The Piazza by Herman Melville
"With fairest flowers
Whilst summer lastsand I live hereFidele-"
WHEN I removed into the countryit was to occupy an old-fashioned farmhousewhich had no piazza- a deficiency the more regretted because not only did I likepiazzasas somehow combining the coziness of indoors with the freedom ofoutdoorsand it is so pleasant to inspect your thermometer therebut thecountry round about was such a picture that in berry time no boy climbs hill orcrosses vale without coming upon easels planted in every nookand sunburntpainters painting there. A very paradise of painters. The circle of the starscut by the circle of the mountains. At leastso looks it from the house; thoughonce upon the mountainsno circle of them can you see. Had the site been chosenfive rods offthis charmed ring would not have been.
The house is old. Seventy years sincefrom the heart of the Hearth StoneHillsthey quarried the Kaabaor Holy Stoneto whicheach Thanksgivingthesocial pilgrims used to come. So long ago thatin digging for the foundationthe workmen used both spade and axfighting the troglodytes of thosesubterranean parts- sturdy roots of a sturdy woodencamped upon what is now along landslide of sleeping meadowsloping away off from my poppybed. Of thatknit wood but one survivor stands- an elmlonely through steadfastness.
Whoever built the househe builded better than he knewor else Orion in thezenith flashed down his Damocles' sword to him some starry night and said"Build there." For howotherwisecould it have entered the builder'smindthatupon the clearing being madesuch a purple prospect would be his?-nothing less than Greylockwith all his hills about himlike Charlemagne amonghis peers.
Nowfor a houseso situated in such a countryto have no piazza for theconvenience of those who might desire to feast upon the viewand take theirtime and ease about itseemed as much of an omission as if a picture galleryshould have no bench; for what but picture galleries are the marble halls ofthese same limestone hills?- galleries hungmonth after month anewwithpictures ever fading into pictures ever fresh. And beauty is like piety- youcannot run and read it; tranquillity and constancywithnowadaysan easychairare needed. For thoughof oldwhen reverence was in vogue and indolencewas notthe devotees of Nature doubtless used to stand and adore- just asinthe cathedrals of those agesthe worshipers of a higher Power did- yetinthese times of failing faith and feeble kneeswe have the piazza and the pew.
During the first year of my residencethe more leisurely to witness thecoronation of Charlemagne (weather permittingthey crown him every sunrise andsunset)I chose meon the hillside bank near bya royal lounge of turf- agreen velvet loungewith longmoss-padded back; while at the headstrangelyenoughthere grew (butI supposefor heraldry) three tufts of blue violets ina field argent of wild strawberries; and a trelliswith honeysuckleI set forcanopy. Very majestical loungeindeed. So much so that hereas with thereclining majesty of Denmark in his orcharda sly earache invaded me. Butifdamps abound at times in Westminster Abbey because it is so oldwhy not withinthis monastery of mountainswhich is older?
A piazza must be had.
The house was widemy fortune narrowso thatto build a panoramic piazzaone round and roundit could not be- althoughindeedconsidering the matterby rule and squarethe carpentersin the kindest waywere anxious to gratifymy furthest wishesat I've forgotten how much a foot.
Upon but one of the four sides would prudence grant me what I wanted. Nowwhich side?
To the eastthat long camp of the Hearth Stone Hillsfading far awaytowards Quitoand every falla small white flake of something peering suddenlyof a coolish morningfrom the topmost cliff- the season's new-dropped lambitsearliest fleece; and then the Christmas dawndraping those dun highlands withred-barred plaids and tartans- goodly sight from your piazzathat. Goodly sight;butto the north is Charlemagne- can't have the Hearth Stone Hills withCharlemagne.
Wellthe south side. Apple trees are there. Pleasantof a balmy morning inthe month of Mayto sit and see that orchardwhite-buddedas for a bridal;andin Octoberone green arsenal yardsuch piles of ruddy shot. Very fineIgrant; butto the north is Charlemagne.
The west sidelook. An upland pasturealleying away into a maple wood attop. Sweetin opening springto trace upon the hillsideotherwise gray andbare- to traceI saythe oldest paths by their streaks of earliest green.SweetindeedI can't deny; butto the north is Charlemagne.
