The Centaur

by Algernon Blackwood

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"Inward, ay, deeper far than love or scorn,: Deeper than bloom of virtue, stain of sin,
Rend thou the veil and pass alone within,
Stand naked there and know thyself forlorn.

Nay! in what world, then, spirit, vast thou born?
Or to what World-Soul art thou entered in?
Feel the Self fade, feel the great life begin.
With Love re-rising in the cosmic morn.
The Inward ardor yearns to the inmost goal;
The endless goal is one with the endless way;
From every gulf the tides of Being roll,
From every zenith burns the indwelling day,
And life in Life has drowned thee and soul in Soul;

And these are God and thou thyself art they."

--F.W.H. MYERS. From "A Cosmic Outlook"

The account of what followed simply swept me into fairyland, yet a Fairyland that is true because it lives in every imaginative heart that does not dream itself shut off from the Universe in some wee compartment all alone.

If O'Malley's written account, and especially his tumbled notebooks, left me bewildered and confused, the fragments that he told me brought this sense of an immense, sweet picture that actually existed. I caught small scenes of it, set in some wild high light. Their very incoherence conveyed the gorgeous splendor of the whole better than any neat ordered sequence could possibly have done.

Climax, in the story-book meaning, there was none. The thing flowed round and round forever. A sense of something eternal wrapped me as I listened; for his imagination set the whole adventure out of time and space, and I caught myself dreaming too. "A thousand years in His sight"--I understood the old words as refreshingly new--might be a day. Thus felt that monk, perhaps, for whose heart a hundred years had passed while he listened to the singing of a little bird.

My practical questions--it was only at the beginning that I was dull enough to ask them--he did not satisfy, because he could not. There was never the least suggestion of the artist's mere invention.

"You really felt the Earth about and in you," I had asked, "much as one feels the presence of a friend and living person?"

"Drowned in her, yes, as in the thoughts and atmosphere of some one awfully loved." His voice a little trembled as he said it.

"So speech unnecessary?"

"Impossible--fatal," was the laconic, comprehensive reply, "limiting: destructive even."

That, at least, I grasped: the pitifulness of words before that love by which self goes wholly lost in the being of another, adrift yet cared for, gathered all wonderfully in.

"And your Russian friend--your leader?" I ventured, haltingly.

His reply was curiously illuminating:--

"Like some great guiding Thought within her mind--some flaming motif--interpreting her love and splendor--leading me straight."

"As you felt at Marseilles, a clue--a vital clue?" For I remembered the singular phrase he had used in the notebook.

"Not a bad word," he laughed; "certainly, as far as it goes, not a wrong one. For he--it--was at the same time within myself. We merged, as our life grew and spread. We swept things along with us from the banks. We were in flood together," he cried. "We drew the landscape with us!"

The last words baffled me; I found no immediate response. He pushed away the plates on the table before us, where we had been lunching in the back room of a dingy Soho restaurant. We now had the place to ourselves. He drew his chair a little nearer.

"Don't ye see--our journey also was within," he added abruptly.

The pale London sunlight came through the window across chimneys, dreary roofs, courtyards. Yet where it touched his face it seemed at once to shine. His voice was warm and eager. I caught from him, as it were, both heat and light.

"You moved actually, though, over country--?"

"While at the same time we moved within, advanced, sank deeper," he returned; "call it what you will. Our condition moved. There was this correspondence between the two. Over her face we walked, yet into her as well. We 'traveled' with One greater than ourselves, both caught and merged in her, in utter sympathy with one another as with herself..."

This stopped me dead. I could not pretend more than a vague sympathetic understanding with such descriptions of a mystical experience. Nor, it was clear, did he expect it of me. Even his own heart was troubled, and he knew he spoke of things that only few may deal with sanely, still fewer hear with patience.

But, oh, that little room in Greek Street smelt of forests, dew, and dawn as he told it,--that dear wayward Child of Earth! For "his voice fell, like music that makes giddy the dim brain, faint with intoxication of keen joy." I watched those delicate hands he spread about him through the air; the tender, sensitive lips, the light blue eyes that glowed. I noted the real strength in the face,--a sort of nobility it was--his shabby suit of grey, his tie never caught properly in the collar, the frayed cuffs, and the enormous boots he wore even in London--"policeman boots" as we used to call them with a laugh.

So vivid was the picture that he painted! Almost, it seemed, I knew myself the pulse of that eternal Spring beneath our feet, beating in vain against the suffocating weight of London's bricks and pavements laid by civilization--the Earth's delight striving to push outwards into visible form as flowers. She flashed some scrap of meaning thus into me, though blunted on the way, I fear, and crudely paraphrased.

Yes, as he talked across the airless gloom of that little back room, in some small way I caught the splendor of his vision. Behind the words, I caught it here and there. My own wee world extended. My being stretched to understand him and to net in fugitive fragments the scenes of wonder that he knew complete.

Perhaps his larger consciousness fringed my own to "bruise" it, as he claimed the Earth had done to him, so that I glimpsed in tinier measure an experience that in himself blazed whole and thundering. It was, I must admit, exalting and invigorating, if a little breathless; and the return to streets and omnibuses painful--a descent to ugliness and disappointment. For things I can hardly understand now, even in my own descriptions of them, seemed at the time quite clear--or clear-ish at any rate. Whereas normally I could never have compassed them at all.

It taught me: that, at least, I know. In some spiritual way I quickened to the view that all great teaching really comes in some such curious fashion--via a temporary stretching or extension of the "heart" to receive it. The little normal self is pushed aside to make room, even to the point of loss, in order to contain it. Later, the consciousness contracts again. But it has expanded--and there has been growth. Was this, I wondered, perhaps what mystics speak of when they say the personal life must slip aside, be trampled on, submerged, before there can be room for the divine Presences...?

At any rate, as he talked there over coffee that grew cold and cigarette smoke that made the air yet thicker than it naturally was, his words conveyed with almost grandeur of conviction this reality of a profound inner experience. I shared in some faint way its truth and beauty, so that when I saw it in his written form I marveled to find the thing so thin and cold and dwindled. The key his personal presence supplied, of guidance and interpretation, of course was gone.

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