Edward Thomas.

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houses around. These conical buildings give
parts of Kent a unique geniality. They are
of many hues dull red, yellow, and the
colour of pomegranate rind; they may be
seen of the tint of good toast. Something
of the ruddiness of earth, as it is found in
ripe wheat, in October leaves, and in the
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Isoud with the White Hands

lotus flower, has penetrated the brick, and
expresses the lust of the earth for a gaudier
flora. The oast-house is indeed among the
Lares on the vast hearth of the suri, and on
gloomiest days it has its divinity. In a fine
haze that genial, and, as it were, indoor
humour of Kent is complete. The haze
which comes with sudden heat after rain in
April, and that with which September, or
even June, chooses to veil her splendour,
both are elements in the characteristic scenes.
They have also a special goodness for the
mind, for those above all

" That soar but never roam."

By seeming to confine the outlook on which
their silken fringes have fallen, they enlarge
the sight, which an infinite view is apt to
distract and dissipate. Shutting out the few
miles immediately about us, they let in the
worlds and starry spaces to the inward eye.
When they cannot do this, they build up
an incomparable prison ; and as the inmate

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Isoud with the White Hands

moves, the moving walls invite him to a
happy expectation of more than liberty. In
all seasons the presence of the oast-house
amid the haze is like that of a wood fire such
as burns continually in many farmhouses ; so
that even in March the hollows are like great
kitchens, with a gentle sense of home. In
autumn I have seen gipsies and other
vagrants going to sleep under the moon.
There was an oast-house at the end of their
lane, two more on the slopes above. Their
fire was out and their clothes were thin.
Yet there seemed nothing extraordinary in
the act. I wondered why I was going farther
to sleep. The maternity of the earth is never
so attractive as at that time and in Kent.
Fruit abounds ; there are rabbits for the car-
nivorous. A sparkling liquor may be lifted
from the spring. The heather or grass is an
airy, dry and comfortable palliasse, and out
of doors you are never late for breakfast.
So well was I entertained, that I almost
breathed a grace when I tasted the air or
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Isoud with the White Hands

saw the tench rolling at nightfall among the
lilies.

Near the mill another path branched into
a park. The sea of turf was occupied by
great oaks and the shadows of oaks. In one
part the gardener had planted cypress, justly
confident in the effect of these pillars of dark-
ness seen against a hot blue sky, auburn roofs
and the pale grass. The shadows of the trees
fell upon me as I entered the park, and filled
me with solemn thought. I cannot walk
under trees without a vague powerful feel-
ing of reverence. Calmly persuasive, they
ask me to bow my head to the unknown
god. In the evening, especially, when the
main vocation of sight is to suggest what
eyes cannot see, the spacious and fragrant
shadow of oak or pine is a temple which
seems to contain the very power for whose
worship it is spread.

For a time the sky was grey with thoughts
of rain. The small birds twittered nervously
in the wood below ; the ring doves came

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Isoud with the White Hands

home gleaming in the humid horizontal
beams. But presently all that was left of
the grey was a tenderness in the golden
light. From among the trees I could see
a pool at the foot of a sloping lawn, and a
swan moving to and fro so nobly, that I
should have thought she was borne by the
water, if that had not been as still as ice.
The colours of the sunset were doubled in
the pool with something added, as things
are seen in dreams. The turf had a
perfume peculiarly nourishing to the fancy,
and which, giving contentment, is on the
side of the old doctors who commended
the alimentary " virtues" of scents.

As quietly as the night was coming, and
as benignly, something floated under the
trees, turning an unknown face towards me ;
then passed away as softly as the day was
fading. I just saw the pale glorious face.
A bevy of dainty spaniels followed her
soberly, as if to make up for the state
which did not encircle her out of doors.
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Isoud with the White Hands

She herself was, like a cherub by Reynolds,
only a perfect face flying in the air; and
about her was a sense of inaudible harps.
. . . Could she be the face that had been
as a benediction, when I stared and was
baffled and stared again into the meaning-
less London crowd ? For a day or two
such a remembered face has sometimes
been a guardian genius of my ways ; the
delirium of seeing the thousand faces again
when I had fallen asleep was comforted by
the one, though utterly unknown, and never
in reality to reappear. Was she one of those
holy ones met again by divine good chance ?
She, too, has revisited my closed eyes. Or
perhaps she was the "angel" of a heroine
from my childish books, one of those of
whom I fancied that I should seek their
faces in the shadows, and should not be
happy, or contented with my sorrow, until
I saw them once more. At times she has
come to me as that sweet saint, Dwynwen
of Wales. Unfortunate in her innocent

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Isoud with the White Hands

passion, Dwynwen was restored to tranquillity
in sleep. The friendly Deity also promised
her the fulfilment of any three wishes. She
chose therefore that the sentence against her
hostile lover should be revoked ; that all true
lovers should triumph or be healed ; and that
she (it was her only ungenerous choice) should
never wish to be married. She afterwards
took the veil and became a saint, and if the
true lover called upon her, he was cured or
satisfied. She became traditionally an Aphro-
dite, beautiful and unpolluted. And a saint,
gently befriending pure affection, my appari-
tion certainly must have been. But although
visionary smiles have answered me when I
called upon her spirit as Dwynwen, she
came in the end to embody perfectly my
fancies of Isoud with the White Hands.
In the " Morte D'arthur " she and her gal-
lant, mournful brother, the knight Kehydius,
are but as ghosts of desperate longing amid
all those knights and queens, so brilliant
even in their tragedies. Kehydius loved La
1 86



Isoud with the White Hands

Beale Isoud; but, if unsuccessful, he was
happy in comparison with his white sister.
"He," says Malory, "died for love." She lived
on, as if death scorned such easy victory.
In the "Morte D'arthur," she fades out of
sight, and, like a revenant in her faint life,
we may think of her as continuing so, and
here crossing my path among these fields,
in the likeness of a girl, merely pure and
beautiful, and a little sad, like Isoud with
the White Hands.



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Online LibraryEdward ThomasHorae solitariae → online text (page 8 of 8)