Monday, October 11, 2010

A Troubadour Tramps Through the Mountains - 5

In one of the more coherent, but no less ecstatic, passages from A Handy Guide for Beggars, Vachel Lindsay described his day at Tallulah Gorge.

He had just spent several days to walking from Atlanta to Tallulah on his way to the mountains in April 1906. Taking some cheese and crackers as his fare for the day by the waterfalls, he clambered over the rocks and lived to tell about it. This is lengthy, but I'm posting the whole chapter:




THE dust of many miles was upon me. I felt uncouth in the presence of the sun-dried stones. Here was a natural bathing-place. Who could resist it? I climbed further down the canon, holding to the bushes. The cliff along which the water rushed to the fall's foot was smooth and seemed artificially made, though it had been so hewn by the fury of the cataclysm in ages past. I took off my clothes and put my shoulders against the granite, being obliged to lean back a little to conform to its angle. I was standing with my left shoulder almost touching the perilous main column of water.

A little fall that hurried along by itself a bit nearer the bank flowed over me. It came with headway. Though it looked so innocent, I could scarcely hold up against its power. But it gave me delight to maintain myself. The touch of the stone was balm to my walk- worn body and dust-fevered feet. Like a sacerdotal robe the water flowed over my shoulders and I thought myself priest of the solitude. I stepped out into the air. With unwonted energy I was able to throw off the coldness of my wet frame. The water there at the fall's foot was like a thousand elves singing. "Joy to all creatures !" cried the birds. "Joy to all creatures! Glory, glory, glory to the wild falls!"



I was getting myself sunburned, stretched out on the warm dry rocks. Down over the steep edge, somewhere near the foot of the next descent I heard the pipes of Pan. Why should I dress and go? I made my shoes and clothes into a bundle and threw them down the cliff and climbed over, clinging to the steep by mere twigs. I seemed to hear the piping as I approached the terrace at the fall's base. Then the sound of music blended with the stream's strange voice and I turned to merge myself again with its waters. Against the leaning wall of the cliff I placed my shoulders.

The descending current srnote me, wrestling with wildwood laughter, threatening to crush me and hurl me to the base of the mountain. But just as before my feet were well set in a notch of the cliff that went across the stream, cut there a million years ago. It was a curious combination to discover, this stream-wide notch, and above it this wall with the water spread like a crystal robe over it.

In the centre of the fall a Cyclops could have stood to bathe, and on the edge was the same provision in miniature for feeble man. And it was the more curious to find this plan repeated in detail by successive cataracts of the canon, unmistakably wrought by the slow hand of geologic ages. And to see the water of the deep central stream undisturbed in midst of the fall and still crystalline, and to see it slide down the steep incline and strike each, notch at the foot with sudden music and appalling foam, was more wonderful than the simple telling can explain.

Each sheet of crystal that came over my shoulders seemed now to pour into them rather than over them. I lifted my mouth and drank as a desert bird drinks rain. My downstretched arms and extended fingers and the spreading spray seemed one. My heart with its exultant blood seemed but the curve of a cataract over the cliff of my soul.



Led by the pipes of Pan, I again descended. Once more that sound, almost overtaken, interwove itself with the water's cry, and I merged body and soul with the stream and the music. The margin of another cataract crashed upon me. In the recklessness of pleasure, one arm swung into the main current. Then the water threatened my life. To save myself, I was kneeling on one knee. I reached out blindly and found a hold at last in a slippery cleft, and later, it seemed an age, with the other hand I was able to reach one leaf. The leaf did not break. At last its bough was in my grasp and I crawled frightened into the sun. I sat long on a warm patch of grass. But the cliffs and the water were not really my enemies. They sent a wind to give me delight. Never was the taste of the air so sweet as then. The touch of it was on my lips like fruit. There was a flattery in the tree-limbs bending near my shoulders. They said, "There is brotherhood in your footfall on our roots and the touch of your hand on our boughs." The spray of the splashed foam was wine. I was the unchallenged possessor of all of nature my body and soul could lay hold upon. It was the fair season between spring and summer when no one came to this place. Like Selkirk, I was monarch of all I surveyed. In my folly I seemed to feel strange powers creeping into my veins from the sod. I forgot my near-disaster. I said in my heart, "0 Mother Earth majestical, the touch of your creatures has comforted me, and I feel the strength of the soil creeping up into my dust. From this patch of soft grass, power and courage come up into me from your bosorn, from the foundation of your continents. I feel within me the soul of iron from your iron mines, and the soul of lava from your deepest fires”



The satyrs in the bushes were laughing at me and daring me to try the water again. I stood on the edge of the rapids where were many stones coming up out of the foam. I threw logs across. The rocks held them in place. I lay down between the logs in the liquid ice. I defied it heartily. And my brother the river had mercy upon me, and slew me not. Amid the shout of the stream the birds were singing: "Joy, joy, joy to all creatures, and happiness to the whole earth. Glory, glory, glory to the wild falls."

I struggled out from between the logs and threw my bundle over the cliff, and again descended, for I heard the pipes of Pan, just below me there, too plainly for delay. They seemed to say "Look! Here is a more exquisite place." The sun beat down upon me. I felt myself twin brother to the sun. My body was lit with an all-conquering fever. I had walked through tropical wildernesses for many a mile, gathering sunshine. And now in an afternoon I was gambling my golden heat against the icy silver of the river and winning my wager, while all the leaves were laughing on all the trees. And again I stood in a Heaven-prepared place, and the water poured in glory upon my shoulders.

Why was it so dark? Was a storm coming? I was dazed as a child in the theatre beholding the crowd go out after the sudden end of a solemn play. My clothes, it appeared, were half on. I was kneeling, looking up. I counted the falls to the top of the canon. It was night, and I had wrestled with them all. My spirit was beyond all reason happy. This was a day for which I had not planned. I felt like one crowned. My blood was glowing like the blood of the crocus, the blood of the tiger-lily.

And so I meditated, and then at last the chill of weariness began to touch me and in my heart I said, "Oh Mother Earth, for all my vanity, I know I am but a perishable flower in a cleft of the rock. I give thanks to you who have fed me the wild milk of this river, who have upheld me like a child of the gods throughout this day." Around a curve in the canon, down stream, growing each moment sweeter, I heard the pipes of Pan.



Go, you my brothers, whose hearts are in sore need of delight, and bathe in the falls of Tallulah. That experience will be for the foot-sore a balm, for the languid a lash, for the dry-throated pedant the very cup of nature. To those crushed by the inventions of cities, wounded by evil men, it will be a washing away of tears and of blood. Yea, it will be to them all, what it was to my heart that day, the sweet, sweet blowing of the reckless pipes of Pan.