So Charlemagnehe carried it. It was not long after 1848andsomehowabout that timeall round the world these kingsthey had the casting voteandvoted for themselves.
No sooner was ground broken than all the neighborhoodneighbor Divesinparticularbroketoo- into a laugh. Piazza to the north! Winter piazza! Wantsof winter midnightsto watch the Aurora BorealisI suppose; hope he's laid ingood store of polar muffs and mittens.
That was in the lion month of March. Not forgotten are the blue noses of thecarpentersand how they scouted at the greenness of the citwho would buildhis sole piazza to the north. But March don't last
forever; patienceand August comes. And thenin the cool elysium of mynorthern bowerILazarus in Abraham's bosomcast down the hill a pityingglance on poor old Divestormented in the purgatory of his piazza to the south.
Buteven in Decemberthis northern piazza does not repel- nipping cold andgusty though it beand the north windlike any millerbolting by the snow infinest flour- for thenonce morewith frosted beardI pace the sleety deckweathering Cape Horn.
In summertooCanute-likesitting hereone is often reminded of the sea.For not only do long ground swells roll the slanting grainand little waveletsof the grass ripple over upon the low piazzaas their beachand the blown downof dandelions is wafted like the sprayand the purple of the mountains is justthe purple of the billowsand a still August noon broods upon the deep meadowsas a calm upon the Linebut the vastness and the lonesomeness are so oceanicand the silence and the samenesstoothat the first peep of a strange houserising beyond the treesis for all the world like spyingon the Barbary coastan unknown sail.
And this recalls my inland voyage to fairyland. A true voyagebuttake itall in allinteresting as if invented.
From the piazzasome uncertain object I had caughtmysteriously snuggedawayto all appearancein a sort of purpled breast pockethigh up in ahopperlike hollow or sunken angle among the northwestern mountains- yetwhetherreallyit was on a mountainside or a mountaintop could not be determined;becausethoughviewed from favorable pointsa blue summitpeering up awaybehind the restwillas it weretalk to you over their headsand plainlytell youthatthough he (the blue summit) seems among themhe is not of them(God forbid!)andindeedwould have you know that he considers himself- asto say truthhe has good right- by several cubits their superiorneverthelesscertain rangeshere and there double-filedas in platoonsso shoulder andfollow up upon one anotherwith their irregular shapes and heightsthatfromthe piazzaa nigher and lower mountain willin most states of the atmosphereeffacingly shade itself away into a higher and further one; that an objectbleak on the former's crestwillfor all thatappear nested in the latter'sflank. These mountainssomehowthey play at hide-and-seekand all beforeone's eyes.
Butbe that as it maythe spot in question wasat all eventsso situatedas to be only visibleand then but vaguelyunder certain witching conditionsof light and shadow.
Indeedfor a year or moreI knew not there was such a spotand mightperhapshave never knownhad it not been for a wizard afternoon in autumn-late in autumn- a mad poet's afternoonwhen the turned maple woods in the broadbasin below mehaving lost their first vermilion tintdully smokedlikesmoldering townswhen flames expire upon their prey; and rumor had it that thissmokiness in the general air was not all Indian summer- which was not used to beso sick a thinghowever mild- butin great partwas blown from far-offforestsfor weeks on firein Vermont; so that no wonder the sky was ominous asHecate's caldron- and two sportsmencrossing a red stubble buckwheat fieldseemed guilty Macbeth and foreboding Banquo; and the hermit sunhutted in anAdullum cavewell towards the southaccording to his seasondid little elsebutby indirect reflection of narrow rays shot down a Simplon Pass among thecloudsjust steadily paint one smallround strawberry mole upon the wan cheekof northwestern hills. Signal as a candle. One spot of radiancewhere all elsewas shade.
Fairies therethought I; some haunted ring where fairies dance.
Time passedand the following Mayafter a gentle shower upon the mountains-a little shower islanded in misty seas of sunshine; such a distant shower- andsometimes twoand threeand four of themall visible together in differentparts- as I love to watch from the piazzainstead of thunderstorms as I used towhich wrap old Greylock like a Sinaitill one thinks swart Moses must beclimbing among scathed hemlocks there; afterI saythat gentle showerI saw arainbowresting its further end just wherein autumnI had marked the mole.Fairies therethought I; remembering that rainbows bring out the bloomsandthatif one can but get to the rainbow's endhis fortune is made in a bag ofgold. Yon rainbow's endwould I were therethought I. And none the less Iwished itfor now first noticing what seemed some sort of glenor grottointhe mountainside; at leastwhatever it wasviewed through the rainbow's mediumit glowed like the Potosi mine. But a workaday neighbor said no doubt it was butsome old barn- an abandoned oneits broadside beaten inthe acclivity itsbackground. But Ithough I had never been thereI knew better.
