HENRY VAN DYKE
III. A Leaf of Spearmint
V. A Handful of Heather
VI. The Ristigouche from a Horse-Yacht
VII. Alpenrosen and Goat's-Milk
VIII. Au Large
IX. Trout-Fishing in the Traun
X. At the sign of the Balsam Bough
XI. A Song after Sundown
AN ANGLER'S WISH IN TOWN
When tulips bloom in Union Square
And timid breaths of vernal air
Are wandering down the dusty town
Like children lost in Vanity Fair;
When every long unlovely row
Of westward houses stands aglow
And leads the eyes toward sunset skies
Beyond the hills where green trees grow;
Then weary is the street parade
And weary books and weary trade:
I'm only wishing to go a-fishing;
For this the month of May was made.
I guess the pussy-willows now
Are creeping out on every bough
Along the brook; and robins look
For early worms behind the plough.
The thistle-birds have changed their dun
For yellow coats to match the sun;
And in the same array of flame
The Dandelion Show's begun.
The flocks of young anemones
Are dancing round the budding trees:
Who can help wishing to go a-fishing
In days as full of joy as these?
I think the meadow-lark's clear sound
Leaks upward slowly from the ground
While on the wing the bluebirds ring
Their wedding-bells to woods around:
The flirting chewink calls his dear
Behind the bush; and very near
Where water flows where green grass grows
Song-sparrows gently sing "Good cheer:"
And best of all through twilight's calm
The hermit-thrush repeats his psalm:
How much I'm wishing to go a-fishing
In days so sweet with music's balm!
'Tis not a proud desire of mine;
I ask for nothing superfine;
No heavy weight no salmon great
To break the record or my line:
Only an idle little stream
Whose amber waters softly gleam
Where I may wade through woodland shade
And cast the fly and loaf and dream:
Only a trout or two to dart
From foaming pools and try my art:
No more I'm wishing--old-fashioned fishing
And just a day on Nature's heart.
A river is the most human and companionable of all inanimate
things. It has a life a character a voice of its own and is as
full of good fellowship as a sugar-maple is of sap. It can talk in
various tones loud or low and of many subjects grave and gay.
Under favourable circumstances it will even make a shift to sing
not in a fashion that can be reduced to notes and set down in black
and white on a sheet of paper but in a vague refreshing manner
and to a wandering air that goes
"Over the hills and far away."
For real company and friendship there is nothing outside of the
animal kingdom that is comparable to a river.
I will admit that a very good case can be made out in favour of
some other objects of natural affection. For example a fair
apology has been offered by those ambitious persons who have fallen
in love with the sea. But after all that is a formless and
disquieting passion. It lacks solid comfort and mutual confidence.
The sea is too big for loving and too uncertain. It will not fit
into our thoughts. It has no personality because it has so many.
It is a salt abstraction. You might as well think of loving a
glittering generality like "the American woman." One would be more
to the purpose.
Mountains are more satisfying because they are more individual. It
is possible to feel a very strong attachment for a certain range
whose outline has grown familiar to our eyes or a clear peak that
has looked down day after day upon our joys and sorrows
moderating our passions with its calm aspect. We come back from
our travels and the sight of such a well-known mountain is like
meeting an old friend unchanged. But it is a one-sided affection.
The mountain is voiceless and imperturbable; and its very loftiness
and serenity sometimes make us the more lonely.
Trees seem to come closer to our life. They are often rooted in
our richest feelings and our sweetest memories like birds build
nests in their branches. I remember the last time that I saw
James Russell Lowell (only a few weeks before his musical voice
was hushed) he walked out with me into the quiet garden at Elmwood
to say good-bye. There was a great horse-chestnut tree beside the
house towering above the gable and covered with blossoms from
base to summit--a pyramid of green supporting a thousand smaller
pyramids of white. The poet looked up at it with his gray pain-
furrowed face and laid his trembling hand upon the trunk. "I
planted the nut" said he "from which this tree grew. And my
father was with me and showed me how to plant it."
Yes there is a good deal to be said in behalf of tree-worship; and
when I recline with my friend Tityrus beneath the shade of his
favourite oak I consent in his devotions. But when I invite him
with me to share my orisons or wander alone to indulge the luxury
of grateful unlaborious thought my feet turn not to a tree but
to the bank of a river for there the musings of solitude find a
friendly accompaniment and human intercourse is purified and
sweetened by the flowing murmuring water. It is by a river that I
would choose to make love and to revive old friendships and to
play with the children and to confess my faults and to escape
from vain selfish desires and to cleanse my mind from all the
false and foolish things that mar the joy and peace of living.
Like David's hart I pant for the water-brooks. There is wisdom in
the advice of Seneca who says "Where a spring rises or a river
flows there should we build altars and offer sacrifices."
The personality of a river is not to be found in its water nor in
its bed nor in its shore. Either of these elements by itself
would be nothing. Confine the fluid contents of the noblest stream
in a walled channel of stone and it ceases to be a stream; it
becomes what Charles Lamb calls "a mockery of a river--a liquid
artifice--a wretched conduit." But take away the water from the
most beautiful river-banks and what is left? An ugly road with
none to travel it; a long ghastly scar on the bosom of the earth.
The life of a river like that of a human being consists in the
union of soul and body the water and the banks. They belong
together. They act and react upon each other. The stream moulds
and makes the shore; hollowing out a bay here and building a long
point there; alluring the little bushes close to its side and
bending the tall slim trees over its current; sweeping a rocky
ledge clean of everything but moss and sending a still lagoon full
of white arrow-heads and rosy knot-weed far back into the meadow.
The shore guides and controls the stream; now detaining and now
advancing it; now bending it in a hundred sinuous curves and now
speeding it straight as a wild-bee on its homeward flight; here
hiding the water in a deep cleft overhung with green branches and
there spreading it out like a mirror framed in daisies to reflect
the sky and the clouds; sometimes breaking it with sudden turns and
unexpected falls into a foam of musical laughter sometimes
soothing it into a sleepy motion like the flow of a dream.
Is it otherwise with the men and women whom we know and like? Does
not the spirit influence the form and the form affect the spirit?
Can we divide and separate them in our affections?
I am no friend to purely psychological attachments. In some
unknown future they may be satisfying but in the present I want