THERE it is, thirty miles wide between the horns of the land, a bay opening north-west upon the Atlantic, with a small island in the midst of the expanse, a heap of sundered granite lying upon the horizon like a faint sunken cloud, like the floating body of a whale, like an area of opalescent haze, like an inexplicable brightness at sea when no island can be seen. The apparition of that island depends upon the favour of the sun. The island is only a ghost there, sometimes invisible, sometimes but an alluring and immaterial fragment of the coast we see far over the sea in dreams a vision of sanctuary, of the place we shall never reach, a frail mirage of land then, a roseous spot which is not set in the sea, but floats there only while the thought of a haven of peace and secure verities is still in the mind, and while the longing eye projects it on the horizon.
The sun sets behind the island. On a clear day, at sundown, the island behaves so much like a lump of separated earth, a piece of the black world we know, that I can believe land is there, something to be found on the map, a place where I could get ashore, after toil and adventures. At sundown a low yellow planet marks its hiding-place.
If the island in the bay is usually but a coloured thought in the mind, a phantom and an unattainable refuge by day, and a star by night, the real coast which stretches seaward to it, marching on either hand into the blue, confident and tall, is hardly more material, except by the stones of my outlook. The near rocks are of indubitable earth.
Beyond them the coloured fabric of the bay becomes diaphanous, and I can but wonder at the permanence of such a coast in this wind, for in it the delicate cliffs and the frail tinted fields inclined above them seem to tremble, as though they would presently collapse and tear from their places and stream inland as torn flimsies and gossamer.
It is the sublimation of earth. Our own shining globe floats with the others in a sea of light. Here in the bay on a September morning, if our world till then had been without life and voice, with this shine that is an impalpable dust of gold, the quickened air, and the seas moving as though joyous in the first dawn, Eros and Aurora would have known the moment, and a child would have been born.
None but the transcendent and mounting qualities of our elements, and the generative day which makes the surf dazzling, and draws the passionate azure of the bugloss from hot and arid sand, and makes the blobs of sea-jelly in the pools expand like flowers, and ripens the clouds, nothing but the indestructible essence of life, life uplifted and dominant, shows now in this world of the bay.
Below the high moors which enclose the bay, those distant sleepy uplands where the keels of the cumulus clouds are grounded, there are saline meadows, lush and warm, where ditches serpentine between barriers of meadowsweet and briers and fat grasses. Nearer to the sea the levels are of moist sand covered with a close matting of thyme, and herbage as close and resilient as moss, levels that are not green, like fields, but golden, and of a texture that reflects the light, so that these plains seem to have their own brightness.
The sea plains finish in the sandhills. In this desert you may press a hand into the body of earth, and feel its heat and pulse. The west wind pours among the dunes, a warm and heavy torrent. There is no need to make a miracle of the appearance of life on our earth. Life was at the happy incidence of the potent elements on such a strand as this. Aphrodite was no myth. Our mother here gave birth to her.
The sea is kept from the dunes by a high ridge of blue water-worn pebbles, and beyond the pebbles at low water is the wet strand over which she came wading to give the earth children in her own likeness. The Boy and Miss Muffet beside me are no surprise. They are proper to the place. The salt water and the sand are still on their brown limbs, and in the Boy's serious eyes and Miss Muffet's smile there is something outside my knowledge; but I know that in the depth of that mystery is security and content.
There is a fear I have, though, when they trip it over the solid and unquestionable stones, and leave the stones to fly off into the wind down that shining entrance to the deep. For the strand has no substance. Their feet move over a void in which far down I see another sky than ours. They go where I doubt that I can follow. I cannot leave my hold upon the rocks and enter the place to which their late and aerial spirits are native. It is plain the earth is not a solid body. As their bodies, moving over the bright vacuity, grow unsubstantial and more evasive with distance, and they approach that line of white where the surf dimmers athwart the radiant void, I have a sudden fear that they may vanish quite, and only their laughter come at me mockingly from the near invisible air. They will have gone back to their own place.