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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 3232

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


When you find yourself for the first time, upon some unshadowed day, in the delightful West Indian city of St. Pierre,-supposing that you own the sense of poetry, the recollections of a student,-there is apt to steal upon your fancy an impression of having seen it all before, ever so long ago,-you cannot tell where. The sensation of some happy dream you cannot wholly recall might be compared to this feeling. In the simplicity and solidity of the quaint architecture,-in the eccentricity of bright narrow streets, all aglow with warm coloring,-in the tints of roof and wall, antiquated by streakings and patchings of mould greens and grays,-in the startling absence of window-sashes, glass, gas lamps, and chimneys,-in the blossom-tenderness of the blue heaven, the splendor of tropic light, and the warmth of the tropic wind,-you find less the impression of a scene of to-day than the sensation of something that was and is not. Slowly this feeling strengthens with your pleasure in the colorific radiance of costume,-the semi-nudity of passing figures,-the puissant shapeliness of torsos ruddily swart like statue metal,-the rounded outline of limbs yellow as tropic fruit,-the grace of attitudes,-the unconscious harmony of groupings,-the gathering and folding and falling of light robes that oscillate with swaying of free hips,-the sculptural symmetry of unshod feet. You look up and down the lemon-tinted streets,-down to the dazzling azure brightness of meeting sky and sea; up to the perpetual verdure of mountain woods-wondering at the mellowness of tones, the sharpness of lines in the light, the diapha

neity of colored shadows; always asking memory: "When?... where did I see all this... long ago?"....

Then, perhaps, your gaze is suddenly riveted by the vast and solemn beauty of the verdant violet-shaded mass of the dead Volcano,-high-towering above the town, visible from all its ways, and umbraged, maybe, with thinnest curlings of cloud,-like spectres of its ancient smoking to heaven. And all at once the secret of your dream is revealed, with the rising of many a luminous memory,-dreams of the Idyllists, flowers of old Sicilian song, fancies limned upon Pompeiian walls. For a moment the illusion is delicious: you comprehend as never before the charm of a vanished world,-the antique life, the story of terra-cottas and graven stones and gracious things exhumed: even the sun is not of to-day, but of twenty centuries gone;-thus, and under such a light, walked the women of the elder world. You know the fancy absurd;-that the power of the orb has visibly abated nothing in all the eras of man,-that millions are the ages of his almighty glory; but for one instant of reverie he seemeth larger,-even that sun impossible who coloreth the words, coloreth the works of artist-lovers of the past, with the gold light of dreams.

Too soon the hallucination is broken by modern sounds, dissipated by modern sights,-rough trolling of sailors descending to their boats,-the heavy boom of a packet's signal-gun,-the passing of an American buggy. Instantly you become aware that the melodious tongue spoken by the passing throng is neither Hellenic nor Roman: only the beautiful childish speech of French slaves.

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