A few days aftera cheery sunrise kindled a golden sparkle in the same spotas before. The sparkle was of that vividness it seemed as if it could only comefrom glass. The buildingthen- if buildingafter allit was- couldat leastnot be a barnmuch less an abandoned onestale hay ten years musting in it.No; if aught built by mortalit must be a cottage; perhaps long vacant anddismantledbut this very spring magically fitted up and glazed.
Againone noonin the same directionI markedover dimmed tops ofterraced foliagea broader gleamas of a silver buckler held sunwards oversome croucher's head: which gleamexperience in like cases taughtmust comefrom a roof newly shingled. Thisto memade pretty sure the recent occupancyof that far cot in fairyland.
Day after daynowfull of interest in my discoverywhat time I could sparefrom reading the Midsummer Night's Dreamand all about Titaniawishfully Igazed off towards the hills; but in vain. Either troops of shadowsand imperialguardwith slow pace and solemndefiled along the steepsorrouted bypursuing lightfled broadcast from east to west- old wars of Lucifer andMichael; or the mountainsthough unvexed by these mirrored sham fights in theskyhad an atmosphere otherwise unfavorable for fairy views. I was sorrythemore so because I had to keep my chamber for some time after- which chamber didnot face those hills.
At lengthwhen pretty well againand sitting out in the September morningupon the piazza and thinking to myselfwhenjust after a little flock of sheepthe farmer's banded children passeda-nuttingand said"How sweet aday"- it wasafter allbut what their fathers call a weather-breeder-andindeedwas become so sensitive through my illness as that I could not bearto look upon a Chinese creeper of my adoptionand whichto my delightclimbing a post of the piazzahad burst out in starry bloombut nowif youremoved the leaves a littleshowed millions of strangecankerous wormswhichfeeding upon those blossomsso shared their blessed hue as to make it unblessedevermore- worms whose germs had doubtless lurked in the very bulb whichsohopefullyI had planted: in this ingrate peevishness of my weary convalescencewas I sitting therewhensuddenly looking offI saw the
golden mountain windowdazzling like a deep-sea dolphin. Fairies therethought Ionce morethe queen of fairies at her fairy-windowat any ratesome glad mountain girl; it will do me goodit will cure this wearinesstolook on her. No more; I'll launch my yawl- hocheerlyheart!- and push awayfor fairylandfor rainbow's endin fairyland.
How to get to fairylandby what roadI did not knownor could any oneinform menot even one Edmund Spenserwho had been there- so he wrote me-further than that to reach fairyland it must be voyaged toand with faith. Itook the fairy-mountain's bearingsand the first fine daywhen strengthpermittedgot into my yawl- high-pommeledleather one- cast off the fastandaway I sailedfree voyager as an autumn leaf. Early dawnandsallyingwestwardI sowed the morning before me.
Some miles brought me nigh the hillsbut out of present sight of them. I wasnot lostfor roadside goldenrodsas guidepostspointedI doubted nottheway to the golden window. Following themI came to a lone and languid regionwhere the grass-grown ways were traveled but by drowsy cattlethatless wakedthan stirred by dayseemed to walk in sleep. Browse they did not- the enchantednever eat. At leastso says Don Quixotethat sagest sage that ever lived.
On I wentand gained at last the fairy-mountain's basebut saw yet no fairyring. A pasture rose before me. Letting down five moldering bars- so moistlygreen they seemed fished up from some sunken wreck- a wigged old Arieslong-visaged and with crumpled horncame snuffing upand thenretreatingdecorously led on along a milky-way of whiteweedpast dim-clustering Pleiadesand Hyadesof small forget-me-notsand would have led me further still hisastral path but for golden flights of yellowbirds- pilots surelyto the goldenwindowto one side flying before mefrom bush to bushtoward deep woods-which woods themselves were luring- andsomehowluredtooby their fencebanning a dark roadwhichhowever darkled up. I pushed throughwhen Ariesrenouncing me now for some lost soulwheeledand went his wiser way.Forbidding and forbidden ground- to him.
