The Centaur

by Algernon Blackwood

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"The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things, so much the more is snatched from inevitable time."


In the relationship that his everyday mind bore to his present state there lay, moreover, a wealth of pregnant suggestion. The bridge connecting his former "civilized" condition with this cosmic experience was a curious one. That outer, lesser state, it seemed, had known a foretaste sometimes of the greater. And it was hence had come those dreams of a Golden Age that used to haunt him. For he began now to recall the existence of that outer world of men and women, though by means of certain indefinite channels only. And the things he remembered were not what the world calls important. They were moments when he had known--beauty; beauty, however, not of the grandiose sort that holds the crowd, but of so simple and unadvertised a kind that most men overlook it altogether.

He understood now why the thrill had been so wonderful. He saw clearly why those moments of ecstasy he had often felt in Nature used to torture him with an inexpressible yearning that was rather pain than joy. For they were precisely what he now experienced when the viewless figure of a god passed by him. Down there, out there, below--in that cabined lesser state--they had been partial, but were now complete. Those moments of worship he had known in woods, among mountains, by the shores of desolate seas, even in a London street, perhaps at the sight of a tree in spring or of a pathway of blue sky between the summer clouds,--these had been, one and all, tentative, partial revelations of the Consciousness of the Soul of Earth he now knew face to face.

These were his only memories of that outer world. Of people, cities, or of civilization apart from these, he had no single remembrance.

Certain of these little partial foretastes now came back to him, like fragments of dream that trouble the waking day.

He remembered, for instance, one definite picture: a hot autumn sun upon a field of stubble where the folded corn-sheaves stood; thistles waving by the hedges; a yellow field of mustard rising up the slope against the sky-line, and beyond a row of peering elms that rustled in the wind. The beauty of the little scene was somehow poignant. He recalled it vividly. It had flamed about him, transfiguring the world; he had trembled, yearning to see more, for just behind it he divined with an exulting passionate worship this gorgeous, splendid Earth-Being with whom at last he now actually moved. In that instant of a simple loveliness her consciousness had fringed his own--had bruised it. He had known it only by the partial channels of sight and smell and hearing, but had felt the greater thing beyond, without being able to explain it. And a portion of what he felt had burst in speech from his lips.

He was there, he remembered, with two persons, a man and woman whose name and face, however, he could not summon, and he recalled that the woman smiled incredulously when he spoke of the exquisite perfume of those folded corn-sheaves in the air. She told him he imagined it. He saw again the pretty woman's smile of incomprehension; he saw the puzzled expression in the eyes of the man; he heard him murmur something prosaic about the soul, about birds, too, and the prospects of killing hundreds later--sport! He even saw the woman picking her way with caution as though the touch of earth could stain or injure her. He especially recalled the silence that had followed on his words that sought to show them--Beauty.... He remembered, too, above all, the sense of loneliness among men that it induced in himself.

But the memory brought him a curious, sharp pain; and turning to that couple who were now his playmates in this Garden of the Earth, he called them with a singing cry and cantered over leagues of flowers, wind, and sunshine before he stopped again. They leaped and danced together, exulting in their spacious Urwelt freedom ... want of comprehension no longer possible.

The memory fled away. He shook himself free of it. Then others came in its place, another and another, not all with people, blind, deaf, and unreceptive, yet all of "common," simple scenes of beauty when something vast had surged upon him and broken through the barriers that stand between the heart and Nature. Such curious little scenes they were. In most of them he had evidently been alone. But one and all had touched his soul with a foretaste of this same nameless ecstasy that now he knew complete. In every one the Consciousness of the Earth had "bruised" his own.

