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Egdon Heath

(2015-07-24 22:52:42)


Egdon Heath


A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment. Overhead the hollow stretch of whitish cloud shutting out the sky was as a tent which had the whole heath for its floor.


The heaven being spread with this pallid screen and the earth with the darkest vegetation, their meeting-line at the horizon was clearly marked. In such contrast the heath wore the appearance of an instalment of night which had taken up its place before its astronomical hour was come: darkness had to a great extent arrived hereon, while day stood distinct in the sky. Looking upwards, a furze-cutter would have been inclined to continue work; looking down, he would have decided to finish his faggot and go home. The distant rims of the world and of the firmament seemed to be a division in time no less than a division in matter. The face of the heath by its mere complexion added half an hour to evening; it could in like manner retard the dawn, sadden noon, anticipate the frowning of storms scarcely generated, and intensify the opacity of a moonless midnight to a cause of shaking and dread.


In fact, precisely at this transitional point of its nightly roll into darkness the great and particular glory of the Egdon waste began, and nobody could be said to understand the heath who had not been there at such a time. It could best be felt when it could not clearly be seen, its complete effect and explanation lying in this and the succeeding hours before the next dawn; then, and only then, did it tell its true tale. The spot was, indeed, a near relation of night, and when night showed itself an apparent tendency to gravitate together could be perceived in its shades and the scene. The sombre stretch of rounds and hollows seemed to rise and meet the evening gloom in pure sympathy, the heath exhaling darkness as rapidly as the heavens precipitated it. And so the obscurity in the air and the obscurity in the land closed together in a black fraternization towards which each advanced halfway.


The place became full of a watchful intentness now; for when other things sank blooding to sleep the heath appeared slowly to awake and listen. Every night its Titanic form seemed to await something; but it had waited thus, unmoved, during so many centuries, through the crises of so many things, that it could only be imagined to await one last crisis — the final overthrow.


It was a spot which returned upon the memory of those who loved it with an aspect of peculiar and kindly congruity. Smiling champaigns of flowers and fruit hardly do this, for they are permanently harmonious only with an existence of better reputation as to its issues than the present. Twilight combined with the scenery of Egdon Heath to evolve a thing majestic without severity, impressive without showiness, emphatic in its admonitions, grand in its simplicity. The qualifications which frequently invest the facade of a prison with far more dignity than is found in the facade of a palace double its size lent to this heath a sublimity in which spots renowned for beauty of the accepted kind are utterly wanting. Fair prospects wed happily with fair times; but alas, if times be not fair! Men have oftener suffered from, the mockery of a place too smiling for their reason than from the oppression of surroundings oversadly tinged. Haggard Egdon appealed to a subtler and scarcer instinct, to a more recently learnt emotion, than that which responds to the sort of beauty called charming and fair.


Indeed, it is a question if the exclusive reign of this orthodox beauty is not approaching its last quarter. The new Vale of Tempe may be a gaunt waste in Thule; human souls may find themselves in closer and closer harmony with external things wearing a sombreness distasteful to our race when it was young. The time seems near, if it has not actually arrived, when the chastened sublimity of a moor, a sea, or a mountain will be all of nature that is absolutely in keeping with the moods of the more thinking among mankind. And ultimately, to the commonest tourist, spots like Iceland may become what the vineyards and myrtle gardens of South Europe are to him now; and Heidelberg and Baden be passed unheeded as he hastens from the Alps to the sand dunes of Scheveningen.


The most thoroughgoing ascetic could feel that he had a natural right to wander on Egdon — he was keeping within the line of legitimate indulgence when he laid himself open to influences such as these. Colours and beauties so far subdued were, at least, the birthright of all. Only in summer days of highest feather did its mood touch the level of gaiety. Intensity was more usually reached by way of the solemn than by way of the brilliant, and such a sort of intensity was often arrived at during winter darkness, tempests, and mists. Then Egdon was aroused to reciprocity; for the storm was its lover, and the wind its friend. Then it became the home of strange phantoms; and it was found to be the hitherto unrecognized original of those wild regions of obscurity which are vaguely felt to be compassing us about in midnight dreams of flight and disaster, and are never thought of after the dream till revived by scenes like this.


