The Centaur

by Algernon Blackwood

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"Here we but peak and dwindle:
The clank of chain and crane,
The whirr of crank and spindle
Bewilder heart and brain;
The ends of our endeavor
Are wealth and fame,

Yet in the still Forever
We're one and all the same;

"Yet beautiful and spacious
The wise, old world appears.
Yet frank and fair and gracious
Outlaugh the jocund years.
Our arguments disputing,
The universal Pan
Still wanders fluting--fluting--
Fluting to maid and man.

Our weary well-a-waying
His music cannot still:
Come! let us go a-maying,
And pipe with him our fill."


In a detailed description, radiant with a wild loveliness of some forgotten beauty, and of necessity often incoherent, the Irishman conveyed to me, sitting in that dreary Soho restaurant, the passion of his vision. With an astonishing vitality and a wealth of deep conviction it all poured from his lips. There was no halting and no hesitation. Like a man in trance he talked, and like a man in trance he lived it over again while imparting it to me. None came to disturb us in our dingy corner. Indeed there is no quieter place in all London town than the back room of these eating-houses of the French Quarter between the hours of lunch and dinner. The waiters vanish, the "patron" disappears; no customers come in. But I know surely that its burning splendor came not from the actual words he used, but was due to definite complete transference of the vision itself into my own heart. I caught the fire from his very thought. His heat inflamed my mind. Words, both in the uttered and the written version, dimmed it all distressingly.

And the completeness of the transference is proved for me by the fact that I never once had need to ask a question. I saw and understood it all as he did. And hours must have passed during the strange recital, for toward the close people came in and took the vacant tables, the lights were up, and grimy waiters clattered noisily about with plates and knives and forks, thrusting an inky carte du jour beneath our very faces.

Yet how to set it down I swear I know not. Nor he, indeed. The notebooks that I found in that old sack of Willesden canvas were a disgrace to any man who bid for sanity,--a disgrace to paper and pencil too!

All memory of his former life, it seems, at first, had fallen utterly away; nothing survived to remind him of it; and thus he lost all standard of comparison. The state he moved in was too complete to admit of standards or of critical judgment. For these confine, imprison, and belittle, whereas he was free. His escape was unconditioned. From the thirty years of his previous living, no single fragment broke through. The absorption was absolute.

"I really do believe and know myself," he said to me across that spotted table-cloth, "that for the time I was merged into the being of another, a being immensely greater than myself. Perhaps old Stahl was right, perhaps old crazy Fechner; and it actually was the consciousness of the Earth. I can only tell you that the whole experience left no room in me for other memories; all I had previously known was gone, wiped clean away. Yet much of what came in its place is beyond me to describe; and for a curious reason. It's not the size or splendor that prevent the telling, but rather the sublime simplicity of it all. I know no language today simple enough to utter it. Far behind words it lies, as difficult of full recovery as the dreams of deep sleep, as the ecstasy of the religious, elusive as the mystery of Kubla Khan or the Patmos visions of St. John. Full recapture, I am convinced, is not possible at all in words.

"And at the time it did not seem like vision; it was so natural; unstudied, unprepared, and ever there; spontaneous too and artless as a drop of water or a baby's toy. The natural is ever the unchanging. My God! I tell you, man, it was divine!"

He made about him a vehement sweeping gesture with his arm which emphasized more poignantly than speech the contrast he felt here where we sat--tight, confining walls, small stifling windows, chairs to rest the body, smothering roof and curtains, doors of narrow entrance and exit, floors to lift above the sweet surface of the soil,--all of them artificial barriers to shut out light and separate away from the Earth. "See what we've come to!" it said plainly. And it included even his clothes and boots and collar, the ridiculous hat upon the peg, the unsightly "brolly" in the dingy corner. Had there been room in me for laughter, I could well have laughed aloud.

For as he raced across that stretch of splendid mountainous Earth, watching the sunrise kiss the valleys and the woods, shaking the dew from his feet and swallowing the very wind for breath, he realized that other forms of life similar to his own were everywhere about him--also moving.

