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Twilight in Italy

place at the foot of the mountains, when the sky was pale and unearthly,
invisible, and the hills were nearly black. At a meeting of the tracks
was a crucifix, and between the feet of the Christ a handful of withered
poppies. It was the poppies I saw, then the Christ.
It was an old shrine, the wood -sculpture of a Bavarian peasant. The
Christ was a peasant of the foot of the Alps. He had broad cheekbones
and sturdy limbs. His plain, rudimentary face stared fixedly at the
hills, his neck was stiened, as if in resistance to the fact of the
nails and the cross, which he could not escape. It was a man nailed down
in spirit, but set stubbornly against the bondage and the disgrace. He
was a man of middle age, plain, crude, with some of the meanness of the
peasant, but also with a kind of dogged nobility that does not yield its
soul to the circumstance. Plain, almost blank in his soul, the
middle-aged peasant of the crucifix resisted unmoving the misery of his
position. He did not yield. His soul was set, his will was fixed. He was
himself, let his circumstances be what they would, his life fixed down.
Across the marsh was a tiny square of orange -coloured light, from the
farm-house with the low, spreading roof. I remembered how the man and
his wife and the children worked on till dark, silent and intent,
carrying the hay in their arms out of the streaming thunder-rain into
the shed, working silent in the soaking rain.
The body bent forward towards the earth, closing round on itself; the
arms clasped full of hay, clasped round the hay that presses soft and
close to the breast and the body, that pricks heat into the arms and the
skin of the breast, and fills the lungs with the sleepy scent of dried
herbs: the rain that falls heavily and wets the shoulders, so that the
shirt clings to the hot, firm skin and the rain comes with heavy,
pleasant coldness on the active flesh, running in a trickle down towards
the loins, secretly; this is the peasant, this hot welter of physical
sensation. And it is all intoxicating. It is intoxicating almost like a
soporific, like a sensuous drug, to gather the burden to one’s body in
the rain, to stumble across the living grass to the shed, to relieve
one’s arms of the weight, to throw down the hay on to the heap, to feel
light and free in the dry shed, then to return again into the chill,
hard rain, to stoop again under the rain, and rise to return again with
the burden.
It is this, this endless heat and rousedness of physical sensation which
keeps the body full and potent, and flushes the mind with a blood heat,
a blood sleep. And this sleep, this heat of physical experience, becomes
at length a bondage, at last a crucifixion. It is the life and the
fulfilment of the peasant, this flow of sensuous experience. But at last
it drives him almost mad, because he cannot escape.
For overhead there is always the strange radiance of the mountains,
there is the mystery of the icy river rushing through its pink shoals
into the darkness of the pine-woods, there is always the faint tang of
ice on the air, and the rush of hoarse -sounding water.
And the ice and the upper radiance of snow are brilliant with timeless
immunity from the flux and the warmth of life. Overhead they transcend
all life, all the soft, moist fire of the blood. So that a man must
needs live under the radiance of his own negation.
There is a strange, clear beauty of form about the men of the Bavarian
highlands, about bot h men and women. They are large and clear and
handsome in form, with blue eyes very keen, the pupil small, tightened,
the iris keen, like sharp light shining on blue ice. Their large,
full-moulded limbs and erect bodies are distinct, separate, as if they