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The Sacred Groves

by Anatole France

The kindly influence of the works of the masters inspires wise discourse, grave and familiar speech, wavering images like garlands constantly broken and constantly re-knotted, long reveries, a vague and gentle curiosity that clings to all things but would exhaust none, the memory of what was dear, the forgetfulness of ugly cares and the return to one's own soul. When we read, then, these excellent books, these books of life, we cause them to pass into ourselves. The critic must be thoroughly penetrated by the knowledge that every book exists in as many different forms as it has readers and that a poem, like a landscape, becomes transformed for every eye that sees it, for every soul that apprehends it. Some years ago, when I was passing fair days under the pines of Hohwald, I was astonished, during my long rambles, to come upon a bench at every point where the shade was most grateful, the view most extensive, nature most engaging. These rustic benches bore names that betrayed the sentiments of those who had placed them there. One was called Friendship's Meetingplace, another Sophie's Rest, a third Charlotte's Dream. These good Alsatians who had contrived for their friends and for the passers-by these places of rest and of meeting, taught me what kindness those may practice who have lived in the lands of the spirit and have long traveled there. I, for my part, determined to go about placing rustic seats in the sacred groves and near the fountains of the Muses. That modest and pious woodman's task suits me marvelously. It requires neither learning nor system and asks only an exquisite astonishment before the beauty of things. Let the village sage, let the surveyor measure the roads and place the mile-stones. As for me, the kindly care of places of rest and meeting and of dreams shall busy me enough. Fit for my tastes and adjusted to my strength is that task of criticism which is lovingly to place benches in beautiful spots and to say with Anytas of Tegaeus: "Whoever thou art, come and sit in the shade of this beautiful laurel tree that we may here sing praises to the immortal gods!"