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I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning. --J.B. Priestley

J.B. Priestly and Life's Delights

--by J.B. Priestley, May 02, 2019

"I followed a path that led me into one of these woods, through a tunnel of green gloom and smoky blue dusk. It was very quiet, very remote, in there. My feet sank into the pile of the pine needles. The last bright tatters of sunlight vanished. Some bird went whirring and left behind a deeper silence. I breathed a different air, ancient and aromatic." A joyful observer of the quotidian, playwright, novelist and essayist J.B. Priestley shares his heart's delight in the quiet manifestations of beauty and magic in everyday life--a quiet pine wood at dusk, a spray of plum blossoms, the light and warmth of sunbeams. Celebrate the everyday wonders of the natural world with J.B. Priestly in this selection of short essays from the collection Delight.

What follows are passages excerpted from "Delight" by J.B. Priestley.

Walk In Pine Wood  

Near the house, high on a hill, were woods of pine and fir; and, slipping away from the others, I followed a path that led me  into one of these woods, through a tunnel of green gloom and smoky blue dusk. It was very quiet, very remote, in there. My feet sank into the pile of the pine needles. The last bright tatters of sunlight vanished. Some bird went whirring and left behind a deeper silence. I breathed a different air, ancient and aromatic. I had not gone a hundred paces before I had walked out of our English South-country and was deep in the Northern forest itself, with a thickness of time, centuries and  centuries of it, pressing against me. Little doors at the back of my mind were softly opened. It was not the mere quickening of fancy that brought me  delight then, but an atavistic stirring and heightening of the imagination, as if all my distant ancestors, who were certainly of the North, were whispering  and pointing in this sudden dusk. Any turn now might bring me to the magical smithy, the cave of the dragon; a horn might blow and shatter the  present time like so much painted glass; the world  of legend, hung about these trees like the spiders’ webs, was closing round me. No doubt my  precious ego, challenged at every step, felt a touch of fear; but my true self, recognising this enlargement of life, finding its place for a moment or two in that procession which is the real life of Man, drew deeper breaths, lived in its own world during these moments, and was delighted.   

Early Childhood and the Treasure 

I can remember, as if it happened last week, more than half a century ago, when I must have been about four, and on fine summer mornings, (I) would sit in a field adjoining the house. What gave me delight then was a mysterious notion, for which I could certainly not have found words, of a Treasure, It was waiting for me either in the  earth, just below the buttercups and daisies, or in the golden air. I had formed no idea of what this Treasure would consist of, and nobody had ever  talked to me about it. But morning after morning  would be radiant with its promise. Somewhere, not far out of reach, it was waiting for me, and at any moment I might roll over and put a hand on it. I suspect now that the Treasure was Earth itself and the light and warmth of the sunbeams ; yet sometimes I fancy that I have been searching for it ever since.    

Nature as Last Consolation 

Buried deep in me, I fancy, is a tiny Wordsworth or Thoreau, crying reedily to be let out. For when I imagine all else failing me, always I see myself finding my last delight in Nature herself. We will say that the world I have known is in ruins, my work is done, my family and friends are scattered, and I am a shambling old wreck of a fellow living on four-pence; nearly the worst has happened. But Nature, I tell myself, will still be there, and at last  I shall turn to her with all my heart and mind. At last I shall name that flower, name that bird. A celandine in the January grass will light up a  whole morning. The sound of a stonechat will fill  in and complete an afternoon. I shall totter along the hedgerows, chuckling in senile joy. I shall join a club of oaks and elms. I shall fall in love with and begin courting a spray of plum-blossom. And delight shall soar into ecstasy when a great shaft of late afternoon sunlight reaches the upper downland, bright against a sky of pewter, and my rheumy eyes seem to stare at the fields of Paradise.  Patience, patience, my minikin Wordsworth, my  fietal Thoreau: your turn will come. 


Blossom – apple, pear, cherry, plum, almond blossom – in the sun. Up in the Dales when I was a child. In Picardy among the ruin of war. Afterwards at Cambridge and among the Chilterns, where I would read my publishers’ manuscripts and review copies in their delicate shade. At the bottom of the canyons, at Bright Angel and Oak Creek, in Arizona. Here in our garden in the Isle of Wight. So many places, so much time; and yet after fifty years this delight in the foaming branches is unchanged. I believe that if I lived to be a thousand and were left with some glimmer of eyesight, this delight would remain. If only we could clean off the world from this Earth. But at least once every spring on a fine morning that is what we seem to do, as we stare again at the blossom and are back in Eden. We complain and complain, but we have lived and have seen the blossom – apple, pear, cherry, plum, almond blossom – in the sun; and the best among us cannot pretend they deserve – or could contrive – anything better.

Excerpted from J.B. Priestley's book, "Delight". Full text available here.   


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