Utterly simple they had been, one and all, these partial moments of blinding beauty in that lesser, outer world:--A big, brown, clumsy bee he saw, blundering into the petals of a wild flower on which the dew lay sparkling.... A wisp of colored cloud driving loosely across the hills, dropping a purple shadow.... Deep, waving grass, plunging and shaking in the wind that drew out its underworld of blue and silver over the whole spread surface of a field.... A daisy closed for the night upon the lawn, eyes tightly shut, hands folded.... A south wind whispering through larches.... The pattering of summer rain upon young oak leaves in the dawn.... Fingers of long blue distance upon dreamy woods.... Anemones shaking their pale and starry little faces in the wind.... The columned stillness of a pine-wood in the dusk.... Young birch trees mid the velvet gloom of firs.... The new moon setting in a cloud of stars.... The hush of stars in many a summer night.... Sheep grazing idly down a sun-baked hill.... A path of moonlight on a lake.... A little wind through bare and wintry woods.... Oh! he recalled the wonder, loveliness, and passion of a thousand more!

They thronged and passed, and thronged again, crowding one another:--all golden moments of revelation when he had caught glimpses of the Earth, and her greater Moods had swept him up into herself. Moments in which a god had passed....

These were his only memories of that outer world he had left behind: flashes of simple beauty.

Was thus the thrill of beauty then explained? Was loveliness, as men know it, a revelation of the Earth-Soul behind? And were the blinding flash, the dazzling wonder, and the dream men seek to render permanent in music, color, line and language, a vision of her nakedness? Down there, the poets and those simple enough of heart to stand close to Nature, could catch these whispered fragments of the enormous message, told as in secret; but now, against her very heart he heard the thunder of the thing complete. Now, in the glory of all naked bodily forms,--of women, men and children, of swift animals, of flowers, trees, and running water, of mountains and of seas,--he understood these partial revelations of the great Earth-Soul that bore them, gave them life. For one and all were channels for her loveliness. He saw the beauty of the "natural" instincts, the passion of motherhood and fatherhood--Earth's seeking to project herself in endless forms and variety. He understood why love increased the heart and made it feel at one with all the world.

Moreover in some amazing fashion he was aware that others from that outer world beside himself had access here, and that from this Garden of the Earth's deep central personality came all the inspiration known to men. He divined that others were even now drawing upon it like himself. The thoughts of the poets went past him like thin flames; the dreams of millions--mute, inexpressible yearnings like those he had himself once known--streamed by in pale white light, to shoot forward with a little nesting rush into some great Figure ... and then return in double volume to the dreaming heart whence first they issued. Shadows, too, he saw, by myriads--faint, feeble gropings of men and women seeking it eagerly, yet hardly knowing what they sought; but, above all, long, singing, beautiful tongues of colored flame that were the instincts of divining children and of the pure in heart. These came in rippling floods unerringly to their goal, lingered for long periods before returning. And all, he knew, were currents of the great Earth Life, moods, thoughts, dreams--expressions of her various Consciousness with which she mothered, fed, and blessed all whom it was possible to reach. Their passionate yearning, their worship, made access possible. Along the tenderest portions of her personality these latter came, as by a spread network of infinitely delicate filaments that extended from herself, deliciously inviting....

The thing, however, that remained with him long after his return to the normal state of lesser consciousness was the memory of those blinding moments when a god went past him, or, as he phrased it in another way, when he caught glimpses of the Earth--naked. For these were instantaneous flashes of a gleaming whiteness, a dazzling and supreme loveliness that staggered thought and arrested feeling, while yet of a radiant simplicity that brought--for a second at least--a measure of comprehension.

He then knew not mere partial projections. He saw beyond--deep down into the flaming center that gave them birth. The blending of his being with the Cosmic Consciousness was complete enough for this. He describes it as a spectacle of sheer glory, stupendous, even terrifying. The refulgent majesty of it utterly possessed him. The shock of its magnificence came, moreover, upon his entire being, and was not really of course a "sight" at all. The message came not through any small division of a single sense. With a massed yet soaring power it shook him free of all known categories. He then fringed a region of yet greater being wherein he tasted for a moment some secret comprehension of a true "divinity." The deliverance into ecstasy was complete.

In these flashing moments, when a second seemed a thousand years, he further understood the splendor of the stage beyond. Earth in her turn was but a Mood in the Consciousness of the Universe, that Universe again was mothered by another vaster one ... and the total that included them all was not the gods--but God.

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