The Centaur

by Algernon Blackwood

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Some of Fechner's reasons for thinking the Earth a being superior in the scale to ourselves, he gave, but it was another passage that lingered chiefly in my heart, the description of the daring German's joy in dwelling upon her perfections--later, too, of his first simple vision. Though myself wholly of the earth, earthy in the ordinary sense, the beauty of the thoughts live in my spirit to this day, transfiguring even that dingy Insurance Office, streaming through all my dullest, hardest daily tasks with the inspiration of a simple delight that helps me over many a difficult weary time of work and duty.

"'To carry her precious freight through the hours and seasons what form could be more excellent than hers--being as it is horse, wheels, and wagon all in one. Think of her beauty--a shining ball, sky-blue and sunlit over one half, the other bathed in starry night, reflecting the heavens from all her waters, myriads of lights and shadows in the folds of her mountains and windings of her valleys she would be a spectacle of rainbow glory, could one only see her from afar as we see parts of her from her own mountain tops. Every quality of landscape that has a name would then be visible in her all at once--all that is delicate or graceful, all that is quiet, or wild, or romantic, or desolate, or cheerful, or luxuriant, or fresh. That landscape is her face--a peopled landscape, too, for men's eyes would appear in it like diamonds among the dew-drops. Green would be the dominant color, but the blue atmosphere and the clouds would enfold her as a bride is shrouded in her veil--a veil the vapory, transparent folds of which the earth, through her ministers the winds, never tires of laying and folding about herself anew.'

"She needs, as a sentient organism," he continued, pointing into the curtain of blue night beyond the window, "no heart or brain or lungs as we do, for she is--different. 'Their functions she performs through us! She has no proper muscles or limbs of her own, and the only objects external to her are the other stars. To these her whole mass reacts by the most exquisite alterations in its total gait and by the still more exquisite vibratory responses in its substance. Her ocean reflects the lights of heaven as in a mighty mirror, her atmosphere refracts them like a monstrous lens, the clouds and snowfields combine them into white, the woods and flowers disperse them into colors.... Men have always made fables about angels, dwelling in the light, needing no earthly food or drink, messengers between ourselves and God. Here are actually existent beings, dwelling in the light and moving through the sky, needing neither food nor drink, intermediaries between God and us, obeying His commands. So, if the heavens really are the home of angels, the heavenly bodies must be those very angels, for other creatures there are none. Yes! the Earth is our great common guardian angel, who watches over all our interests combined.'

"And then," whispered the Irishman, seeing that I still eagerly listened, "give your ear to one of his moments of direct vision. Note its simplicity, and the authority of its conviction:

"'On a certain spring morning I went out to walk. The fields were green, the birds sang, the dew glistened, the smoke was rising, here and there a man appeared; a light as of transfiguration lay on all things. It was only a little bit of the earth; it was only a moment of her existence; and yet as my look embraced her more and more it seemed to me not only so beautiful an idea, but so true and clear a fact, that she is an angel, an angel so rich and fresh and flower-like, and yet going her round in the skies so firmly and so at one with herself, turning her whole living face to Heaven, and carrying me along with her into that Heaven, that I asked myself how the opinions of men could ever have so spun themselves away from life as to deem the earth only a dry clod, and to seek for angels above it or about it in the emptiness of the sky,--only to find them nowhere.'"

Fire-engines, clanging as with a hurrying anger through the night, broke in upon his impassioned sentences; the shouts of the men drowned his last words....

Life became very wonderful inside those tight, confining walls, for the spell and grandeur of the whole conception lifted the heart. Even if belief failed, in the sense of believing--a shilling, it succeeded in the sense of believing--a symphony. The invading beauty swept about us both. Here was a glory that was also a driving power upon which any but a man half dead could draw for practical use. For the big conceptions fan the will. The little pains of life, they make one feel, need not kill true joy, nor deaden effort.

"Come," said O'Malley softly, interrupting my dream of hope and splendor, "let us walk together through the Park to your place. It is late, and you, I know, have to be up early in the morning ... earlier than I."

And presently we passed the statue of Achilles and got our feet upon the turf beyond--a little bit of living planet in the middle of the heavy smothering London town. About us, over us, within us, stirred the awe of that immense idea. Upon that bit of living, growing turf we passed toward the Marble Arch, treading, as it were, the skin of a huge Body--the physical expression of a grand angelic Being, alive, sentient, conscious. Conscious, moreover, of our little separate individual selves who walked ... a Being who cared; who felt us; who knew, understood, and--loved us as a mother her own offspring.... "To whom men could pray as they pray to their saints."

The conception, even thus dimly and confusedly adumbrated, brought a new sense of life--terrific and eternal. All living things upon the earth's surface were emanations of her mighty central soul; all--from the gods and fairies of olden time who knew it, to the men and women of Today who have forgotten it.

The gods--!

Were these then projections of her personality--aspects and facets of her divided self--emanations now withdrawn? Latent in her did they still exist as moods or Powers--true, alive, everlasting, but unmanifest? Still knowable to simple men and to Children of Nature?

Was this the giant truth that Stahl had built on Fechner?

Everything about us seemed to draw together into an immense and towering configuration that included trees and air and the sweep of open park--the looming and overwhelming beauty of one of these very gods survived--Pan, the eternal and the splendid ... a mood of the Earth-life, a projection clothed with the light of stars, the cloudy air, the passion of the night, the thrill of an august, extended Mood.

And the others were not so very far behind--those other little parcels of Earth's Consciousness the Greeks and early races, the simple, primitive, childlike peoples of the dawn, divined the existence of, and labeled "gods" ... and worshipped ... so as to draw their powers into themselves by ecstasy and vision ...

Could, then, worship now still recall them? Was the attitude of even one true worshipper's heart the force necessary to touch that particular aspect of the mighty total Consciousness of Earth, and call forth those ancient forms of beauty? Could it be that this idea--the idea of "the gods"--was thus forever true and vital...? And might they be known and felt in the heart if not actually in some suggested form?

I only know that as we walked home past the doors of that dingy Paddington house where Terence O'Malley kept his dusty books and papers and so to my own quarters, these things he talked about dropped into my mind with a bewildering splendor to stay forever. His words I have forgotten, or how he made such speculations worth listening to at all. Yet, I hear them singing in my blood as though of yesterday; and often when that conflict comes 'twixt duty and desire that makes life sometimes so vain and bitter, the memory comes to lift with strength far greater than my own. The Earth can heal and bless.

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