The Centaur

by Algernon Blackwood

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"Far, very far, steer by my star, Leaving the loud world's hurry and clamor, In the mid-sea waits you, maybe, The Isles of Glamour, where Beauty reigns. From coasts of commerce and myriad-marted Towns of traffic by wide seas parted, Past shoals unmapped and by reefs uncharted, The single-hearted my isle attains.

"Each soul may find faith to her mind, Seek you the peace of the groves Elysian, Or the ivy twine and the wands of vine, The Dionysian, Orphic rite? To share the joy of the Maenad's leaping In frenzied train thro' the dusk glen sweeping, The dew-drench'd dance and the star-watch'd sleeping, Or temple keeping in vestal white?

"Ye who regret suns that have set, Lo, each god of the ages golden, Here is enshrined, ageless and kind, Unbeholden the dark years through. Their faithful oracles yet bestowing, By laurels whisper and clear streams flowing, Or the leafy stir of the Gods' own going, In oak trees blowing, may answer you!"


For the next month Terence O'Malley possessed his soul in patience; he worked, and the work saved him. That is to say it enabled him to keep what men call "balanced." Stahl had--whether intentionally or not he was never quite certain--raised a tempest in him. More accurately, perhaps, he had called it to the top, for it had been raging deep down ever since he could remember, or had begun to think.

That the earth might be a living, sentient organism, though too vast to be envisaged as such by normal human consciousness, had always been a tenet of his imagination's creed. Now he knew it true, as a dinner-gong is true. That deep yearnings, impossible of satisfaction in the external conditions of ordinary life, could know subjective fulfillment in the mind, had always been for him poetically true, as for any other poet: now he realized that it was literally true for some outlying tract of consciousness usually inactive, termed by some transliminal. Spiritual nostalgia provided the channel, and the transfer of consciousness to this outlying tract, involving, of course, a trance condition of the usual self, indicated the way--that was all.

Again, his mystical temperament had always seen objects as forces which from some invisible center push outwards into visible shape--as bodies: bodies of trees, stones, flowers, men, women, animals; and others but partially pushed outwards, still invisible to limited physical sight at least, either too huge, too small, or too attenuated for vision. Whereas now, as a result of Stahl and Fechner combined, it flamed into him that this was positively true; more--that there was a point in his transliminal consciousness where he might "contact" these forces before they reached their cruder external expression as bodies. Nature, in this sense, had always been for him alive, though he had allowed himself the term by a long stretch of poetic sympathy; but now he knew that it was actually true, because objects, landscapes, humans, and the rest, were verily aspects of the collective consciousness of the Earth, moods of her spirit, phases of her being, expressions of her deep, pure, passionate "heart"--projections of herself.

He pondered lingeringly over this. Common words revealed their open faces to him. He saw the ideas behind language, saw them naked. Repetition had robbed them of so much that now became vital, like Bible phrases that too great familiarity in childhood kills for all subsequent life as meaningless. His eyes were opened perhaps. He took a flower into his mind and thought about it; really thought; meditated lovingly. A flower was literally projected by the earth so far as its form was concerned. Its roots gathered soil and earth-matter, changing them into leaves and blossoms; its leaves again, took of the atmosphere, also a part of the earth. It was projected by the earth, born of her, fed by her, and at "death" returned into her. But this was its outward and visible form only. The flower, for his imaginative mind, was a force made visible as literally as a house was a force the mind of the architect made visible. In the mind, or consciousness of the Earth this flower first lay latent as a dream. Perhaps, in her consciousness, it nested as that which in us corresponds to a little thought.... And from this he leaped, as the way ever was with him, to bigger "projections"--trees, atmosphere, clouds, winds, some visible, some invisible, and so to a deeper yet simpler comprehension of Fechner's thundering conception of human beings as projections. Was he, then, literally, a child of the Earth, mothered by the whole magnificent planet...? All the world akin--that seeking for an eternal home in every human heart explained...? And were there--had there been rather--these other, vaster projections Stahl had adumbrated with his sudden borrowed stretch of vision--forces, thoughts, moods of her hidden life invisible to sight, yet able to be felt and known interiorly?

