

The angel of rest looked upon the moon—he looked upon the earth and was moved with the sighs of men, he saw upon the dawning world an eclipse of the sun, and a forsaken being; he saw Rosamond during the passing darkness, sink down among flowers, which closed their beauteous eyes under the gloom;—he saw her stretching forth her arms towards the darkened sky full of fluttering night-birds, and gazing with ceaseless sighs upon the moon which floated trembling in the sun.—The angel looked upon the moon, and near him wept the immortal, who now beheld the world floating under a dark shadow, and unchained in a ring of fire, and from whom the weeping form still now wandered upon its surface, took away the whole happiness of heaven. While to the eye of the angel of rest the heavenly heart seemed breaking, he seized the hand of Eugenius, and that of his child, and bore both through the second world down upon the dark earth. Rosamond saw three figures wandering amid the gloom, whose shining aspect struck upon the starry sky, and approached to meet them; her husband and her child flew like spring zephyrs to her heart, and said with hastening voice, "Dearest, go with us," Her maternal heart burst with affection, her earthly blood stopped, her life was out—filled with delight, she stammered out, "must I yet not die?" Thou art already dead, said the companionate angel of the three affectionate souls, and then stands the earthly globe out of which thou hast come still in darkness!" And the waves of celestial happiness flowed high over the world, while its innocent and joyful inhabitants looked upon our globe which still trembled in gloom.


***


Yes indeed it is in darkness. But man is higher than his place: he looks up, and moves the wings of his soul, and when the sixty minutes which we term sixty years have sped their course, then he raises himself, and while ascending catches fire, and the ashes of his feathers fall back, and the unbound spirit mounts alone, and immaterial as a tone into the heavens above. For here amid the gloom of life, man sees the mountains of a future world standing in the golden morn of a sun which never sets; as the inhabitant of the north pole in his long night of darkness, during which that luminary never rises, still beholds at the meridian hour, a golden morning glow upon his highest mountains, and he thinks upon his long summer wherein that rosy light never departs.




  1. The blue colour of the sky must be darker in the Moon since the air is more rarified, both of which may be proved upon a mountain.