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Children of the Dawn by  Elsie Finnimore Buckley


 

 

THE SCULPTOR AND THE IMAGE

[226]

I N the fair isle of Cyprus, long ago, lived a young sculptor named Pygmalion. As a child he had been quick to see beauty in the forms around him, and while he found nothing better, he would dig the clay in the gardens and sit for many a long hour happy in the shade of the trees, modelling horses and cows and human figures, whilst his mother was busied with her duties in the house. She, for her part, was glad he had found something to amuse him and keep him out of mischief, for he had no brothers or sisters to play with, and his father was dead, so they two lived alone together in a great white house between the mountains and the sea. From time to time she would come down into the garden to look at his figures and praise them; for though they were childish and crude, and sometimes grotesque, they were full of life and promise, and being a wise woman, she knew that where Nature points the way, it is well to make the road as smooth as may be. At first she gave him no better material to [227] work with than the clay he could dig for himself, nor any master to teach him; for she wished to see how long he would persevere, and how far he would get alone. There are times, too, when a master can hinder more than he can teach.

One day when he was old enough, she took him down to the city below, where the people were keeping the feast of Aphrodite, and they watched the glad procession wind through the streets, and its choruses of priests and maidens, and little children scattering roses in the way. With the rest of the folk they followed the procession up the hill to the shining temple, and Pygmalion stood beside his mother, and wondered at the tapering white columns and the clouds of incense, and all the colours and fair forms such as he had never seen before. The picture of all these things he carried home in his mind, and thought of them by day and dreamt of them by night, till they became almost as real to him as the living forms he saw around him. Then he worked more busily than ever at his modelling in the garden; but whereas before he had been content to leave the figures he had made, standing them out in rows for his mother to admire, now he was no longer pleased with his work. He would look at the figure he had made and compare it with the image of his mind, and he saw that while his ideal was fair and beautiful beyond measure, his work was clumsy and rude. Then he would set to work and alter his model. But whatever he did he was not satisfied, and when his mother came down from the house to see him, she found him with broken bits lying about him, and never a finished figure to show her.

[228] Then she knew that one of two things had happened; either he had come to the limit of his powers, and as a child will, had grown tired of a thing in which he could make no further progress, or else he had reached an age when the mind sees fair forms which the hand cannot fashion, and in disgust at his failure he had broken his figures, though they were better than what he had done before, because they fell short of the ideal in his mind.

"Thou art tired of playing with clay, my child," she said; "come with me, and I will see if we cannot find something that will please thee better."

So she kept him with her, and taught him letters, and read to him tales of the gods and heroes, till the child's eyes grew big with wonder, and she saw that all she read passed before his mind like a moving picture. She read to him from the old Greek poets, tales bravery and might, of love and of adventure—tales, too, of cruelty and bloodshed, jealousy and hate. But whatever she read was beautiful, for the Greeks loved beauty above all things else, and clothed their thoughts in fair forms of words, so that even when they told of wickedness and wrong they left no stain of ugliness upon the mind. Pygmalion drank in eagerly all that was read to him, and because he had within him the soul of a poet he understood. The music of the words sank into his heart like seed planted in a fertile soil, which springs up to forms of loveliness and grace. So did the old tales bring before his eyes shapes of beauty, and once again he began to go down into the garden and try to mould them into figures of clay. His mother watched him, and saw that he [229] persevered, and that week by week his models grew more beautiful and more true, as the image in his own mind grew clearer. Then she knew that her reading had done what she hoped it would do, and that the vague and fleeting visions had become for him forms as clear as those he saw around him.

"At least my son has the soul of an artist," she thought, "but whether he has the hands and the fingers of one who can do more than play with clay, the gods alone can tell. He shall have a master to teach him, and in time we shall see whether he is one of the many in whom the divine fire burns, but whose bodies are instruments too coarse to carry out the thoughts of the soul, or whether he is one of the few who are able to do that of which others vainly dream."

So she gave him a master—a white-haired, venerable man, in whom lived the spirit of the old Greek sculptors, who had been the first to show mankind how stone and marble might be wrought into shapes of beauty. He taught the lad how to work in all kinds of stone and metal, and to copy faithfully the forms he saw around him. But he would not let him be satisfied with this alone, for he saw that he had in him the making of better things.

"Pygmalion," he would say, "in life there are many things that are not fair, but in art all things should be fair, and no art is truly great that is not beautiful. When thou lookest on the world, see only that which is beautiful; thou, because thou hast the soul of a poet, wilt see beauty where others cannot find it. Drink it in as a thirsty man will drink from the wayside stream, then give [230] forth to the world, in stone, copies of those ideal forms thou seest with the eye of thy soul alone."

The child was an apt pupil; he understood, and did as his master bade him.

As the years flew by, he grew to be a man and a great sculptor, so that in the temples of the gods and the palaces of the rich his statues stood, and at the corners of the streets, a joy to the rich and poor. The years, which had brought him to fame, had taken from him the white-haired old man, his master, and the mother who had helped to make him what he was; and now he lived alone in the great white house between the mountains and the sea. But he was happy, perfectly happy, working all day long at his images, and dreaming each night of fairer forms that he would some day work into stone and marble. His friends would come up from the town to look at his work, or to buy, and would say to him,

"Pygmalion, art thou not lonely here, all alone? Why dost thou not take thee a wife, and rear up children to be a comfort to thee in thine old age?"

