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This Blasted World
by [?]

Everything has begun to have a blasted look till the sun shines. The ferns have been beaten down by the wind and the rain, and lie withered and broken-backed among the brambles, waiting till some poor man thinks it worth his while to go off with a load of them on his back for bedding. The brambles, too, all hoops and arches, have the air of dying things, though white blossoms still continue to appear, and the fruit is not yet all ripened and many of the leaves are as red and bright as flowers. The edges of most of the leaves have began to crumple: they are victims of a creeping sickness that eats into them and dirties them, and makes bramble and fern together an inextricable wilderness of refuse.

This, however, is only if one looks too closely. The hill that loses itself among the rocks on the sea-shore is capped and patched with just such refuse as this, but how happily the rust-colour of dying things is broken by the grey of the loose stone walls–“hedges,” they call them in Cornwall–that seem to totter up the hill like old men! The mist of rain that leaves each individual plant bedraggled seems to make the red and green and grey pattern of the patched hill only more beautiful and mysterious. The truth is, winter speaks with two voices even in these early days. She has one voice that sends cold shivers down our backs. She has another voice that is refreshment like water from a spring. She speaks with the first voice in the crooked trees. In the summer they were cloaked and glorious. Now, when their cloaks seem so much more necessary, they are left naked, poor creatures, their backs to the sea-wind, with the air of runaways unable to escape. They seem bent and poised for flight, but when a blast of wind comes and tugs at them they are as the stump of a tooth that will not move, and the leaves (such of them as are left), which in summer made a music as pleasant as that of windbells, rattle in their branches like the laughter of a skeleton. The oak and the thorn-bush could scarcely writhe more if they were crippled by rheumatism. Every leaf on the sycamore is spotted as if with some foul black acid.

Here, too, however, as soon as the leaves have fallen, the world is restored to cheerfulness. The withering tree seems a sufferer. The fallen leaf is an imp, an adventurer. As the wind sweeps round a bend in the road, leaf after leaf is up and performing cart-wheels down the road as if Christmas Day had come. Thousands of them, borne along in a dance of this kind, advance with the beflustered, orderly air of a procession of starlings. The world ceases to be a universal grave. It is at the very least a dance and a dust-storm.

There are some days, no doubt, on which the chill damp in the air seems to terrify almost every living thing into hiding, and the stillness of the dead world is not disturbed by any bird or insect. Even the jackdaws have mysteriously disappeared like melted snow. But no sooner does the storm in the sky break up into floating islands of cloud and the sun shine than all the world begins to glitter again, bramble and ivy and stone, and a host of tiny and coloured creatures resume their game of an infinite general post in the bright air. The ivy especially is a little continent of life where-ever it grows. Clambering over a wall or climbing up among the sloes in a blackthorn it attracts bee and wasp and fly, blue fly and grey fly and green fly, to graze on the pollen of its late flowers. The ivy is the last of the plants to flower, and insects come to it as from the ends of the earth in rejoicing myriads. Among the berries in the hedges the birds, too, rejoice. The robin, though for the most part, I believe, a meat-eater, becomes unambiguously happy at this time of year. He has usurped the morning, and, while one is lying in bed, he is boasting in the trees outside where the thrush and the blackbird will in a few months be boasting with their scarcely more beautiful voices. I am half persuaded that his song becomes different at this season. As he sits and sways on the top of a cypress and looks down on a rich and eatable world, he seems to have cast every note of pensive sadness out of his being and to sing aloud the rapture of a happy stomach. He is no longer the singer of elegy but of ecstasy. He is as unlike his old simple, friendly, appealing, pathetic self as a beggar who has come into a fortune. He actually swaggers, and, as he does so, he can fill a garden or a wood at the end of October with the pleasure of spring.