A winter wood roadmatted all along with wintergreen. By the side of pebblywaters- waters the cheerier for their solitude; beneath swaying fir boughspetted by no season but still green in allon I journeyed- my horse and I; onby an old sawmill bound down and hushed with vines that his grating voice nomore was heard; onby a deep flume clove through snowy marblevernal-tintedwhere freshet eddies hadon each sidespun out empty chapels in the livingrock; onwhere Jacks-in-the- pulpitlike their Baptist namesakepreached butto the wilderness; onwhere a hugecriss-grain blockfern-beddedshowedwherein forgotten timesman after man had tried to split itbut lost hiswedges for his pains- which wedges yet rusted in their holes; onwhereagespastin steplike ledges of a cascadeskull-hollow pots had been churned out byceaseless whirling of a flintstone- ever wearingbut itself unworn; onby wildrapids pouring into a secret poolbutsoothed by circling there awhileissuedforth serenely; onto less broken ground and by a little ringwheretrulyfairies must have dancedor else some wheel- tire been heated- for all wasbare; still onand upand out into a hanging orchardwhere maidenly lookeddown upon me a crescent moonfrom morning.
My horse hitched low his head. Red apples rolled before him- Eve's applesseek-no-furthers. He tasted oneI another; it tasted of the ground. Fairylandnot yetthought Iflinging my bridle to a humped old treethat crooked out anarm to catch it. For the way now lay where path was noneand none might go butby himselfand only go by daring. Through blackberry brakes that tried to pluckme backthough I but strained toward fruitless growths of mountain laurelupslippery steeps to barren heightswhere stood none to welcome. Fairyland notyetthought Ithough the morning is here before me.
Footsore enough and wearyI gained not then my journey's endbut cameerelong to a craggy passdipping towards growing regions still beyond. A zigzagroadhalf overgrown with blueberry busheshere turned among the cliffs. A rentwas in their ragged sides; through it a little track branched offwhichupwards threading that short defilecame breezily out aboveto where themountaintoppart sheltered northward by a taller brothersloped gently off aspace ere darkly plunging; and hereamong fantastic rocksreposing in a herdthe foot track woundhalf beatenup to a littlelow-storiedgrayish cottagecappednunlikewith a peaked roof.
On one slope the roof was deeply weather-stainedandnigh the turfyeaves-troughall velvet-napped; no doubt the snail-monks founded mossy prioriesthere. The other slope was newly shingled. On the north sidedoorless andwindowlessthe clapboardsinnocent of paintwere yet green as the north sideof lichened pinesor copperless hulls of Japanese junks becalmed. The wholebaselike those of the neighboring rockswas rimmed about with shaded streaksof richest sod; forwith hearthstones in fairylandthe natural rockthoughhousedpreserves to the lastjust as in open fieldsits fertilizing charm;onlyby necessityworking now at a removeto the sward without. Soat leastsays Oberongrave authority in fairy lore. Thoughsetting Oberon asidecertain it is thateven in the common worldthe soil close up to farmhousesas close up to pasture rocksiseven though untendedever richer than it is afew rods off- such gentlenurturing heat is radiated there.
But with this cottage the shaded streaks were richest in its front and aboutits entrancewhere the groundsilland especially the doorsillhadthroughlong eldquietly settled down.
No fence was seenno inclosure. Near by- fernsfernsferns; further- woodswoodswoods; beyond- mountainsmountainsmountains; then- skyskysky.Turned out in aerial commonspasture for the mountain moon. Natureand butnaturehouse and all; even a low cross- pile of silver birchpiled openlytoseason; up among whose silvery sticksas through the fencing of somesequestered gravesprang vagrant raspberry bushes- willful assertors of theirright of way.
The foot trackso dainty narrowjust like a sheep trackled through longferns that lodged. Fairyland at lastthought I; Una and her lamb dwell here.Trulya small abode- mere palanquinset down on the summitin a pass betweentwo worldsparticipant of neither.
A sultry hourand I wore a light hatof yellow sinnetwith white ducktrousers- both relics of my tropic seagoing. Clogged in the muffling fernsIsoftly stumbledstaining the knees a sea green.