It was at present a place perfectly accordant with man’s nature — neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly; neither commonplace, unmeaning, nor tame; but, like man, slighted and enduring; and withal singularly colossal and mysterious in its swarthy monotony. As with some persons who have long lived apart, solitude seemed to look out of its countenance. It had a lonely face, suggesting tragical possibilities.


This obscure, obsolete, superseded country figures in Domesday. Its condition is recorded therein as that of heathy, furzy, briary wilderness —“Bruaria.” Then follows the length and breadth in leagues; and, though some uncertainty exists as to the exact extent of this ancient lineal measure, it appears from the figures that the area of Egdon down to the present day has but little diminished. “Turbaria Bruaria”— the right of cutting heath-turf — occurs in charters relating to the district. “Overgrown with heth and mosse,” says Leland of the same dark sweep of country.


Here at least were intelligible facts regarding landscape — far-reaching proofs productive of genuine satisfaction. The untameable, Ishmaelitish thing that Egdon now was it always had been. Civilization was its enemy; and ever since the beginning of vegetation its soil had worn the same antique brown dress, the natural and invariable garment of the particular formation. In its venerable one coat lay a certain vein of satire on human vanity in clothes. A person on a heath in raiment of modern cut and colours has more or less an anomalous look. We seem to want the oldest and simplest human clothing where the clothing of the earth is so primitive.


To recline on a stump of thorn in the central valley of Egdon, between afternoon and night, as now, where the eye could reach nothing of the world outside the summits and shoulders of heathland which filled the whole circumference of its glance, and to know that everything around and underneath had been from prehistoric times as unaltered as the stars overhead, gave ballast to the mind adrift on change, and harassed by the irrepressible New. The great inviolate place had an ancient permanence which the sea cannot claim. Who can say of a particular sea that it is old? Distilled by the sun, kneaded by the moon, it is renewed in a year, in a day, or in an hour. The sea changed, the fields changed, the rivers, the villages, and the people changed, yet Egdon remained. Those surfaces were neither so steep as to be destructible by weather, nor so flat as to be the victims of floods and deposits. With the exception of an aged highway, and a still more aged barrow presently to be referred to — themselves almost crystallized to natural products by long continuance — even the trifling irregularities were not caused by pickaxe, plough, or spade, but remained as the very finger-touches of the last geological change.


The above-mentioned highway traversed the lower levels of the heath, from one horizon to another. In many portions of its course it overlaid an old vicinal way, which branched from the great Western road of the Romans, the Via Iceniana, or Ikenild Street, hard by. On the evening under consideration it would have been noticed that, though the gloom had increased sufficiently to confuse the minor features of the heath, the white surface of the road remained almost as clear as ever




十一月里的一个星期六的后半天, 越来越靠近暮色昏黄的时候了;那一片没有垣篱界断的广大旷野, 提起来都管它叫爱敦荒原的,也一阵比一阵地凄迷苍茫。抬头看来, 弥漫长空的灰白浮云,遮断了青天,好像一座帐篷,把整个荒原当作了它的地席。

   天上悬的既是这样灰白的帐幕,地上铺的又是那种最苍郁的灌莽,所以天边远处天地交接的界线,显得清清楚楚。在这样的对衬下,那片荒原看起来就好像是夜的前驱,还没有正式入夜的时候就走上夜的岗位了;因为地上夜色已经很浓,天上却分明还是白昼。一个斫常青棘的樵夫,如果往天上看去, 就还想继续工作,如果往地下一看, 他却又要决定束好柴捆回家去了。那时候,天边远处,大地的轮廓和长空的轮廓,不但是物质的分界,而且是时间的分界。荒原的表面,仅仅由于颜色这一端,就给暮夜增加了半点钟。它能在同样的情形下,使曙色来得迟缓,使正午变得凄冷;狂风暴雨几乎还没踪影,它就预先显出风暴的阴沉面目;三更半夜,没有月光,它更加深那咫尺难辨的昏暗,以致使人害怕发抖。

