A Lesson of Hope
"H OW the rising blast is driving through the ancient forest! What a dismal roaring there is among the pine-trees! What a sharp clattering among the half-dried poplar-leaves! What a sighing among the beeches! A wild mysterious hour, and full of strange fantastic types of mortal life!"
It was thus I spoke, when, having wandered out one gloomy autumn night to muse on Nature and her laws, I found myself contemplating, in the deep recesses of a wood, the progress of a violent storm. And as I paused, I leant back, in sad reflections lost, against an oak, and, looking upwards to the sky, tried to gaze into the depths of those black vapoury masses that had arisen, one knew not how or whence, to darken over the expanse of heaven; when, all at once there shone down upon me, from an opening in the clouds, the full rays of a bright October moon.
The light was sudden, and a sudden revulsion took place within my heart. I had been thinking that, like the cruel storm, and like the heavy clouds, were the troubles and the trials of human existence: and now, when that sweet radiance broke upon my eyes, I heard a voice exclaim, as if in echo to my thoughts—"It is the moon that shone in Paradise!" It was the Bird of Night, quite near me, in the hollow of a tree. Looking to see from whence the sound had come, I met his large, grave, meditative eyes fixed on my moonlit face, and then I heard the voice exclaim again—"The moon that shone in Paradise!"
Oh, what a thought to come across the tumult of that hour! The moon that shone in Paradise!—up to whose radiant orb the eyes of countless generations have been turned—from the first glance of spotless innocence, to the last yearning gaze of sorrow-stricken manhood! And why?—but that in that calm unchanging glory there shines forth a promise of eternal, everlasting peace.
But now another voice was heard, despite the howling of the storm. It was a croaking Raven, swinging on a branch beside me. He came between me and the light, and ever and anon his coal-black wings seemed spreading for a flight.
"Deluded fool," he muttered, "with your endless myths! This comes of living in the dark all day, and spending all your time in guess-work! See! your precious moon is gone!"
"Not gone, though hidden," was the answer.
But I heard no more than this, for here the frightful wind grew louder still. He roared in fury all around, scattering the last leaves from the bending trees, as if he hated the very relics of the gentle summer. And many bowed their heads, and others moaned in grief.
"Hast thou come with mighty news from distant lands," shouted the Pine-tree scornfully, as he tossed his branches to the storm, "that thou bringest such confusion in thy path? Ambassador of evil, who hast sent thee here?"
"Cannot yonder moon teach thee milder thoughts?" cried the Elm-tree, as he stood majestic in his sorrow and despair.
"Our hour is come," exclaimed the softer Beech. "My leaves lie scattered all around. Our life is closing fast. Naked and forlorn we stand amid the ruins of the past."
"What mockery of existence," stormed the black-leaved Poplar in his wrath, "to be placed here, and clothed in such sweet beauty, nurtured by gentle dews and tender sunshine, and then be left at last the victims of reckless fury, with all our glories torn by force away! Would I had never risen from the ground!"
"Oh, my aspiring friend," the ill-mouthed Raven cried, "the few months' splendour does not satisfy your heart! You aim too high, methinks. Well, well! aspiring thoughts are very fine; but were I you, I would accommodate myself to facts. A short spring, a shorter summer, and then to perish. Ha! here you are again, my ancient worthy friend!"
And then another gust broke in with savage fury on the forest, and many a stalwart branch crashed down upon the ground. The wailings of afflicted Nature rose amidst the storm.
"Is there no refuge from this end?" enquired the Oak. "Why have I lived at all?"
"Because destruction is the law of life," the Raven uttered, with his fiercest croak. "Where would destruction be, were there no life to be destroyed? It is a glorious law."
"No law, but only an exception," cried the Bird of Night.
And as he spoke there streamed once more from out the clouds that type of peace that passeth not away—the moon that shone in Paradise. Oh, what a silver mantle she let fall upon the disrobed branches of those trees! Wet as they were with rain-drops, and waving in the gale, it seemed as if they shone in robes of starlight glory. What gracious promises seemed streaming down with that sweet light!
"Lift up your heads, ye forest trees, once more!" so sang the mild-eyed Bird of Night. "Fury is short-lived—love alone enduring. All that destroys is transitory, but order is everlasting. The unbridled powers of cruelty may rage—it is but for a time! And ye may darken over the blue heavens, ye vapoury masses in the sky. It matters not! Beyond the howling of that wrath, beyond the blackness of those clouds, there shines, unaltered and serene, the moon that shone in Paradise."