"They were a part of the Earth even as I was. Here she was crammed to the brim with them--projections of her actual self and being, crowded with this incomparable ancient beauty that was strong as her hills, swift as her running streams, radiant as her wild flowers. Whether to call them forms or thoughts or feelings, or Powers perhaps, I swear, old man, I know not. Her Consciousness through which I sped, drowned, lost, and happy, wrapped us all in together as a mood contains its own thoughts and feelings. For she was a Being--of sorts. And I was in her mind, mood, consciousness, call it what you best can. These other thoughts and presences I felt were the raw material of forms, perhaps--Forces that when they reach the minds of men must clothe themselves in form in order to be known, whether they be Dreams, or Gods, or any other kind of inspiration. Closer than that I cannot get.... I knew myself within her being like a child, and I felt the deep, eternal pull--to simple things."

And thus the beauty of the early world companioned him, and all the forgotten gods moved forward into life. They hovered everywhere, immense and stately. The rocks and trees and peaks that half concealed them, betrayed at the same time great hints of their mighty gestures. Near him, they were; he moved toward their region. If definite sight refused to focus on them the fault was not their own but his. He never doubted that they could be seen. Yet, even thus partially, they manifested--terrifically. He was aware of their overshadowing presences. Sight, after all, was an incomplete form of knowing--a thing he had left behind--elsewhere. It belonged, with the other limited sense-channels, to some attenuated dream now all forgotten. Now he knew all over. He himself was of them.

"I am home!" it seems he cried as he ran cantering across the sunny slopes. "At last I have found you! Home...!" and the stones shot wildly from his thundering tread.

A roar of windy power filled the sky, and far away that echoing tramping paused to listen.

"We have called you! Come...!"

And the forms moved down slowly from their mountainous pedestals; the woods breathed out a sigh; the running water sang; the slopes all murmured through their grass and flowers. For a worshipper, strayed from the outer world of the dead, stood within the precincts of their ancient temple. He had passed the Angel with the flaming sword those very dead had set there long ago. The Garden now enclosed him. He had found the heart of the Earth, his mother. Self-realization in the perfect union with Nature was fulfilled. He knew the Great At-onement.

The quiet of the dawn still lay upon the world; dew sparkled; the air was keen and fresh. Yet, in spite of all this vast sense of energy, this vigor and delight, O'Malley no longer felt the least goading of excitement. There was this animation and this fine delight; but craving for sensation of any kind, was gone. Excitement, as it tortured men in that outer world he had left, could not exist in this larger state of being; for excitement is the appetite for something not possessed, magnified artificially till it has become a condition of disease. All that he needed was now contained within himself; he was at-ease; and, literally, that unrest which men miscall delight could touch him not nor torture him again.

If this were death--how exquisite!

And Time was not a passing thing, for it lay, he says, somehow in an ocean everywhere, heaped up in gulfs and spaces. It was as though he could help himself and take it. That morning, had he so wished, could last forever; he could go backwards and taste the shadows of the night again, or forward and bask in the glory of hot noon. There were no parts of things, and so no restlessness, no sense of incompleteness, no divisions.

This quiet of the dawn lay in himself, and, since he loved it, lay there, cool and sweet and sparkling for--years; almost--forever.

Moreover, while this giant form of Urwelt-life his inner self had assumed was new, it yet seemed somehow familiar. The speed and weight and power caused him no distress, there was no detail that he could not manage easily. To race thus o'er the world, keeping pace with an eternal dawn, was as simple as for the Earth herself to spin through space. His union with her was as complete as that. In every item of her being lay the wonder of her perfect form--a sphere. It was complete. Nothing could add to it.

Yet, while all recollection of his former, pettier self was gone, he began presently to remember--men. Though never in relation to himself, he retained dimly a picture of that outer world of strife and terror. As a memory of illness he recalled it--dreadfully, a nightmare fever from which he had recovered, its horror already fading out. Cities and crowds, poverty, illness, pain and all the various terror of Civilization, robbed of the power to afflict, yet still hung hovering about the surface of his consciousness, though powerless to break his peace.

For the power to understand it vanished; no part of him knew sympathy with it; so clearly he now saw himself sharing the Earth, that a vague wonder filled him when he recalled the mad desires of men to possess external forms of things. It was amazing and perplexing. How could they ever have devised such wild and childish efforts--all in the wrong direction?