And he would answer, "No, I am not lonely, for my art is to me both wife and children. I will never marry one of the daughters of men."

Whatever they said they could not move him from his resolve. But what his friends could not do Aphrodite accomplished. When she saw that there was one man among the Cyprians who had reached the prime of life without giving her a thought, or offering up one prayer before her shrine, she was angry, and determined that he should feel her power. So one night she sent into his mind the vision of a maiden, who in loveliness surpassed all other [231] forms he had ever dreamed of, and she set his heart aflame, so that he thought he saw a living form before him. He started up in his bed and held out his arms towards her, but awoke with a start to find he was clasping the empty air. Then he knew it was only a vision he had seen; but it haunted him, and he tossed restlessly from side to side, unable to sleep. At last he could bear it no more; while the dawn was yet grey in the east he rose from his couch and went to his workroom. Gathering together his instruments and some clay, he set to work to model the figure of his dream. On and on he worked, scarce thinking of food or rest, and chose out a block of fair white marble, which day by day grew into shape beneath his fingers. In his hand there seemed a magic it had never had before, so that his chisel never failed nor slipped, till the marble stood transformed before him, shaped into the image of a perfect woman, the vision of his dream; and he loved her as other men love a woman in the flesh, with his whole heart and soul. But small joy did he have of his love, for though he had fashioned her with eyes that spoke to him of love and hands held out towards him, yet when he spoke to her she could give no answer, and when he clasped her in his arms her touch was the cold, hard touch of marble. Then he tried to put her away from his mind, and covered her over with a curtain; but when he was not looking at the marble figure, her image was still present before his mind, and he could not forget her. Day by day his love grew, till it became a burning fever in his heart. He grew thin and ill from want of food and rest, and could neither work by day nor sleep by night. His friends, when they came [232] up to see him, marvelled at the change in him; and when they asked to see what new work he had done he would answer,

"My friends, I have no new work to show you. The cunning has departed from my hand. Never again shall I fashion the white marble into shapes of beauty."

They wondered what had come over him, for the image that had been his undoing he never showed them, nor let them know what was troubling his heart. But he made a niche for her in his chamber where the light fell upon her from the window, and at night when he could not sleep he would sit with his arms clasped about her ankles and his head resting on her feet. Her face would look down on him full of pity and love, pale and beautiful in the cold white light of the moon. When the day dawned and the cloudlets clustered red about the rising sun, the warm rays would fall upon her giving to her some hue of life, and Pygmalion's heart would beat high with the hope that a miracle had been wrought, and that his love at the last had kindled a soul akin to his own in the marble statue before him. With a cry he would put his arms about her, but still she remained a cold, hard, unresponsive stone. So day by day and week by week he grew more wretched; for there is nought like a passionate love which is unreturned, and which never can be returned, to take out the life from a man.

At last Aphrodite had compassion on him, when she saw that he had suffered much and more than most men at her hands, and that he no longer held her in disdain. One night, Pygmalion, as usual, had been kneeling before the statue with his arms clasped about her feet, till, [235] tired out with longing, he had fallen asleep. On the breath of the night wind Aphrodite came in, and she kissed the statue on the lips.


[Illustration]

ON THE BREATH OF THE NIGHT WIND APHRODITE CAME IN, AND SHE KISSED THE STATUE ON THE LIPS.

"Let love kindle life," she said. "Live, Galatea, thou milk-white maid, and bring joy to the heart of Pygmalion."

Then she stole forth again through the moonlit casement, and Pygmalion slept on unconscious. In the morning the sunlight streamed in through the window, and fell full upon his face. With a start he awoke, and looked up at the statue, and to his sun-dazed eyes it seemed to move.

"O Aphrodite," he cried, "mock me not! Thou hast deceived me so often."

In despair he cast his arms about the image, certain that once again he would find her a cold white stone. But lo! instead of unyielding marble he was clasping in his arms a living woman. Her arms were about his neck, her lips on his lips, and she looked into his eyes with a fire that answered the fire in his own.

"At last, at last," said he, "my love has prevailed!"

"Even in the heart of a stone, Pygmalion," she said, "love can kindle love. My form is the work of thy hand, and my soul is the child of thy love. As long as stone can last, so long shall my body last; and as long as thy love can live, so long shall my soul live also."

"My love," he said, "will live for ever."

"Then for ever," said she, "my soul will live with thine."

"So as husband and wife they lived together for many a long year. The cunning came back to Pygmalion's [236] hand, and many a fair statue did he make for the people of Cyprus. In time he died in a green old age. His spirit fled away to the dwelling-place of souls, and with him the spirit of Galatea, his wife; and her body returned to the form which Pygmalion had first made her—a fair white marble image. In the garden where he, in his childhood, had learned to model the clay, the Cyprians buried him, building a fair tomb over him, and in a niche they placed the statue of Galatea. So the words she had spoken when she came to life were fulfilled. Her form lived as long as stone could live, and her soul lived as long as Pygmalion could love her. And which of us can say that this could not be for ever, or that they do not still live in the light of each other's love in the dwelling-place of souls?


[Illustration]


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