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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 3924

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


... If it is possible for a West Indian forest to be described at all, it could not be described more powerfully than it has been by Dr. E. Rufz, a creole of Martinique, one of whose works I venture to translate the following remarkable pages:

... "The sea, the sea alone, because it is the most colossal of earthly spectacles,-only the sea can afford us any terms of comparison for the attempt to describe a grand-bois;-but even then one must imagine the sea on a day of a storm, suddenly immobilized in the expression of its mightiest fury. For the summits of these vast woods repeat all the inequalities of the land they cover; and these inequalities are mountains from 4200 to 4800 feet in height, and valleys of corresponding profundity. All this is hidden, blended together, smoothed over by verdure, in soft and enormous undulations,-in immense billowings of foliage. Only, instead of a blue line at the horizon, you have a green line; instead of flashings of blue, you have flashings of green,-and in all the tints, in all the combinations of which green is capable: deep green, light green, yellow-green, black-green.

"When your eyes grow weary-if it indeed be possible for them to weary-of contemplating the exterior of these tremendous woods, try to penetrate a little into their interior. What an inextricable chaos it is! The sands of a sea are not more closely pressed together than the trees are here: some straight, some curved, some upright, some toppling,-fallen, or leaning against one another, or heaped high upon each other. Climbing lianas, which cross from one tree to the other, like ropes passing from mast to mast, help to fill up all the gaps in this treillage; and parasites-not timid parasites like ivy or like moss, but parasites which are trees self-grafted upon trees-dominate the primitive trunks, overwhelm them, usurp the place of their foliage, and fall back to the ground, forming factitious weeping-willows. You do not

find here, as in the great forests of the North, the eternal monotony of birch and fir: this is the kingdom of infinite variety;-species the most diverse elbow each other, interlace, strangle and devour each other: all ranks and orders are confounded, as in a human mob. The soft and tender balisier opens its parasol of leaves beside the gommier, which is the cedar of the colonies you see the acomat, the courbaril, the mahogany, the tedre-à-caillou, the iron-wood... but as well enumerate by name all the soldiers of an army! Our oak, the balata, forces the palm to lengthen itself prodigiously in order to get a few thin beams of sunlight; for it is as difficult here for the poor trees to obtain one glance from this King of the world, as for us, subjects of a monarchy, to obtain one look from our monarch. As for the soil, it is needless to think of looking at it: it lies as far below us probably as the bottom of the sea;-it disappeared, ever so long ago, under the heaping of debris,-under a sort of manure that has been accumulating there since the creation: you sink into it as into slime; you walk upon putrefied trunks, in a dust that has no name! Here indeed it is that one can get some comprehension of what vegetable antiquity signifies;-a lurid light (lurida lux), greenish, as wan at noon as the light of the moon at midnight, confuses forms and lends them a vague and fantastic aspect; a mephitic humidity exhales from all parts; an odor of death prevails; and a calm which is not silence (for the ear fancies it can hear the great movement of composition and of decomposition perpetually going on) tends to inspire you with that old mysterious horror which the ancients felt in the primitive forests of Germany and of Gaul:

"'Arboribus suus horror inest.'" *

* "Enquête sur le Serpent de la Martinique (Vipère Fer-de-

Lance, Bothrops Lancéolé, etc.)" Par le Docteur E. Rufz. 2

ed. 1859. Paris: Germer-Ballière. pp. 55-57 (note).

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