What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Long ago, there lived far to the west an extremely odd young man named William. William tormented himself continually about things that simply did not matter, and he always walked in complete silence. While the other young men were busy doing fun things, like playing sports, causing mischief and chasing girls, this young fellow brooded over the strangest of things. One thing William did seem to enjoy, however, was spending long hours alone in deep, dark caverns. Curiously enough, William felt most at home in those odd places, and the forest near his village was his favorite retreat. The reason for this was that William knew none of the other young people would bother him in that forest, for fear of the strange old woman who resided there. William did not fear her though, in fact, he would see her quite frequently as he went about talking to the beasts, birds, trees and rocks who also lived in the forest. The old woman seemed to pay William no mind, so he, in turn, minded his own business.
While in the forest William would mostly discuss silly things with his woodland friends, things like ‘why the raindrops fell from above instead of from below?’ or ‘why the wind sometimes seemed to whisper and sometimes seemed to howl?’
Williams’s little friends did all they could to cheer him up–the brook would sing him beautiful songs, the fox would tell fantastic stories and the squirrels would tell him hilarious jokes, but despite their best efforts, William remained always moody and serious. William’s parents were very troubled by his condition, and they did not know what to do. They were perplexed because William seemed to eat very well and was in good overall health. Furthermore, he had never caused them any offence and, up until a few years ago, he had been the liveliest and merriest of all the young people in the village. William was also a very good looking young man, as handsome as a summer’s sunrise. On top of that, he danced like an angel! Because of this, he was especially popular with the maidens. Among them, there was one in particular who caught William’s eye. Her name was Daisy.
Daisy was a beautiful creature indeed. She had pale, soft white skin, golden hair as soft as silk, cherry-red lips and raven black eyes. Whoever was fortunate enough to gaze at Daisy would fall under her mesmerizing spell immediately. Daisy, however, only had eyes for William, and William loved her without end. No one in the town knew of their love, no one except for William’s little friends that is. The dandelions and the house-cats of the village snickered at William whenever they caught the two young lovers standing in their windows gazing at each other from afar.
Unfortunately, this happy time soon came to end. William’s odd turn began one day when a strange man wandered into town from the strange lands to the north and sat down in front of the house owned by William’s parents.
The man was dressed in a blue robe with many folds that was inwoven with curious figures. When he walked, the figures seemed move, they turned their heads and blinked their eyes. He had a long beard, deep eyes, and frightful eyebrows. Interestingly, the strange man spoke of bizarre and wondrous lands which he explored at length, and told many stories about his travels. Needless to say, William became infatuated with this man. Each day the young lad would seek out the strange traveler, bring him bread, wine and fresh fruit and sit down beside him to hear the tales and wisdom of which he spoke.
Naturally, Daisy began to detest the stranger. William became so absorbed in the old sorcerer’s conversation that he barely took the time to eat any food, let alone spend any time with Daisy. It was as if, Daisy thought, the old stranger had put a terrible curse on poor William.
Finally, to Daisy’s delight, after about a weeks time the strange man took his leave. As a parting gesture though, he let William choose a gift. The old wanderer reached into his satchel and gave William a small leather bound book.
Unbeknownst to William, this was a mysterious book and was enchanted so that no person but the owner could read it. William cherished this book, believing it would bring him good fortune, but it wasn’t long after the departure of the stranger that William’s dark, downward spiral worsened.
One day, after returning home from the woods something marvelous happened. William burst into his house in the most joyful of spirits; it was almost almost as if he had been born again. He quickly ran to his parents, hugged them and tearfully said that he had to go away.
William’s parents were awestruck. They could not believe their eyes. Standing before them they recognized their old son who had once enjoyed every bursting moment of life.
“I must go away to a foreign land!” Cried William. He shifted in his seat, looked at his parents with admiration and continued, “The strange old woman in the wood has finally spoken to me. She has told me what I must do to get well; she has thrown the book into the fire, and has made me come to you to ask your blessing. Perhaps I shall be back soon, but perhaps never more. Please say goodbye to Daisy for me. I should have been glad to have a talk with her, but I do not know what is wrong with me. When I would think to recall old times, immediately come thoughts more potent in between; my rest is gone, and my heart and love with it; and I must go find them! I would gladly tell you whither, but do not myself know; it is where dwells the mother of things, the virgin with the veil, Isis; for her my spirit is on fire. Farewell!” Then, William tore himself away from them, and went out.
His parents lamented for days and shed many tears. Daisy locked herself in her room, and wept bitterly.
William ran as fast as he could through the valleys and the wilderness, over the mountains and the streams, toward the land of mystery. Everywhere he went he inquired–of men and beast, of rocks and trees,–after the sacred goddess Isis. Many laughed in William’s face, many held their peace, but nowhere did he get an answer. No one could help him find that for which he searched.
One day, while William descended into a valley between two large, dark, pillar like cliffs, he met a small stream and a family of flowers. The flowers greeted him with warmth and kindness, and William understood their words. “Dear country-folk,” said William, “where can I find the sacred dwelling of Isis?” he said, “my heart tells me I must be near. You friendly flowers are more at home here than I, surely you know where I must go.”
The family of flowers sympathized with William, and pitied the poor lad. They informed William that they too were visitors in that land and were also passing through. However, a little ways back, the flowers passed through a country where they had heard the name of Isis mentioned. When William heard this he was overjoyed.
The flowers directed William to go up where they had come down and that he would soon learn more. Curiously, the flowers and the brook looked at each and smiled wittingly as William drank the cool water he was offered and went on his way.
William followed the advice of the flowers and traversed up the hill. He kept asking the country folk he encountered where he should go until, at last, he came to the dwelling he had sought for so long. The place lay hidden among the palms and other rare plants of the land, and as William approached, his heart beat with an infinite longing. William walked toward the door of the dwelling and instantly fell into the deepest of slumbers. As the fog of sleep enveloped him, a voice came to him in the mist. The voice was as familiar as a warm embrace. The soft, harmonious tone beckoned him to come forth, conducting him through endless rooms full of strange things that all seemed too familiar, yet strange with an unknown splendour. Then, all at once, the walls and rooms around him vanished, as if melting into the air, and there before him stood the celestial virgin for whom he had searched. William slowly walked toward her, lifted the glistening veil and then…
…Daisy sank into his arms. A far-off music surrounded the mysteries of love’s reunion and the outpouring of their longings, and shut out from the scene of their rapture everything alien to it.
William never awoke from his dream; for that, he learned, was his desire. He lived a long time after with Daisy and his happy parents and old playmates; and numberless grandchildren thanked the wonderful old wise woman for her counsel and her uprousing. At night it is said the woman can still be heard in the woods singing these words:
Once in the dream of a night I stood
Lone in the light of a magical wood,
Soul-deep in visions that poppy-like sprang;
And spirits of Truth were the birds that sang,
And spirits of Love were the stars that glowed,
And spirits of Peace were the streams that flowed
In that magical wood in the land of sleep.
(- Sarojini Naidu)
A short story written by Jesse Turri
Inspired by: A Parable (From The Disciples At Sais) by Novalis
Painting above: The Oxbow, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm by Thomas Cole