That "the gods" were definitely knowable Powers, accessible to any genuine worshipper, had ever haunted his mind, thinly separated only from definite belief: now he understood that this also had been true, though only partially divined before. For now he saw them as the rare expressions of the Earth's in the morning of her life. That he might ever come to know them close made him tremble with a fearful joy, the idea flaming across his being with a dazzling brilliance that brought him close to that state of consciousness termed ecstasy. And that in certain unique beings, outwardly human like his friend, there might still survive some primitive expression of the Earth-Soul, lesser than the gods, and intermediate as it were, became for him now a fact--wondrous, awe-inspiring, even holy, but still a fact that he could grasp.

He had found one such; and Stahl, by warnings that fought with urging invitation at the same time, had confirmed it.

It was singular, he reflected, how worship had ever turned for him a landscape or a scene enchantingly alive. Worship, he now understood, of course invited "the gods," and was the channel through which their manifestation became possible to the soul. All the gods, then, were accessible in this interior way, but Pan especially--in desolate places and secret corners of a wood.... He remembered dimly the Greek idea of worship in the Mysteries: that the worshipper knew actual temporary union with his deity in ecstasy, and at death went permanently into his sphere of being. He understood that worship was au fond a desire for loss of personal life--hence its subtle joy; and a fear lest it be actually accomplished--whence its awe and wonder.

Some glorious, winged thing moved now beside him; it held him by the hand. The Earth possessed him; and the whole adventure, so far as he can make it plain, was an authoritative summons to the natural, Simple Life.

For the next month, therefore, O'Malley, unhurrying, blessed with a deeper sense of happiness than he had ever known before, dismissed the "tempest" from his surface consciousness, and set to work to gather the picturesque impressions of strange places and strange peoples that the public liked to read about in occasional letters of travel. And by the time May had passed into June he had moved up and down the Caucasus, observing, learning, expanding, and gathering in the process through every sense--through the very pores of his skin almost--draughts of a new and abundant life that is to be had there merely for the asking.

That modification of the personality which comes even in cities to all but the utterly hidebound--so that a man in Rome finds himself not quite the same as he was in London or in Paris a few days before--went forward in him on a profounder scale than anything he had known hitherto. Nature fed, stimulated and called him with a passionate intimacy that destroyed all sense of loneliness, and with a vehement directness of attack that simply charged him to the brim with a new joy of living. His vitality, powers, even his physical health, stood at their best and highest. The country laid its spell upon him, in a word; and if he expresses it thus with some intensity it was because life came to him so. His record is the measure of his vision. Those who find exaggeration in it merely confess thereby their own smaller capacity of living.

Here, as he wandered to and fro among these proud, immense, secluded valleys, through remote and untamed forests, and by the banks of wild rivers that shook their flying foam across untrodden banks, he wandered at the same time deeper and ever deeper into himself, toward a point where he lost touch with all that constituted him "modern," or held him captive in the spirit of today. Nearer and ever nearer he moved into some tremendous freedom, some state of innocence and simplicity that, while gloriously unrestrained, yet knew no touch of license. Dreams had whispered of it; childhood had fringed its frontiers; longings had even mapped it faintly to his mind. But now he breathed its very air and knew it face to face. The Earth surged wonderfully about him.

With his sleeping-bag upon a small Caucasian horse, a sack to hold his cooking things, a pistol in his belt, he wandered thus for days, sleeping beneath the stars, seeing the sunset and the dawn, drenched in new strength and wonder all the time. Here he touched deeper reaches of the Earth that spoke of old, old things, that yet were still young because they knew not change. He walked in the morning of the world, through her primal fire and dew, when all was a first and giant garden.

The advertised splendors of other lands, even of India, Egypt, and the East, seemed almost vulgar beside this country that had somehow held itself aloof, unstained and clean. The civilization of its little towns seemed but a coated varnish that an hour's sun would melt away; the railway, crawling along the flanks of the great range, but a ribbon of old iron pinned on that, with the first shiver of those giant sides, would split and vanish.