Pausing at the thresholdor rather where threshold once had beenI sawthrough the open doorwaya lonely girlsewing at a lonely window. Apale-cheeked girl and fly-specked windowwith wasps about the mended upperpanes. I spoke. She shyly startedlike some Tahiti girlsecreted for asacrificefirst catching sightthrough palmsof Captain Cook. Recoveringshebade me enter; with her apron brushed off a stool; then silently resumed her own.With thanks I took the stool; but nowfor a
spaceItoowas mute. Thisthenis the fairy-mountain houseand herethe fairy queen sitting at her fairy-window.
I went up to it. Downwardsdirected by the tunneled passas through aleveled telescopeI caught sight of a far-offsoftazure world. I hardly knewitthough I came from it.
"You must find this view very pleasant" said Iat last.
"Ohsir" tears starting in her eyes"the first time Ilooked out of this windowI said 'nevernever shall I weary of this.'"
"And what wearies you of it now?"
"I don't know" while a tear fell; "but it is not the viewitis Marianna."
Some months backher brotheronly seventeenhad come hithera long wayfrom the other sideto cut wood and burn coaland sheelder sisterhadaccompanied him. Long had they been orphansand now sole inhabitants of thesole house upon the mountain. No guest cameno traveler passed. The zigzagperilous road was only used at seasons by the coal wagons. The brother wasabsent the entire daysometimes the entire night. Whenat eveningfagged outhe did come homehe soon left his benchpoor fellowfor his bedjust as oneat lastwearily quits thattoofor still deeper rest. The benchthe bedthegrave.
Silent I stood by the fairy-windowwhile these things were being told.
"Do you know" said she at lastas stealing from her story"do you know who lives yonder?- I have never been down into that country-away off thereI mean; that housethat marble one" pointing far acrossthe lower landscape; "have you not caught it? thereon the long hillside:the field beforethe woods behind; the white shines out against their blue;don't you mark it? the only house in sight."
I lookedandafter a timeto my surpriserecognizedmore by its positionthan its aspect or Marianna's descriptionmy own abodeglimmering much likethis mountain one from the piazza. The mirage haze made it appear less afarmhouse than King Charming's palace.
"I have often wondered who lives there; but it must be some happy one;again this morning was I thinking so."
"Some happy one" returned Istarting; "and why do you thinkthat? You judge some rich one lives there?"
"Rich or notI never thoughtbut it looks so happyI can't tell howand it is so far away. Sometimes I think I do but dream it is there. You shouldsee it in a sunset."
"No doubt the sunset gilds it finelybut not more than the sunrise doesthis houseperhaps."
"This house? The sun is a good sunbut it never gilds this house. Whyshould it? This old house is rotting. That makes it so mossy. In the morningthe sun comes in at this old windowto be sure- boarded upwhen first we came;a window I can't keep cleando what I may- and half burnsand nearly blinds meat my sewingbesides setting the flies and wasps astir- such flies and wasps asonly lone mountain houses know. Seehere is the curtain- this apron- I try toshut it out with then. It fades ityou see. Sun gild this house? not that everMarianna saw."
"Because when this roof is gilded mostthen you stay here within."
"The hottestweariest hour of dayyou mean? Sirthe sun gilds notthis roof. It leaked sobrother newly shingled all one side. Did you not see it?The north sidewhere the sun strikes most on what the rain has wetted. The sunis a good sunbut this roofit first scorchesand then rots. An old house.They went Westand are long deadthey saywho built it. A mountain house. Inwinter no fox could den in it. That chimney-place has been blocked up with snowjust like a hollow stump."
"Yours are strange fanciesMarianna."
"They but reflect the things."
"Then I should have said'These are strange things' rather than'Yoursare strange fancies.'"
"As you will" and took up her sewing.
Something in those quiet wordsor in that quiet actit made me mute again;whilenoting through the fairy-window a broad shadow stealing onas cast bysome gigantic condor floating at brooding poise on outstretched wingsI markedhowby its deeper and inclusive duskit wiped away into itself all lessershades of rock or fern.
"You watch the cloud" said Marianna.
"Noa shadow; a cloud'sno doubt- though that I cannot see. How didyou know it? Your eyes are on your work."