If that outer life were the real one how could any intelligent being think it worth while to live? How could any thinking man hold up his head and walk along the street with dignity if that was what he believed? Was a man satisfied with it worth keeping alive at all? What bigger scheme could ever use him? The direction of modern life today was diametrically away from happiness and truth.

Peace was the word he knew, peace and a singing joy.

He played with the Earth's great dawn and raced along these mountains through her mind. Of course> the hills could dance and sing and clap their hands. He saw it clear. How could it be otherwise? They were expressions of her giant moods--what in himself were thoughts--phases of her ample, surging Consciousness....

He passed with the sunlight down the laughing valleys, spread with the morning wind above the woods, shone on the snowy peaks, and leaped with rushing laughter among the crystal streams. These were his swift and darting signs of joy, words of his singing as it were. His main and central being swung with the pulse of the Earth, too great for any telling.

He read the book of Nature all about him, yes, but read it singing. He understood how this patient Mother hungered for her myriad lost children, how in the passion of her summers she longed to bless them, to wake their high yearnings with the sweetness of her springs, and to whisper through her autumns how she prayed for their return...!

Instinctively he read the giant Page before him. For "every form in nature is a symbol of an idea and represents a sign or letter. A succession of such symbols forms a language; and he who is a true child of nature may understand this language and know the character of everything. His mind, becomes a mirror wherein the attributes of natural things are reflected and enter the field of his consciousness.... For man himself is but a thought pervading the ocean of mind."

Whether or not lie remembered these stammering yet pregnant words from the outer world now left behind, the truth they shadowed forth rose up and took him ... and so he flowed across the mountains like a thing of wind and cloud, and so at length came up with the stragglers of that mighty herd of Urwelt life. He joined them in a river-bed of those ancient valleys. They welcomed him and took him to themselves.

For the particular stratum, as it were, of the Earth's enormous Collective Consciousness to which he belonged, or rather that part and corner in which he was first at home, lay with these lesser ancient forms. Although aware of far mightier expressions of her life, he could not yet readily perceive or join them. And this was easily comprehensible by the analogy of his own smaller consciousness. Did not his own mind hold thoughts of various kinds that could not readily mingle? His thoughts of play and frolic, for instance, could not combine with the august and graver sentiments of awe and worship, though both could dwell together in the same heart. And here apparently, as yet, he only touched that frolicsome fringe of consciousness that knew these wild and playful lesser forms. Thus, while he was aware of other more powerful figures of wonder all about him, he never quite achieved their full recognition. The ordered, deeper strata of her Consciousness to which they belonged still lay beyond him.

Yet everywhere he fringed them. They haunted the entire world. They brooded hugely with a kind of deep magnificence that was like the slow brooding of the Seasons; they rose, looming and splendid, through the air and sky, proud, strong, and tragic. For, standing aloof from all the rest, in isolation, like dreams in a poet's mind, too potent for expression, they thus knew tragedy--the tragedy of long neglect and loneliness.

Seated on peak and ridge, rising beyond the summits in the clouds, filling the valleys, spread over watercourse and forest, they passed their life of lonely majesty--apart, their splendor too remote for him as yet to share. Long since had Earth withdrawn them from the hearts of men. Her lesser children knew them no more. But still through the deep recesses of her further consciousness they thundered and were glad... though few might hear that thunder, share that awful joy....

Even the Irishman--who in ordinary life had felt instinctively that worship which is close to love, and so to the union that love brings--even he, in this new-found freedom, only partially discerned their presences. He felt them now, these stately Powers men once called the gods, but felt them from a distance; and from a distance, too, they saw and watched him come. He knew their gorgeous forms half dimmed by a remote and veiled enchantment; knew that they reared aloft like ancient towers, ruined by neglect and ignorance, starved and lonely, but still hauntingly splendid and engaging, still terrifically alive. And it seemed to him that sometimes their awful eyes flashed with the sunshine over slope and valley, and that wherever they rested flowers sprang to life.