   事实上,爱敦荒原伟大而奇特的壮观,恰恰在它每晚由明入暗的那个过渡点上开始,凡是没有在那种时节到过那儿的人,就不能说他领会这片旷野。正由于它在人的眼里看着朦胧迷离,它才让人在心里觉得恰到好处,因为它的力量和意义,完全表现在这个时候以及这个时候以后,第二天曙色以前的那几点钟里面,在这段时间里,也只有在这段时间里,它才露初它的真面目。这块地方实在和夜是近亲属;只有夜一露面,就显然能看出在夜色的苍冥里和荒原的景物上有一种互相凑合的趋势:那一大片郁苍连绵的圆阜和空谷, 好像以十二分的同情,起身迎接昏沉的暮色似的;因为荒原一把黑暗吐出,天空也就把黑暗倾下,两种动作都同样迅速。这样一来,大气里的暝昧和大地上的冥昧,就各走一半路凑到了一起,仿佛同枝连理,结成一气氤氲。


   原来它这个地方,能够让爱它的人回忆起来觉得有一种不同寻常、与人无忤的温蔼面目。花果繁荣的明媚原野,很难做到这一步,因为那种原野,只有遇到一种在结局方面不像现代这样惨淡的人生,才能永远两相调协。 苍苍的暮色和爱敦的景物,共同联合起来造出一种风光,堂皇而不严峻,感人而无粉饰,有深远的警戒性,有浑厚的淳朴性。我们都知道, 牢狱的壁垒上往往有一种气概, 能使它显得比它大两倍的宫殿都要威严得多;现在荒原上也就是因为有这种气概, 所以才有一种世俗称为美丽的地点上所绝对难以看到的高超卓越。明媚的景物和明媚的时光, 自然能够圆满配合; 但是, 唉!倘若时光并不明媚, 那怎么办呢?我们有时之所以觉得难过, 多半是因为景物过于明妍,使人情怀难胜,因而感觉受到嘲弄,很少是因为环境过于萧瑟,因而感觉受到压抑。能受莽荡荒凉的爱敦的感动的, 是那种比较细腻和比较稀少的本能, 是那种比较晚近才发生的情绪,不是那种只认柔媚艳丽为美的性情。

   在下午到黑夜那段时间里, 就像现在说的这样,跑到爱敦荒原的中心山谷,倚在一棵刺树的残株上面,举目看来,外面的景物,一样也看不见,只有荒丘芜阜四面环列,同时知道,地上地下周围一切,都像天上的星辰一样,从有史以前一直到现在,就丝毫没生变化,那时候,我们那种随着人世的变幻无常而漂泊不定的感觉、那种由于现代还无法制止的日新月异而受到骚扰的心情,就觉得安定稳沉,有所寄托。这一块没经骚扰的伟大地区,有一种自古以来永久不变的性质,连大海都不能跟它相比。谁能指出一片海洋来,说它古远长久?日光把它蒸腾,月华把它荡漾,它的情形一年一样,一天一样,一时一刻一样。沧海改易,桑田变迁,江河湖泽,村落人物,全有消长,但是爱敦荒原,却一直没有变化。它的地面,既不是峻陡得要受风吹雷震;又不是平衍得要受水冲泥淤。除去一条古老的大道,和就要提到的一座更古老的古冢---古道和古冢,也因为一直没变,差不多成了两种天然产物了---就是地面上极细小的高低凹凸, 也全不是犁、耙、锹、的工作,都只是最近一次地质变化的抟弄揉搓,原模原样一直保留到现在。


                           (张谷若  译)人民文学出版社 1958年第三版



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