On the Making of a Durable World, Part Two

Rochelle Gurstein in The New Republic:

Leafing through Henry James’s Italian Hours, in search of his impressions of the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, I stumbled upon a startlingly beautiful passage inspired by the author’s rides on horseback in the “campagna” just outside of Rome, where he meditates on what he called the “reflective” life. For him, it was another name for the “aesthetic and ‘esoteric’ life.”

Although I have never strolled or driven, let alone ridden on horseback, through the countryside around Rome, James’s vivid portrayal of his delightful rides transported me there in imagination. Reading James today here in New York, after more than 130 years have passed between us, I could still hear “the disembodied voice of the lark,” feel the “languor” of “the Roman air,” see the flowers that “multiply and the deep blues and purples of the hills, turning to azure and violet,” all of which incited in me a deep longing to view Mount Soracte, which “rises from its blue horizon like an island from the sea and with an elegance of contour which no mood of the year can deepen or diminish.”

More here.