Our grief is purely selfish

That evening came on with a still and tranquil beauty, and as the sun hastened to its close they launched their boat for an hour or two’s excursion upon the Rhine. Gertrude was in that happy mood when the quiet of nature is enjoyed like a bath for the soul, and the presence of him she so idolized deepened that stillness into a more delicious and subduing calm. Little did she dream as the boat glided over the water, and the towers of Cologne rose in the blue air of evening, how few were those hours that divided her from the tomb! But, in looking back to the life of one we have loved, how dear is the thought that the latter days were the days of light, that the cloud never chilled the beauty of the setting sun, and that if the years of existence were brief, all that existence has most tender, most sacred, was crowded into that space! Nothing dark, then, or bitter, rests with our remembrance of the lost: we are the mourners, but pity is not for the mourned, – our grief is purely selfish; when we turn to its object, the hues of happiness are round it, and that very love which is the parent of our woe was the consolation, the triumph, of the departed!

The majestic Rhine was calm as a lake; the splashing of the oar only broke the stillness, and after a long pause in their conversation, Gertrude, putting her hand on Trevylyan’s arm, reminded him of a promised story: for he too had moods of abstraction, from which, in her turn, she loved to lure him; and his voice to her had become a sort of want.

“Let it be,” said she, “a tale suited to the hour; no fierce tradition, – nay, no grotesque fable, but of the tenderer dye of superstition. Let it be of love, of woman’s love, – of the love that defies the grave: for surely even after death it lives; and heaven would scarcely be heaven if memory were banished from its blessings.”

“I recollect,” said Trevylyan, after a slight pause, “a short German legend, the simplicity of which touched me much when I heard it; but,” added he, with a slight smile, “so much more faithful appears in the legend the love of the woman than that of the man, that I at least ought scarcely to recite it.”

“Nay,” said Gertrude, tenderly, “the fault of the inconstant only heightens our gratitude to the faithful.”

(Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The Pilgrims Of The Rhine, Kapitel VII: Köln, London 1834)


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