"Your myth again, detested Bird of Night! Here to the rescue, ancient friend!"
And louder then than ever came that cruel, cruel wind.
"It matters not," once more the Owl exclaimed. "The stormy winds must cease, the clouds must pass away, and yonder sails the light that tells of harmony restored."
"Infatuated fool, to live on hope, with death around you and before you!" groaned the Raven—and then a crash like thunder rent the air. The Oak had fallen to the ground. I started at the shock.
"Will the day ever come," I cried aloud, as if addressing some mysterious friend, "will the day ever come when storms and woe shall cease? Order and peace seem meant, but death and ruin come to pass."
"Oh, miserable doubter, do you ask? Must the brute beasts and mute creation rise to give an answer to your fears? Look in the heaven above, and in the earth below, and in the water deep beneath the earth. One only law is given—the law of order, harmony, and joy."
"Alas, how often broken!" I exclaimed.
"Ay, but disturbance is no law, and therefore cannot last. Disorder, death, and destruction:—by their own nature they are transitory—rebellious powers that struggle for a time, and frustrate here and there the gracious purposes ordained. But they exist not of themselves; have neither law nor being in themselves; exist but as disturbers of a scheme whose deep foundations cannot be overthrown. Life, order, harmony, and peace; means duly fitting ends; the object, universal joy. This is the law. Believe in it, and live!"
And as the voice grew silent, from the sky beamed over all the scene the placid moon once more. The wind had lulled or passed away to other regions of the earth, and over all the forest streamed the brilliant light. Once more the lit-up trees shone spangled o'er with rays; and happy murmurs broke upon my ear, instead of loud complaints.
"We have been wild and foolish, gracious moon!" exclaimed the tender Beech. "We doubted all the promises and hopes that you shed so freely down. In pity to the terrors of the night, forgive us once again!"
"You have said right, my sister," said the Oak. "That heavenly power, whom neither winds nor storms can reach, will view with tenderness our troubled lot, who live amid the tempests of the earth. She will forgive, she hath forgiven us all. Hath she not clothed us now with robes more brilliant than the summer ones we love?"
"The robes of hope and promise," wept the Poplar, as he spoke, for all his branches trembled with delight, and stars seemed dropping all around.
"I mourn my dark despair," bewailed the Elm. "I should have called the past to memory! We never are deserted in our need. The winter tempests rage, and terrible they are; but always the bright moon from time to time returns, to shed down rays of hope and promises of glory on our heads; and still we doubt and fear, and still the patient moon repeats her tale. And then the spring and summer time return, and life, and joy, and all our beauteous robes. Oh, what weak tremblers we must be!"
And so, through all the rest of that strange night, murmurs of comfort sounded through the wood, and I returned at last to the poor lonely cottage that I called my home, and wept mixed tears of sorrow and of joy. Father and mother lost, swept suddenly away, and I, with straitened means, left alone to struggle through the world! Did I not stand before my desolate hearth, like one awakened from a dream, a vision—(surely such it was!)—exclaiming in despair, as did the weeping Beech, "Naked and forlorn I stand amid the ruins of the past." But through the casement glided in on me, me also, as I stood, the blessed rays of that eternal moon—the moon that shone in Paradise—the moon that promises a Paradise restored.
And ever and anon, throughout the struggle of my life, I would return for wisdom and for hope to the old forest where I dreamt the dream. As time passed on, and winter snows came down, a cold, unmeaning sleep seemed to bind up the trees—but still, at her appointed time, the moon came out, and lit up even snow with robes of light and hope.
And then the spring-time burst the cruel bonds that held all Nature in a stagnant state. Verdure and beauty came again; and, as I listened to the gales that breathed soft music through the trees, I thought, "If I could dream again, I should hear songs of exquisite delight." But that was not to be. Still, I could revel in the comfort of the sight, and watch the moonbeams glittering in triumphant joy through the now verdant bowers of those woods, playing in happy sport amid the shadows of the leaves.
And to me also came a spring! From me, too, passed away the winter and its chill! And now I take the children of my love, and the sweet mother who has borne them, to those woods; and ever and anon we tell long tales of Nature and her ways, and how the poor trees moan, when storms and tempests come; and how the wise Owl talks to heedless ears his deep philosophy of law, of order that must one day certainly prevail, and how the patient moon is never weary of her task of shedding rays of hope and promise on the world; and even while we speak, the children clap their hands for joy, and say they never will despair for anything that comes, for, lo! above their heads there suddenly shines out—the moon that shone in paradise!