Here, where the Argonauts once landed, the Golden Fleece still shone o' nights in the depths of the rustling beech woods; along the shores of that old Phasis their figures might still be seen, tall Jason in the lead, erect and silvery, passing o'er the shining, flowered fields upon their quest of ancient beauty. Further north from this sunny Colchian strand rose the peak of Kasbek, gaunt and desolate pyramid of iron, "sloping through five great zones of climate," whence the ghost of Prometheus still gazed down from his "vast frozen precipice" upon a world his courage would redeem. For somewhere here was the cradle of the human race, fair garden of some Edened life before the "Fall," when the Earth sang for joy in her first, golden youth, and her soul expressed itself in mighty forms that remain for lesser days but a faded hierarchy of visioned gods.

A living Earth went with him everywhere, with love that never breathed alarm. It seemed he felt her very thoughts within himself--thoughts, however, that now no longer married with a visible expression as shapes.

Among these old-world tribes and peoples with their babble of difficult tongues, wonder and beauty, terror and worship, still lay too deeply buried to have as yet externalized themselves in mental forms as legend, myth, and story. In the blood ran all their richness undiluted. Life was simple, full charged with an immense delight. At home little cocksure writers in little cocksure journals, pertly modern and enlightened, might dictate how far imaginative vision and belief could go before they overstepped the limits of an artificial schedule; but here "everything possible to be believed was still an image of truth," and the stream of life flowed deeper than all mere intellectual denials.

A little out of sight, but thinly veiled, the powers that in this haunted corner of the earth, too strangely neglected, pushed outwards into men and trees, into mountains, flowers, and the rest, were unenslaved and intensely vital. In his blood O'Malley knew the primal pulses of the world.

It was irresistibly seductive. Whether he slept with the Aryan Ossetians upon the high ridges of the central range, or shared the stone huts of the mountain Jews, unchanged since Bible days, beyond the Suram heights, there came to all his senses the message of that Golden Age his longings ever sought--the rush and murmur of the Urwelt calling.

And so it was, about the first week in June that lean, bronzed, and in perfect physical condition, this wandering Irishman found himself in a little Swanetian hamlet beyond Alighir, preparing with a Georgian peasant-guide to penetrate yet deeper into the mountain recesses and feed his heart with what he found of loneliness and beauty.

This region of Imerethia, bordering on Mingrelia, is smothered beneath an exuberance of vegetation almost tropical, blue and golden with enormous flowers, tangled with wild vines, rich with towering soft beech woods, and finally, in the upper sections, ablaze with leagues of huge rhododendron trees in blossom that give whole mountain-sides the aspect of a giant garden, flowering amid peaks that even dwarf the Alps. For here the original garden of the world survives, run wild with pristine loveliness. The prodigality of Nature is bewildering, almost troubling. There are valleys, rarely entered by the foot of man, where monstrous lilies, topping a man on foot and even reaching to his shoulder on horseback, have suggested to botanists in their lavish luxuriance a survival of the original flora of the world. A thousand flowers he found whose names he had never heard of, their hues and forms as strangely lovely as those of another planet. The grasses alone in scale and mass were magnificent. While, in and out of all this splendor, less dense and voluminous only than the rhododendron forests, ran scattered lines of blazing yellow--the crowding clusters of azalea bushes that scented the winds beyond belief.

Beyond this region of extravagance in size and color, there ran immense bare open slopes of smooth turf that led to the foot of the eternal snowfields, with, far below, valleys of prodigious scale and steepness that touched somehow with disdain all memory of other mountain ranges he had ever known.

And here it was this warm June evening--June 15th it was--while packing his sack with cheese and maize-flour in the dirty yard of a so-called "post-house," more hindered than helped by his Georgian guide, that he realized the approach of a familiar, bearded figure. The figure emerged. There was a sudden clutch and lift of the heart ... then a rush of wild delight. There stood his Russian steamer-friend, part of the scale and splendor, as though grown out of the very soil. He occupied in a flash the middle of the picture. He gave it meaning. He was part of it, exactly as a tree or big grey boulder were part of it.

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