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Suspiria De Profundis
by [?]

‘Tells also of bright calms that shall succeed.’

Pain driven to agony, or grief driven to frenzy, is essential to the ventilation of profound natures. A sea which is deeper than any that Count Massigli[3] measured cannot be searched and torn up from its sleeping depths without a levanter or a monsoon. A nature which is profound in excess, but also introverted and abstracted in excess, so as to be in peril of wasting itself in interminable reverie, cannot be awakened sometimes without afflictions that go to the very foundations, heaving, stirring, yet finally harmonizing; and it is in such cases that the Dark Interpreter does his work, revealing the worlds of pain and agony and woe possible to man–possible even to the innocent spirit of a child.


As nothing which is impassioned escapes the eye of poetry, neither has this escaped it–that there is, or may be, through solitude, ‘sublime attractions of the grave.’ But even poetry has not perceived that these attractions may arise for a child. Not, indeed, a passion for the grave as the grave–from that a child revolts; but a passion for the grave as the portal through which it may recover some heavenly countenance, mother or sister, that has vanished. Through solitude this passion may be exalted into a frenzy like a nympholepsy. At first, when in childhood we find ourselves torn away from the lips that we could hang on for ever, we throw out our arms in vain struggles to snatch at them, and pull them back again. But when we have felt for a time how hopeless is that effort, and that they cannot come to us, we desist from that struggle, and next we whisper to our hearts, Might not we go to them?

Such in principle and origin was the famous Dulce Domum[4] of the English schoolboy. Such is the Heimweh (home-sickness) of the German and Swiss soldier in foreign service. Such is the passion of the Calenture. Doubtless, reader, you have seen it described. The poor sailor is in tropical latitudes; deep, breathless calms have prevailed for weeks. Fever and delirium are upon him. Suddenly from his restless hammock he starts up; he will fret no longer in darkness; he ascends upon deck. How motionless are the deeps! How vast–how sweet are these shining zaarrahs of water! He gazes, and slowly under the blazing scenery of his brain the scenery of his eye unsettles. The waters are swallowed up; the seas have disappeared. Green fields appear, a silent dell, and a pastoral cottage. Two faces appear–are at the door–sweet female faces, and behold they beckon him. ‘Come to us!’ they seem to say. The picture rises to his wearied brain like a sanctus from the choir of a cathedral, and in the twinkling of an eye, stung to madness by the cravings of his heart, the man is overboard. He is gone–he is lost for this world; but if he missed the arms of the lovely women–wife and sister–whom he sought, assuredly he has settled into arms that are mightier and not less indulgent.

I, young as I was, had one feeling not learned from books, and that could not have been learned from books, the deepest of all that connect themselves with natural scenery. It is the feeling which in ‘The Hart-leap Well’ of Wordsworth, in his ‘Danish Boy,’ and other exquisite poems is brought out, viz., the breathless, mysterious, Pan-like silence that haunts the noon-day. If there were winds abroad, then I was roused myself into sympathetic tumults. But if this dead silence haunted the air, then the peace which was in nature echoed another peace which lay in graves, and I fell into a sick languishing for things which a voice from heaven seemed to say ‘cannot be granted.’

There is a German superstition, which eight or ten years after I read, of the Erl-king and his daughter. The daughter had power to tempt infants away into the invisible world; but it is, as the reader understands, by collusion with some infirmity of sick desire for such worlds in the infant itself.