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The Fading Year
by [?]

What is the source of that tender solemn melancholy that comes on us all as we feel the glad year dying? It is melancholy that is not painful, and we can nurse it without tempting one stab of real suffering. Each season brings its moods–Spring is hopeful; Summer luxurious; Autumn contented; and then comes that strange time when our thoughts run on solemn things. Can it be that we associate the long decline of the year with the dark closing of life? Surely not–for a boy or girl feels the same pensive, dreary mood, and no one who remembers childhood can fail to think of the wild inarticulate thoughts that passed through the immature brain. Nay, our souls are from God; they are bestowed by the Supreme, and they were from the beginning, and cannot be destroyed. From Plato downwards, no thoughtful man has missed this strange suggestion which seems to present itself unprompted to every mind. Cicero argued it out with consummate dialectic skill; our scientific men come to the same conclusion after years on years of labour spent in investigating phenomena of life and laws of force; and Wordsworth formulated Plato’s reasoning in an immortal passage which seems to combine scientific accuracy with exquisite poetic beauty–

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The soul that rises with us–our life’s star–
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, Who is our home.
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows;
He sees it in his joy.
The youth who daily farther from the east
Must travel still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the man perceives it die away
And fade into the light of coming day.

Had Wordsworth never written another line, that passage would have placed him among the greatest. He follows the glorious burst with these awful lines–

But for those obstinate questionings
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings;
Blank misgivings of a creature
Moving about in worlds not realized;
High instincts before which our mortal nature
Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised.

That is like some golden-tongued utterance of the gods; and thousands of Englishmen, sceptics and believers, have held their breath, abashed, as its full meaning struck home.

Yes; this mysterious thought that haunts our being as we gaze on the saddened fields is not aroused by the immediate impression which the sight gives us; it is too complex, too profound, too mature and significant. It was framed before birth, and it proceeds direct from the Father of all souls, with whom we dwelt before we came to this low earth, and with whom we shall dwell again. If any one ventures to deny the origin of our marvellous knowledge, our sweet, strange impressions, it seems to us that he must risk bordering on impiety.

So far then I have wandered from the commonplace sweetness of the shorn fields, and I almost forgot to speak about the birds. Watch the swallows as they gather together and talk with their low pretty twitter. Their parliament has begun; and surely no one who watches their proceedings can venture to scoff at the transcendental argument which I have just now stated. Those swift, pretty darlings will soon be flying through the pitchy gloom of the night, and they will dart over three or four thousand miles with unerring aim till they reach the far-off spot where they cheated our winter last year. Some will nest amid the tombs of Egyptian kings, some will find out rosy haunts in Persia, some will soon be wheeling and twittering happily over the sullen breast of the rolling Niger. Who–ah, who guides that flight? Think of it. Man must find his way by the stars and the sun. Day by day he must use elaborate instruments to find out where his vessel is placed; and even his instruments do not always save him from miles of error. But the little bird plunges through the high gulfs of air and flies like an arrow to the selfsame spot where it lived before it last went off on the wild quest over shadowy continents and booming seas. “Hereditary instinct,” says the scientific man. Exactly so; and, if the swallow unerringly traverses the line crossed by its ancestors, even though the old land has long been whelmed in steep-down gulfs of the sea, does not that show us something? Does it, or does it not, make my saying about the soul seem reasonable?