Jean-Henri Fabre

“All the world a temple!” whispered Jean-Henri Fabre with adoration in his hushed voice.

And with that, he fell into a lush fennel alongside the road.

He settled on the ground, his hands behind his head and looked around in slack-mouthed amazement.

Thick, sturdy trunks shot up around him. Gray-green trunks, the color or the great bay rose up from the earth. They shot past him, ascending like water sprouts into the sky above.

He looked and gaped. Sprouting, exuding, expanding green fennel burst from the earth all around him, pushing aside last year’s dry, brittle dead and decaying stalks. Up it shot and fountained into the sky and there it fell, away from the central column splashing into a misty and fine architecture in the air.

“What subjects! What art!” he cried out.

“Well,” he said to no one in general and everyone in particular, “The Greeks must have studied fennel, and then built the Parthenon and the Acropolis. What pedestals here! What columns these! Such entablatures behold — it’s living architecture!”

Up and up around him now the breathing, expanding, multiplying architecture rose, and where it left off, more went up from there. Stalks sprouted sheathing, glowing green, translucent capitols. And from these living caps rolled leafy volutes, vivified scrolls, feathery with green triumph. And up from there, more divided higher, divided again, column upon adorned column — layered, tiered, piled high and running over.

It was as if the fennel had sent down a deep tap root, had sent down a deep straw into the bowls of the earth and had drawn sandstone from below the bay, even from below the aquifer.

“This was inspiration,” he mused, “not from water, but from stone.” He saw the truth then; the very stone itself had vivified and shot out of the ground to make and remake itself in architectural grandeur — in fennel.

“Why haven’t I noticed this before?” he gasped, and continued, with mounting humility, “Look, there is a cornice, looking precisely like a joy! And look, there a finale, quintessential hope!” he said pointing to the yellow flowers in the top of the plant.

“Did the stars fallen to earth and become the flowers?” he breathed.

And looking up saw crowning golden umbels there, like a hundred candelabras, like a thousand yellow flames, like a million stars silhouetted against the bright blue sky, instarred in the great blue dome.

“Or did the fennel stalks rise up and sprout into stars?”

Suddenly he was not alone, and looking up again, into a sanctuary full of glowing faces, Fabre saw that the celebrants were present, and that he was a member of a community of celebrants, each held a piece of bread, and each, a leafy chalice filled with wine.

He gawked. He peered between the great columns.

He looked down a central aisle. There ensconced on the feathery dark green leaves were tiny fuzzy yellow eggs.

“But look, each one an empty tomb, and near each one, covered with orange splotches, a bright green face with yellow splashes of paint and black horns around them. Here and there and everywhere were fuzzy, round faces and long, soft bodies — draped on colonnades, couched on great suspended floors, posted on great overarching roofs.”

He looked. Up went his eyes, bumping over the volutes. Up went his gaze, up over the entablatures. Up went his stare, through the floral dome.

Up his eyes went, out of the top of the fennel, up into the bright sky, up to the constellations hiding there.

And then he said, to no one in general and everyone in particular, “Some peer in on death and and are unmoved, but I peer in on life — and I exult!”


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