Leave You! But I Am So Happy With You!

boy with woman with young eyes

14×17″ watercolor on paper
June 22, 2012

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Inspired by the passage below from Phantastes by George MacDonald. There are some discrepancies in this illustration. The woman is supposed to be old and wise with young eyes, a maternal and almost divine figure who gives the main character, Anodos, shelter and nurtures him back to health (among other things) after some of the harshest struggles of his journey in her homely cottage. I depicted her this way because the idea of her having “young eyes” regardless of her age had such power over my imagination as I read, that I couldn’t help but picture her as wholly young. Anyway, here is the text from one of the scenes between Anodos and the woman:

I knew nothing more; or, if I did, I had forgot it all when I awoke to consciousness, lying on the floor of the cottage, with my head in the lap of the woman, who was weeping over me, and stroking my hair with both hands, talking to me as a mother might talk to a sick and sleeping, or a dead child. As soon as I looked up and saw her, she smiled through her tears; smiled with withered face and young eyes, till her countenance was irradiated with the light of the smile. Then she bathed my head and face and hands in an icy cold, colourless liquid, which smelt a little of damp earth. Immediately I was able to sit up. She rose and put some food before me. When I had eaten, she said: “Listen to me, my child. You must leave me directly!”

“Leave you!” I said. “I am so happy with you. I never was so happy in my life.”

“But you must go,” she rejoined sadly. “Listen! What do you hear?”

“I hear the sound as of a great throbbing of water.”

“Ah! you do hear it? Well, I had to go through that door–the door of the Timeless” (and she shuddered as she pointed to the fourth door)–“to find you; for if I had not gone, you would never have entered again; and because I went, the waters around my cottage will rise and rise, and flow and come, till they build a great firmament of waters over my dwelling. But as long as I keep my fire burning, they cannot enter. I have fuel enough for years; and after one year they will sink away again, and be just as they were before you came. I have not been buried for a hundred years now.” And she smiled and wept.

“Alas! alas!” I cried. “I have brought this evil on the best and kindest of friends, who has filled my heart with great gifts.”

“Do not think of that,” she rejoined. “I can bear it very well. You will come back to me some day, I know. But I beg you, for my sake, my dear child, to do one thing. In whatever sorrow you may be, however inconsolable and irremediable it may appear, believe me that the old woman in the cottage, with the young eyes” (and she smiled), “knows something, though she must not always tell it, that would quite satisfy you about it, even in the worst moments of your distress.

Now you must go.”

…Then putting her arms around me, she held me to her bosom; and as I kissed her, I felt as if I were leaving my mother for the first time, and could not help weeping bitterly. At length she gently pushed me away, and with the words, “Go, my son, and do something worth doing,” turned back, and, entering the cottage, closed the door behind her.

I felt very desolate as I went.

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