The Centaur

by Algernon Blackwood

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"Oh! whose heart is not stirred with tumultuous joy when the intimate Life of Nature enters into his soul with all its plenitude, ... when that mighty sentiment for which language has no other name than Love is diffused in him, like some powerful all-dissolving vapor; when he, shivering with sweet terror, sinks into the dusky, enticing bosom of Nature; when the meager personality loses itself in the overpowering waves of passion, and nothing remains but the focal point of the incommensurable generative Force, an engulfing vortex in the ocean?"

--NOVALIS, Disciples at Saïs. Translated by U.C.B.

Early in the afternoon they left the bigger trees behind, and passed into that more open country where the shoulders of the mountains were strewn with rhododendrons. These formed no continuous forest, but stood about in groups some twenty-five feet high, their rounded masses lighted on the surface with fires of mauve and pink and purple. When the wind stirred them, and the rattling of their stiff leaves was heard, it seemed as if the skin of the mountains trembled to shake out colored flames. The air turned radiant through a mist of running tints.

Still climbing, they passed along broad glades of turfy grass between the groups. More rapidly now, O'Malley says, went forward that inner change of being which accompanied the progress of their outer selves. So intimate henceforth was this subtle correspondence that the very landscape took the semblance of their feelings. They moved as "emanations" of the landscape. Each melted in the other, dividing lines all vanished.

Their union with the Earth approached this strange and sweet fulfillment.

And so it was that, though at this height the vestiges of bird and animal life were wholly gone, there grew more and more strongly the sense that, in their further depths and shadows, these ancient bushes screened Activities even more ancient than themselves. Life, only concealed because they had not reached its plane of being, pulsed everywhere about their pathway, immense in power, moving swiftly, very grand and very simple, and sometimes surging close, seeking to draw them in. More than once, as they moved through glade and clearing, the Irishman knew thrills of an intoxicating happiness, as this abundant, driving life brushed past him. It came so close, it glided before his eyes, yet still was viewless. It strode behind him and before, peered down through space upon him, lapped him about with the stir of mighty currents. The deep suction of its invitation caught his soul, urging the change within himself more quickly forward. Huge and delightful, he describes it, awful, yet bringing no alarm.

He was always on the point of seeing. Surely the next turning would reveal; beyond the next dense, tangled group would come--disclosure; behind that clustered mass of purple blossoms, shaking there mysteriously in the wind, some half-veiled countenance of splendor watched and welcomed! Before his face passed swift, deific figures, tall, erect, compelling, charged with this ancient, golden life that could never wholly pass away. And only just beyond the fringe of vision. Vision already strained upon the edge. His consciousness stretched more and more to reach them, while They came crowding near to let him know inclusion.

These projections of the Earth's old consciousness moved thick and soft about them, eternal in their giant beauty. Soon he would know, perhaps, the very forms in which she had projected them--dear portions of her streaming life the earliest races half divined and worshipped, and never quite withdrawn. Worship could still entice them out. A single worshipper sufficed. For worship meant retreat into the heart where still they dwelt. And he had loved and worshipped all his life.

And always with him, now at his side or now a little in advance, his leader moved in power, with vigorous, springing gestures like to dancing, singing that old tuneless song of the wind, happier even than himself.

The splendor of the Urwelt closed about them. They drew nearer to the Gates of that old Garden, the first Time ever knew, whose frontiers were not less than the horizons of the entire world. For this lost Eden of a Golden Age when "first God dawned on chaos" still shone within the soul as in those days of innocence before the "Fall," when men first separated themselves from their great Mother.

A little before sunset they halted. A hundred yards above the rhododendron forest, in a clear wide space of turf that ran for leagues among grey boulders to the lips of the eternal snowfields, they waited. Through a gap of sky, with others but slightly lower than himself, the pyramid of Kasbek, grim and towering, stared down upon them, dreadfully close though really miles away. At their feet yawned the profound valley they had climbed. Halfway into it, unable to reach the depths, the sun's last rays dropped shafts like rivers slanting. Already in soft troops the shadows crept downwards from the eastern-facing summits overhead.

Out of these very shadows Night drew swiftly down about the world, building with her masses of silvery architecture a barrier that rose to heaven. These two lay down beside it. Beyond it spread that shining Garden...only the shadow-barrier between.

With the rising of the moon this barrier softened marvelously, letting the starbeams in. It trembled like a line of wavering music in the wind of night. It settled downwards, shaking a little, toward the ground, while just above them came a curving inwards like a bay of darkness, with overhead two stately towers, their outline fringed with stars.

"The Gateway...!" whispered something through the mountains.

It may have been the leader's voice; it may have been the Irishman's own leaping thought; it may have been merely a murmur from the rhododendron leaves below. It came sifting gently through the shadows. O'Malley knew. He followed his leader higher. Just beneath this semblance of an old-world portal which Time could neither fashion nor destroy, they lay upon the earth--and waited. Beside them shone the world, dressed by the moon in silver. The wind stood still to watch. The peak of Kasbek from his cloudy distance listened too.

For, floating upwards across the spaces came a sound of simple, old-time piping--the fluting music of a little reed. It drew near, stopped for a moment as though the player watched them; then, with a plunging swiftness, passed off through starry distance up among the darker mountains. The lost, forsaken Asian valley covered them. Nowhere were they extraneous to it. They slept. And while they slept, they moved across the frontiers of fulfillment.

The moon-blanched Gate of horn and ivory swung open. The consciousness of the Earth possessed them. They passed within.

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