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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Leaves Motionless
By John Ruskin (1819–1900)
 
From ‘Modern Painters’

LEAVES motionless. The strong pines wave above them, and the weak grasses tremble beside them: but the blue stars rest upon the earth with a peace as of heaven; and far along the ridges of iron rock, moveless as they, the rubied crests of Alpine rose flush in the low rays of morning. Nor these yet the stillest leaves. Others there are subdued to a deeper quietness, the mute slaves of the earth, to whom we owe perhaps thanks and tenderness the most profound of all we have to render for the leaf ministries.  1
  It is strange to think of the gradually diminished power and withdrawn freedom among the orders of leaves,—from the sweep of the chestnut and gadding of the vine, down to the close shrinking trefoil and contented daisy, pressed on earth; and at last to the leaves that are not merely close to earth, but themselves a part of it,—fastened down to it by their sides, here and there only a wrinkled edge rising from the granite crystals. We have found beauty in the tree yielding fruit, and in the herb yielding seed. How of the herb yielding no seed, 1 the fruitless, flowerless lichen of the rock?  2
  Lichen, and mosses (though these last in their luxuriance are deep and rich as herbage, yet both for the most part humblest of the green things that live),—how of these? Meek creatures! the first mercy of the earth, veiling with hushed softness its dintless rocks; creatures full of pity, covering with strange and tender honor the scarred disgrace of ruin,—laying quiet finger on the trembling stones, to teach them rest. No words, that I know of, will say what these mosses are. None are delicate enough, none perfect enough, none rich enough. How is one to tell of the rounded bosses of furred and beaming green,—the starred divisions of rubied bloom, fine-filmed, as if the Rock Spirits could spin porphyry as we do glass,—the traceries of intricate silver, and fringes of amber, lustrous, arborescent, burnished through every fibre into fitful brightness and glossy traverses of silken change, yet all subdued and pensive, and framed for simplest, sweetest offices of grace. They will not be gathered, like the flowers, for chaplet or love token; but of these the wild bird will make its nest, and the wearied child his pillow.  3
  And as the earth’s first mercy, so they are its last gift to us. When all other service is vain, from plant and tree, the soft mosses and gray lichen take up their watch by the headstone. The woods, the blossoms, the gift-bearing grasses, have done their parts for a time; but these do service for ever. Trees for the builder’s yard, flowers for the bride’s chamber, corn for the granary, moss for the grave.  4
  Yet as in one sense the humblest, in another they are the most honored of the earth-children. Unfading as motionless, the worm frets them not, and the autumn wastes not. Strong in lowliness, they neither blanch in heat nor pine in frost. To them, slow-fingered, constant-hearted, is intrusted the weaving of the dark eternal tapestries of the hills; to them, slow-penciled, iris-dyed, the tender framing of their endless imagery. Sharing the stillness of the unimpassioned rock, they share also its endurance: and while the winds of departing spring scatter the white hawthorn blossom like drifted snow, and summer dims on the parched meadow the drooping of its cowslip gold,—far above, among the mountains, the silver lichen-spots rest starlike on the stone; and the gathering orange stain upon the edge of yonder western peak reflects the sunsets of a thousand years.  5
 
Note 1. The reader must remember always that my work is concerning the aspects of things only. Of course a lichen has seeds, just as other plants have; but not effectually or visibly, for man. [back]
 
 
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