BOOK THE SECOND
5. Chapter V
It was impervious to the shocks and mutations of time--it was an emblem of
time itself: slow, regular, perpetual; unwitting of the passions that fret
themselves around--of the wear and tear of mortality. The poor tortoise!
nothing less than the bursting of volcanoes, the convulsions of the riven
world, could have quenched its sluggish spark! The inexorable Death, that
spared not pomp or beauty, passed unheedingly by a thing to which death
could bring so insignificant a change.
For this animal the mercurial and vivid Greek felt all the wonder and
affection of contrast. He could spend hours in surveying its creeping
progress, in moralizing over its mechanism. He despised it in joy--he
envied it in sorrow.
Regarding it now as he lay along the sward--its dull mass moving while it
seemed motionless, the Athenian murmured to himself:
'The eagle dropped a stone from his talons, thinking to break thy shell: the
stone crushed the head of a poet. This is the allegory of Fate! Dull
thing! Thou hadst a father and a mother; perhaps, ages ago, thou thyself
hadst a mate. Did thy parents love, or didst thou? Did thy slow blood
circulate more gladly when thou didst creep to the side of thy wedded one?
Wert thou capable of affection? Could it distress thee if she were away from
thy side? Couldst thou feel when she was present? What would I not give to
know the history of thy mailed breast--to gaze upon the mechanism of thy
faint desires--to mark what hair--breadth difference separates thy sorrow
from thy joy! Yet, methinks, thou wouldst know if Ione were present! Thou
wouldst feel her coming like a happier air--like a gladder sun. I envy thee
now, for thou knowest not that she is absent; and I--would I could be like
thee--between the intervals of seeing her! What doubt, what presentiment,
haunts me! why will she not admit me? Days have passed since I heard her
voice. For the first time, life grows flat to me. I am as one who is left
alone at a banquet, the lights dead, and the flowers faded. Ah! Ione,
couldst thou dream how I adore thee!'