"It dusked my work. Therenow the cloud is goneTray comes back."
"The dogthe shaggy dog. At noonhe steals offof himselfto changehis shape- returnsand lies down awhilenigh the door. Don't you see him? Hishead is turned round at youthough when you came he looked before him."
"Your eyes rest but on your work; what do you speak of?"
"By the windowcrossing."
"You mean this shaggy shadow- the nigh one? Andyesnow that I mark itit is not unlike a largeblack Newfoundland dog. The invading shadow gonetheinvaded one returns. But I do not see what casts it."
"For thatyou must go without."
"One of those grassy rocksno doubt."
"You see his headhis face?"
"The shadow's? You speak as if you saw itand all the time your eyesare on your work."
"Tray looks at you" still without glancing up; "this is hishour; I
"Have youthenso long sat at this mountain windowwhere but cloudsand vapors passthat to you shadows are as thingsthough you speak of them asof phantoms; thatby familiar knowledge working like a second sightyou canwithout looking for themtell just where they arethoughas having micelikefeetthey creep aboutand come and go; lifeless shadows are as living friendswhothough out of sightare not out of mindeven in their faces- is itso?"
"That way I never thought of it. But the friendliest onethat used tosoothe my weariness so muchcoolly quivering on the fernsit was taken frommenever to returnas Tray did just now. The shadow of a birch. The tree wasstruck by lightningand brother cut it up. You saw the cross-pile outdoors- theburied root lies under itbut not the shadow. That is flownand never willcome backnor ever anywhere stir again."
Another cloud here stole alongonce more blotting out the dogandblackening all the mountain; while the stillness was so still deafness mighthave forgot itselfor else believed that noiseless shadow spoke.
"BirdsMariannasinging birdsI hear none; I hear nothing. Boys andbobolinksdo they never come a-berrying up here?"
"Birds I seldom hear; boysnever. The berries mostly ripe and fall- fewbut me the wiser."
"But yellowbirds showed me the way- part wayat least."
"And then flew back. I guess they play about the mountainside but don'tmake the top their home. And no doubt you think thatliving so lonesome hereknowing nothinghearing nothing- littleat leastbut sound of thunder and thefall of trees- never readingseldom speakingyet ever wakefulthis is whatgives me my strange thoughts- for so you call them- this weariness andwakefulness together. Brotherwho stands and works in open airwould I couldrest like him; but mine is mostly but dull woman's work- sittingsittingrestless sitting."
"But do you not go walk at times? These woods are wide."
"And lonesome; lonesomebecause so wide. Sometimes'tis true ofafternoonsI go a little waybut soon come back again. Better feel lone byhearth than rock. The shadows hereabouts I know- those in the woods arestrangers."
"But the night?"
"Just like the day. Thinkingthinking- a wheel I cannot stop; pure wantof sleep it is that turns it."
"I have heard thatfor this wakeful wearinessto say one's prayersand then lay one's head upon a fresh hop pillow-"
Through the fairy-windowshe pointed down the steep to a small garden patchnear by- mere pot of rifled loamhalf rounded in by sheltering rocks- whereside by sidesome feet apartnipped and punytwo hopvines climbed two polesandgaining their tip endswould have then joined over in an upward claspbutthe baffled shootsgroping awhile in empty airtrailed back whence they sprung.
"You have tried the pillowthen?"
"Prayer and pillow."
"Is there no other cureor charm?"
"Ohif I could but once get to yonder houseand but look upon whoeverthe happy being is that lives there! A foolish thought: why do I think it? Is itthat I live so lonesomeand know nothing?"
"Itooknow nothingand therefore cannot answer; but for your sakeMariannawell could wish that I were that happy one of the happy house youdream you see; for then you would behold him nowandas you saythisweariness might leave you."
-Enough. Launching my yawl no more for fairylandI stick to the piazza. Itis my box-royaland this amphitheatermy theater of San Carlo. Yesthescenery is magical- the illusion so complete. And Madam Meadow Larkmy primadonnaplays her grand engagement here; anddrinking in her sunrise notewhichMemnon-likeseems struck from the golden windowhow far from me the weary facebehind it.
But every night when the curtain fallstruth comes in with darkness. Nolight shows from the mountain. To and fro I walk the piazza deckhaunted byMarianna's faceand many as real a story.