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The Silent Isle

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The Silent Isle, I name it; and yet in no land in which I have ever lived is there so little sight and sound of water as here. It oozes from field to drain, it trickles from drain to ditch, it falls from ditch to dyke, and then moves silently to the great seaward sluice; it is not a living thing in the landscape, bright and vivacious, but rather something secret and still, drawn almost reluctantly away, rather than hurrying off on business of its own. And yet the whole place gives me the constant sense of being an island, remote and unapproachable; the great black plain, where every step that one takes warns one of its quivering elasticity of soil, runs sharply up to the base of the long, low, green hills, whose rough, dimpled pastures and old elms contrast sharply and pleasantly with the geometrical monotony of the immense flat. The village that I see a mile away, on a further promontory of the old Isle, has the look of a straggling seaport town, dipping down to wharves and quays; and the eye almost expects a fringe of masts and shipping at the base of the steep streets. Then, too, the encircling plain is like water in its tracklessness. There are no short cuts nor footpaths in the fen. You may strike out for the village that on clear days looks so close at hand, and follow a flood-bank for miles without drawing a pace nearer to the goal. Or you may find yourself upon the edge of one of the great lodes or levels, and see the pale-blue stripe of water lie unbridged, like a pointed javelin of steel, to the extreme verge of the horizon. The few roads run straight and strict upon their reed-fringed causeways; and there is an infinite sense of tranquil relief to the eye in the vast green levels, with their faint parallel lines of dyke or drift, just touched into prominence here and there by the clump of poplars surrounding a lonely grange, or the high-shouldered roof of a great pumping-mill. And then, to give largeness to what might else be tame, there is the vast space of sky everywhere, the enormous perspective of rolling cloud-bank and fleecy cumulus: the sky seems higher, deeper, more gigantic, in these great levels than anywhere in the world. The morning comes up more sedately; the orange-skirted twilight is more lingeringly withdrawn. The sun burns lower, down to the very verge of the world, dropping behind no black-stemmed wood or high-standing ridge; and how softly the colour fades westward out of the sky, among the rose-flushed cloud-isles and green spaces of air! And out of all this spacious tracklessness comes a sense of endless remoteness. While the roads converge like the rays of a wheel upon the inland town, each a stream of hurrying life, here the world flows to you more rarely and deliberately. Indeed, there seems no influx of life at all, nothing but a quiet interchange of voyagers. Promotion arrives from no point of the compass; nothing but a little tide of homely life ebbs and flows in these elm-girt villages above the fen. Of course, the anxious and expectant heart carries its own restlessness everywhere; but to read of the rush and stress of life in these grassy solitudes seems like the telling of an idle tale....