Their nearness sometimes swept him like a storm, and then the entire herd with which he mingled would stand abruptly still, caught by a wave of awe and wonder. The host of them stood still upon the grass, their frolic held a moment, their voices hushed, only deep panting audible and the soft shuffling of their hoofs among the flowers. They bowed their splendid heads and waited--while a god went past them.... And through himself, as witness of the passage, a soft, majestic power also swept. With the lift of a hurricane, yet with the gentleness of dew, he felt the noblest in himself irresistibly evoked. It was gone again as soon as come. It passed. But it left him charged with a regal confidence and joy. As in the mountains a shower of snow picks out the highest peaks in white, tracing its course and pattern over the entire range, so in himself he knew the highest powers--aspirations, yearnings, hopes--raised into shining, white activity, and by these quickened splendors of his soul could recognize the nature of the god who came so close.

And, keeping mostly to the river-beds, they splashed in the torrents, played and leaped and cantered. From the openings of many a moist cave others came to join them. Below a certain level, though, they never went; the forests knew them not; they loved the open, windy heights. They turned and circulated as by a common consent, wheeling suddenly together as if a single desire actuated the entire mass. One instinct spread, as it were, among the lot, shared instantly, conveying to each at once the general impulse. Their movements in this were like those of birds whose flight in coveys obeys the order of a collective consciousness of which each single one is an item--expressions of one single Bird-Idea behind, distributed through all.

And O'Malley without questioning or hesitation obeyed, while yet he was free to do as he wished alone. To do as they did was the greatest pleasure, that was all.

For sometimes with two of them, one fully-formed, the other of lesser mold--he flew on little journeys of his own. These two seemed nearer to him than the rest. He felt he knew them and had been with them before. Their big brown eyes continually sought his own with pleasure. It almost seemed as if they had all three been separated long away from one another, and had at last returned. No definite memory of the interval came back, however; the sea, the steamer, and the journey's incidents all had faded--part of that world of lesser insignificant dream where they had happened. But these two kept close to him; they ran and danced together....

The time that passed included many dawns and nights and also many noons of splendor. It all seemed endless, perfect, and serene. That anything could finish here did not once occur to him. Complete things cannot finish. He passed through seas and gulfs of glorious existence. For the strange thing was that while he only remembered afterwards the motion, play, and laughter, he yet had these other glimpses here and there of some ordered and progressive life existing just beyond. It lay hidden deeper within. He skimmed its surface; but something prevented his knowing it fully. And the limitation that held him back belonged, it seemed, to that thin world of trivial dreaming he had left behind. He had not shaken it off entirely. It still obscured his sight.

The scale and manner of this greater life faintly reached him, nothing more. It may be that he only failed to bring back recollection, or it may be that he did not penetrate deeply enough to know. At any rate, he recognized that this sudden occasional passing by of vast deific figures had to do with it, and that all this ocean of Earth's deeper Consciousness was peopled with forms of life that obeyed some splendid system of progressive ordered existence. To be gathered up in this one greater consciousness was not the end.... Rather was it merely the beginning....

Meantime he learned that here, among these lesser thoughts of the great Mother, all the Pantheons of the world had first their origin--the Greek, the Eastern, and the Northern too. Here all the gods that men have ever half divined, still ranged the moods of Her timeless consciousness. Their train of beauty, too, accompanied them.

I cannot half recall the streams of passionate description with which his words clothed these glowing memories of his vision. Great pictures of it haunt the background of my mind, pictures that lie in early mists, framed by the stars and glimmering through some golden, flowered dawn. Besides the huge outlines that stood breathing in the background like dark mountains, there flitted here and there strange dreamy forms of almost impossible beauty, slender as lilies, eyes soft and starry shining through the dusk, hair flying past them like a rain of summer flowers. Nymph-like they moved down all the pathways of the Earth's young mind, singing and radiant, spring blossoms in the Garden of her Consciousness.... And other forms, more vehement and rude, urged to and fro across the pictures; crowding the movement; some playful and protean; some clothed as with trees, or air, or water; and others dark, remote, and silent, ranging her deeper layers of thought and dream, known rarely to the outer world at all.

The rush and glory of it all is more than my mind can deal with. I gather, though, O'Malley saw no definite forms, but rather knew "forces," powers, aspects of this Soul of Earth, facets she showed in long-forgotten days to men. Certainly the very infusoria of his imagination were kindled and aflame when he spoke of them. Through the tangled thicket of his ordinary mind there shone this passion of an uncommon loveliness and splendour.

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