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The Centaur - Chapter 30 Post by :rlscott Category :Long Stories Author :Algernon Blackwood Date :May 2012 Read :3616

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The Centaur - Chapter 30

CHAPTER XXX

"The poets are thus liberating gods. The ancient British bards had for the title of their order, 'Those who are free throughout the world.' They are free, and they make free. An imaginative book renders us much more service at first, by stimulating us through its tropes, than afterward, when we arrive at the precise sense of the author. I think nothing is of any value in books, excepting the transcendental and extraordinary. If a man is inflamed and carried away by his thought, to that degree that he forgets the authors and the public, and heeds only this one dream, which holds him like an insanity, let me read his paper, and you may have all the arguments and histories and criticism."

--EMERSON


To criticize, deny, perhaps to sneer, is no very difficult or uncommon function of the mind, and the story as I first heard him tell it, lying there in the grass beyond the Serpentine that summer evening, roused in me, I must confess, all of these very ordinary faculties. Yet, as I listened to his voice that mingled with the rustle of the poplars overhead, and watched his eager face and gestures, it came to me dimly that a man's mistakes may be due to his attempting bigger things than his little critic ever dreamed perhaps. And gradually I shared the vision that this unrhyming poet by my side had somehow lived out in action.

Inner experience for him was ever the reality--not the mere forms or deeds that clothe it in partial physical expression.

There was no question, of course, that he had actually met this big, inarticulate Russian on the steamer; that Stahl's part in the account was unvarnished; that the boy had fallen on the deck from heart disease; and that, after an interval, chance had brought O'Malley and the father together again in this valley of the Central Caucasus. All that was as literal as the superstitious terror of the Georgian peasant. Further, that the Russian possessed precisely those qualities of powerful sympathy with the other's hidden longings which the subtle-minded Celt had been so quick to appropriate--this, too, was literal enough. Here, doubtless, was the springboard whence he leaped into the stream of this quasi-spiritual adventure with an eagerness of fine, whole-hearted belief which must make this dull world a very wonderful place indeed to those who know it; for it is the visioned faculty of correlating the commonest event with the procession of august Powers that pass ever to and fro behind life's swaying curtain, and of divining in the most ordinary of yellow buttercups the golden fires of a dropped star.

Again, for Terence O'Malley there seemed no definite line that marked off one state of consciousness from another, just as there seems no given instant when a man passes actually from sleep to waking, from pleasure to pain, from joy to grief. There is, indeed, no fixed threshold between the states of normal and abnormal consciousness. In this stranger he imagined a sense of companionship that by some magic of alchemy transformed his deep loneliness into joy, and satisfied his passionate yearnings by bringing their subjective fulfillment within range. To have found acceptance in his sight was thus a revolutionary fact in his existence. While a part of my mind may have labeled it all as creative imagination, another part recognized it as plainly true--because his being lived it out without the least denial.

He, at any rate, was not inventing; nor ever knew an instant's doubt. He simply told me what had happened. The discrepancies--the omissions in his written account especially--were simply due, I feel, to the fact that his skill in words was not equal to the depth and brilliance of the emotions that he experienced. But the fact remains: he did experience them. His fairy tale convinced.

His faith had made him whole--one with the Earth. The sense of disunion between his outer and his inner self was gone.

And now, as these two began their journey together into the wilder region of these stupendous mountains, O'Malley says he realized clearly that the change he had dreaded as an "inner catastrophe" simply would mean the complete and final transfer of his consciousness from the "without" to the "within." It would involve the loss only of what constituted him a person among the external activities of the world today. He would lose his life to find it. The deeper self thus quickened by the stranger must finally assert its authority over the rest. To join these Urwelt beings and share their eternal life of beauty close to the Earth herself, he must shift the center. Only thus could he enter the state before the "Fall"--that ancient Garden of the World-Soul, walled-in so close behind his daily life--and know deliverance from the discontent of modern conditions that so distressed him.

To do this temporarily, perhaps, had long been possible to him--in dream, in reverie, in those imaginative trances when he almost seemed to leave his body altogether; but to achieve it permanently was something more than any such passing disablement of the normal self. It involved, he now saw clearly, that which he had already witnessed in the boy: the final release of his Double in so-called death.

Thus, as they made their way northwards, nominally toward the mighty Elbruz and the borders of Swanetia, the Irishman knew in his heart that they in reality came nearer to the Garden long desired, and to those lofty Gates of horn and ivory that hitherto he had never found--because he feared to let himself go. Often he had camped beneath the walls, had smelt the flowers, heard the songs, and even caught glimpses of the life that moved so gorgeously within. But the Gates themselves had never shone for him, even against the sky of dream, because his vision had been clouded by alarm. They swung, it had seemed to him before, in only one direction--for those who enter: he had always hesitated, lost his way, returned.... And many, like him, make the same mistake. Once in, there need be no return, for in reality the walls spread outwards and--enclose the entire world.

Civilization and Humanity, the man of smaller vision had called out to him as passwords to safety. Simplicity and Love, he now discovered, were the truer clues. His big friend in silence taught him. Now he knew.

For in that little hamlet their meeting had taken place--in silence. No actual speech had passed. "You go--so?" the Russian conveyed by a look and by a movement of his whole figure, indicating the direction; and to the Irishman's assenting inclination of the head he made an answering gesture that merely signified compliance with a plan already known to both. "We go, together then." And, there and then, they started, side by side.

The suddenness of this concerted departure only seemed strange afterwards when O'Malley looked back upon it, for at the time it seemed as inevitable as being obliged to swim once the dive is taken. He stood upon a pinnacle whence lesser details were invisible; he knew a kind of exaltation--of loftier vision. Small facts that ordinarily might fill the day with trouble sank below the horizon then. He did not even notice that they went without food, horse, or blankets. It was reckless, unrestrained, and utterly unhindered, this free setting-forth together. Thus might he have gone upon a journey with the wind, the sunshine, or the rain. Departure with a thought, a dream, a fancy could not have been less unhampered.

The only detail of his outer world that lingered--and that, already sinking out of sight like a stone into deep water--was the image of the running peasant. For a moment he recalled the picture. He saw the man in the act of stooping after the fallen bashlik. He saw him seize it, lift it to his head again. But the picture was small--already very far away. Before the bashlik actually reached the head, the detail dipped into mist and vanished....

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