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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Dawn of the Higher Life
By Maarten Maartens (J. M. W. van der Poorten Schwartz) (1858–1915)
 
From ‘The Greater Glory’

REINOUT, walking his horse in the blazing sunshine, peeped curiously into the cheaply bound little volume which was her “dearest thing on earth.”  1
  “Verses!” he said with ready scorn. “All women are alike.”  2
  He knew enough about verses. Sometimes he read the books his mother brought him, and sometimes he praised them unread. “Always say ‘Yes’ to a woman,” the Chevalier was wont to remark, “if you feel it would hurt to hear you say ‘No.’”
  “O mon âme.
O ma flamme.
O que je t’aime.”
That is poetry.
  “Toujours du même.”
  3
  “None of my talent has descended to my child,” sighed Margherita. “And yet I feel sure he will be some sort of a genius—perhaps a Prime Minister.” “A what?” asked the Count, and walked away to dissemble his laughter. He rejoiced, however, to think that his wife had come round to his view, whatever her road.  4
  “Well, she begins young with her love ditties,” thought Reinout; but, nevertheless, on his return, he settled himself in a window-seat with the book. It was a Belgian edition of Victor Hugo’s “Les Voix Intérieures.”  5
  He glanced at the first page. The opening words struck him.
  “This Age is great and strong….”
  6
  The quietly impressive words, so unlike much of Victor Hugo’s later redundancy, sank slowly into his soul. Here was a gospel of the time, which met him half-way on his hap-hazard path. “Are you looking for me?” it said. “I am here.”  7
  When he had finished, he turned back and began again. He had never read other poetry before than love songs and bouts-rimés.  8
  And then he plunged headlong into the piece which follows, that magnificent poem on the death of the exiled Charles X. Here the novice soon floundered out of his depth; but he still held on, borne irresistibly forward by the rush of the rhythm, as all must understand who appreciate the sublimest of spouters. It is impossible to stop; the very bewilderment of the reader twists him helplessly onwards amid those whirlpools of eloquence. And in all the Titan’s endless volumes, Reinout could not have lighted on a poem more calculated to impress him than this one. Aristocrat as he must ever remain in all the prejudices of his bringing-up, lover as he had been destined to become from childhood of that lowly human greatness which your mere aristocrat ignores, this song of tenderest reconciliation struck chords within his being of whose existence his incompleteness had never been aware. And when he reached, with palpitating heart and eager breath, the great finale,—
  “O Poesy, to heaven on frighted wing thou fliest!”
he started to his feet, and stood staring before him into a new gulf yawning ahead—or was it a visionary ladder, whose top is hid in heaven? A world of illusion, Idea,—the soul-world of beautiful hopes and fancies,—the world in which all men are brothers, great and strong and greatly worthy,—a world at which the cynic laughs, with tears for laughter;—at last he beheld it; uplifted on the pinions of his ignorance into cloudland, and beyond that to the sun! He will never forget that moment, although to this day he cannot tell you in intelligible prose what took place in his soul. Oh, the sweetness of it! The sadness of it! The beautiful, sorrowful hope! He did not know what he was saying, as he stumbled on through a wilderness of magnificent words. But gradually a single thought stood out clear among all this confusion of greatnesses: the majesty—not of your Highnesses and Excellencies and Eminences—but of the naked soul of man. He had been yearning for it, searching for it, unwittingly; at last he could grasp it, and read the riddle of life.
  9
  All that afternoon he hurried upwards, a breathless explorer on Alpine heights. Like an Indian prince from his father’s palace, he had escaped out of the gilded cage where the neat canaries warbled, away into the regions of the angels’ song, “Peace on earth, good-will among men. Hallelujah!” His soul was drunken with poesy. He tore off the kid glove from his heart.  10
  He was utterly unreasonable and nonsensical, full of clap-trap and tall-talk and foolishness. Yes, thank God: he was all that at last.  11
 
 
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