Tre Cime Di Lavaredo
( Originally Published 1916 )
WILFRID WILSON GIBSON
MOST of us who have lived a good long time have found some part of the world to look on as the happy hunting-ground of our spirits, the place most blessed by memory. And within that sacred circle there will be some spot above all others, enchanted.
Tre Cime di Lavaredo ! Drei Zinnen ! You three rock mountains above Misurina of the Italian Tyrol how many times have we not climbed up, to lie on your high, stony slopes, steeping our eyes in wild form and colour, wherefrom even a dull spirit must take wings and soar a little. Width of thought is surely born, in some sort, of majestic sights cloud forms, and a burning sky, rock pinnacles, and wandering, deep-down valleys, the grey-violet shadows on the hills, the frozen serenity of far snows. All the outspread miracle there lies fan-shaped to the south, south-east, south-west, having the southern warmth, that something which so makes the heart rejoice the moment one passes over and looks southward from any mountain. What traveller does not feel strange loveliness steal up into his soul from southern slopes ? Domodossola below the Simplon ; Val d'Aosta beyond the Matterhorn ; Bormio beneath the Stelvio ; and many another holy place. It is not merely charm and mellowness the south can be savage as the north it is some added poignancy of form and colour, and a look of being blessed.
Tre Cime di Lavaredo ! Music comes drifting up your slopes, from pasture far down enough to give magic to the cow-bells.
And now, up where but three years ago we watched a little white cow licking its herd's sprained hand, they are fighting to the death. Batteries must be adorning that steep forcella running from the refuge hut. A new kind of thunder reverberates, in whose roar the stones that were for ever falling will have lost their voices. And the beasts the grey, the dun, the white, mild-eyed their pasture below must be a desert I Even the goats surely have gone. Or do they and their young masters attend placidly on these new mysteries, just pricking their ears now and again at some too raucous clap and clatter of guns ?
If men are being killed up there, let them be buried in their tracks ! Out of their bodies on the lower slopes a few more flowers will spring gentian, mountain dandelion, alpen rose ; round the peaks they will be grateful food for root of edelweiss. And may their spirits if men have such after death stay up there on those wild heights ! No-where else could they have such pure, free flitting space 1 Friend-spirit, foe-spirit, they will fight no more, but on the winter nights in comradeship haunt about the frozen hills, where no shred of man or beast or bird or plant is left, till Spring comes again.
To fight up here, where Nature has designed one vast demonstration of her own fierce untameness, of all the stubborn face she opposes to the arts of man ! What irony ! Up in this wild, stony citadel, among these rock minarets and red-and - gold - stained bastions, above ravines remote from man up here, where in winter all is ice, and even in summer no green thing grows ; on these invincible outposts of an Earth subdued by incalculable human toil throughout a million years ; among these sublime unconquered monuments, re-minding man of labour and peril infinite in his long death-grip with Nature up here man has fellow-man by the throat. Yea ! It is irony complete ! Nor the less perfect, in that each soldier on these heights who in duty clubs his fellow-Christian's brains out, or sends forth the shell that shall mingle his body with the rock rubble and the edelweiss, and sets up a little cross, perhaps, to the departed soul, is a true hero, holding his life in his hand throwing it down grandly for his country's honour. Verily we are strange animals, we men little walking magazines of too great vitality ! Out of our sheer rampancy comes War ; as though superfluity of vital fluid were for ever accumulating, to free ourselves of which we have found as yet no better way than this. Shall we never learn to spend the surplus of our vital force in efforts of salvation, rather than destruction ? If the mountains cannot teach us, and the wide night skies above them, sparkling with other worlds, then nothing will. For on mountains and beneath such skies, man feels at his greatest, flies far in fancy, dreams of nobility ; yet does he perceive what a puny midget of a creature walks on his two feet, glad of any little help he can get or give, avid of goodwill from any living thing. In loneliness up here he would soon be frozen and starved, or slip to death. His tiny strength, his feeble cunning, should avail him but short span. Unroped to other men, he is but a sigh in the night, a cross of bleaching lime in the sunlight. . . .
Tre Cime di Lavaredo ! Golden sounds of a golden speech ! When, if ever, we see your beloved rocks again, that will be your only name ; no longer will the words Drei Zinnen compete for you. . . . And will you know the difference ? As of old, gigantic silent, or, desolately, in the loosening rains and heat casting down your stones you will lift up your black defiance in the clear mountain nights, your grandeur to the sun by day.
Once we saw you with the young moon flying toward, like a white swallow, like an arrow aimed at your hearts, as it might be in duel between bright swiftness and dark strength. The moon was vanquished for she flew into you that stood unmoved.
Tre Cime di Lavaredo ! You will outlast the race of men upon this earth. When we, quarrel-some midget heroes that we be, are all frozen from this planet, you will be there, whitened for ever from head to foot. Only, you will have no name óneither of north nor south !