There is a fall of days as there is a I fall of leaves. I do not know what wind, blowing from the infinite, shakes the years, and sends falling from them one by one the sere and yellow days.
Whither do they go? Whither go the sere and yellow leaves? To the great laboratory, no doubt, where nature fashions her annual resurrections. They will return to us from this laboratory as green as ever, and everlastingly the same in their unchangeable designs, those of the poplar, which are hearts, the chestnut, which are hands, the aspen, which are tridents, and the willow leaves, which are lances. But what becomes of days when they have fallen, sere and yellow? To what remote, unknown, chimerical worlds are they carried off forever? For they are never seen again. New days come,—the foliage of the years,—unheralded days, unexpected days, surprising days, days that one loves and days that one fears; but the olden days, those which were familiar to us, those that we desire, that we wait for, will never return. The foliage of the year will be so well renovated that we shall no longer be able to recognize it at all.
Yes, they are days. They have a beginning and an end, they have light and shadow, they are born of night and into night withdraw to die. They are days, without a doubt, but not the same. Their smiles are different, and also their frowns. The joys they bring us are not distributed with less niggardliness, but they have neither the same perfume nor the same color. Hope not to find again the smile that enchanted you. It is dead. It will not return to the face you love any more than the day of your birth will return. But may you at least hope to see once more the face you love, as it was. Alas! You will perhaps have the illusion of seeing it thus, but it will not be reality, for the days, as they vanish into the night, carry off with them somewhat of the countenances of men as a remembrance. It may well be that with these tiny bits they fashion brand new faces, yonder in the chimerical world, but that is not at all sure.
No, never the same, never. Slowly or rapidly, an indefatigable motion whirls everything about in a farandola whose ends never can meet. The year passes by: one day more! The day passes by: an hour longer! The hour passes by: only another minute! In vain. But all this will at least come back? I have already told you, no. Why insist? Bow to fate.
One never crosses the same river twice, said the Greek philosopher, and if this be to some a source of bitterness, others will find in it good reason to take heart. The latter are those whose memories are filled chiefly with evil days. Let them, then, be content. Neither will they ever behold the same days. Tears flow and smiles fade to the same rhythm of life, to disappear together in the bottomless abyss.
Nothing returns, nothing begins anew; it is never the same thing, and yet it seems always the same. For, if the days never return, every moment brings forth new beings whose destiny it will be to create for themselves, in the course of their lives, the same illusions that have companioned and at times illuminated ours. The fabric is eternal; eternal, the embroidery. A universe dies when we die; another is born when a new creature comes to earth with a new sensibility. If, then, it is very true that nothing begins all over again, it is very just to say, too, that everything continues. One may fearlessly advance the latter statement or the former, according to whether one considers the individual or the blending of generations. From this second point of view, everything is coexistent; the same cause produces contradictory, yet logical effects. All the colors and their shades are printed at a single impression, to form the wonderful image we call life.
And there is neither beginning nor end, nor past nor future; there is only a present, at the same time static and ephemeral, multiple and absolute.
It is the vital ocean in which we all share, according to our strength, our needs or our desires. Then what matters that which we call the fall of the days or the fall of the leaves?
Neither the leaves nor the days fall at the same time for all men, and the hour that marks the end of a year is likewise that which marks the birth of another.
It is thus I dream, during these closing days of December, of life which is nothing, since it dies incessantly, and which is all, since it is ceaselessly reborn. It is the drop of water that flows off as soon as it falls, but which is followed by another drop that presses upon it in its course. We are that, nothing but that,—drops of water that are formed, fall, and flow away; and during such brief moments we nevertheless have the time to create a world and live in it. It is the nobility and the mystery of life that it should be of such little account and yet be capable of such great things, for the most humble creature is still very important,—one of the atoms without which the mass would possess neither its proper weight nor form. It has its part in the universal movement; it is one of the elements of the movement’s equilibrium and its periodicity.
Each one, then, should love his life, even though it be not very attractive, for it is the only life. It is a boon that will never return and that each person should tend and enjoy with care; it is one’s capital, large or small, and can not be treated as an investment like those whose dividends are payable through eternity. Life is an annuity; nothing is more certain than that. So that all efforts are to be respected that tend to ameliorate the tenure of this perishable possession which, at the end of every day, has already lost a little of its value. Eternity, the bait by which simple folk are still lured, is not situated beyond life, but in life itself, and is divided among all men, all creatures. Each of us holds but a small portion of it, but that share is so precious that it suffices to enrich the poorest. Let us then take the bitter and the sweet in confidence, and when the fall of the days seems to whirl about us, let us remember that dusk is also dawn.