Grace Little Rhys

Radiances

“Do you love butter?” say the children; they hold a buttercup under your chin, and by the yellow light that rises up from it and paints your throat, they know that you love butter.

Does everyone know that the air about a yellow flower is dyed yellow, that the yellow beams shoot upward? That a golden cloud hovers over a June field? A cloud indeed! A fire rather—a summer fire that delights the eye.

It was the children that discovered that the buttercup throws upward its tiny fountain of golden light. The rest of us are hardly near enough to what one may call the small immensities, to have realized this great little thing.

It is the source of our love for flowers, this jetting forth of radiance. The light that falls upon them is cast back into the air, dyed to their own several colours. The flowery garden of June is tented in a thousand many-coloured aureoles. Quite three-foot depth of air all round a bush of broom in May is dyed golden. Put your hand within the circle, you will see that it is so. Lean your face within it, it will be all painted and lit up with a golden glory. Hold your flat hand a foot above a crimson rose tree in full bloom and it will be dyed rose colour. This summer I saw an enormous crimson rose lolling on a grey stone balustrade in the sun, casting forth the perfume and crimson light from its cupped leaves. I saw a face that stooped to that rose bathed in that crimson glow.

We should be more grateful to the flowers did we realize this gift of theirs; they are the lamps of the daytime, unspeakably bright. The gardener’s work is to light up many-coloured lamps for the joy of the folk that pass by, as well as for his own. That they do give delight is certain. Let anyone walk through a slum, carrying a bunch of roses; a flock of children will inevitably come clown upon you, like forest things, crying, actually leaping, with imploring arms and fingers, after the flowers. I have looked out of my window at dawn and seen an early morning tramp steal a flower from my garden—not to sell again (he could not have sold it), but just to please himself with its beaming face as he trailed along: and I never grudged the rose.

Jewels, of course, share this faculty of charming the eye by their jetting forth of coloured light. The diamond does more ; it actually splits up the white light and shoots out pointed spears of crimson, green, and blue, fifteen or twenty feet into the air. It is a great pity those hideous early Victorian candlesticks that were trimmed with a dropping fringe of glass prisms are seen no more. No toy is so charming as a prism. To play with little rainbows is a delight to any child. Anything that reminds us that we live in a rainbow is a blessing. A dinner-table spread with cut glass where the sun can reach it becomes a pattern of adorable little rainbows and lakes of coloured moving light. The beveled edge of a mirror reveals these ordered bars with almost ferocious brilliance; most forcibly do they remind one of the sunheats from whence they come. But the loveliest collection of rainbows anywhere may be seen at sea. With a lively wind and a bright sun at the right angle to the waves, you will, if you are lucky, behold the arch of every wave filled with a rainbow sailing within the wave until breaks. A whole sea may be seen like that gemmed with rainbow-filled waves, each with the horned crest of foam above.

More subtle even than these rainbow lights are the human radiances, especially when the physical is secretly reinforced by the powers of the soul. Most of all is this true of the eye. Who does not know that beautiful gliding star that irradiates the eye? There are eyes like brown pools in a wood; eyes like skiey windows lit by the stars; terrible eyes that dart forth spears and arrows. And the evil eye! God preserve us from its vengeful light!

We all have seen “hair like the golden wire.” In hair of this kind every separate thread of the millions that go to make the complete tress is polished and shining, casting back the light with fine glitterings; and even you may see tiny spider-thin rainbows clinging to such hair in strong sunlight. Such hair sheds a golden radiance about the face and neck which it encloses. Again, O the shadow of black locks falls very beautifully on the brow of the dark boy or girl. Then it is that one discovers the true radiance of the brow. I have seen a thoughtful forehead shine from among black locks with a light like that of a pure, translucent pearl.

There seems to me to be a particular radiance of old age. One remembers wonderful silver heads: ay, and faces of silver. Once such I particularly remember. Long ago in a remote country district of Wales, I was waiting for the train. The stationmaster’s little house backed the platform, and as I passed, the curtains were drawn, aside and an old man’s face looked out. The beard, hair, and eyebrows were snow-white. The flesh of the face was white like wax and still as stone. Yet the face was very bright. Stationmasters in Wales are often poets. They have so little to do. I am sure this old man was a poet, and that it was for him that the banks were all planted with quantities of flowers.

In a book that everybody knows there is a character that makes her appearance for the space of two lines and then vanishes for ever again. She was called “the mother of Marcella,” and here is her whole history. “She was a woman who had the sun on one side of her face and the moon on the other.” These are words that say more than words were ever meant to. They have touched the line when sense passes into music; or are they more significant than music? They express, better than any words I know, the super-natural lustre of beauty.

(1920)

MLA Citation

Rhys, Grace Little. “Radiances.” 1920. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 20 Mar 2015. 28 Jul 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/rhys/radiances/>.

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