3. THE ULTIMATE COSMOS AND THE ETERNAL SPIRIT

In vain my fatigued, my tortured attention strained to follow the increasingly subtle creations which, according to my dream, the Star Maker conceived. Cosmos after cosmos issued from his fervent imagination, each one with a distinctive spirit infinitely diversified, each in its fullest attainment more awakened than the last; but each one less comprehensible to me.

At length, so my dream, my myth, declared, the Star Maker created his ultimate and most subtle cosmos, for which all others were but tentative preparations. Of this final creature I can say only that it embraced within its own organic texture the essences of all its predecessors; and far more besides. It was like the last movement of a symphony, which may embrace, by the significance of its themes, the essence of the earlier movements; and far more besides. This metaphor extravagantly understates the subtlety and complexity of the ultimate cosmos. I was gradually forced to believe that its relation to each earlier cosmos was approximately that of our own cosmos to a human being, nay to a single physical atom. Every cosmos that I had hitherto observed now turned out to be a single example of a myriad-fold class, like a biological species, or the class of all the atoms of a single element. The internal life of each “atomic” cosmos had seemingly the same kind of relevance (and the same kind of irrelevance) to the life of the ultimate cosmos as the events within a brain cell, or in one of its atoms, to the life of a human mind. Yet in spite of this huge discrepancy I seemed to sense throughout the whole dizzying hierarchy of creations a striking identity of spirit. In all, the goal was conceived, in the end, to include community and the lucid and creative mind.

I strained my fainting intelligence to capture something of the form of the ultimate cosmos. With mingled admiration and protest I haltingly glimpsed the final subtleties of world and flesh and spirit, and of the community of those most diverse and individual beings, awakened to full self-knowledge and mutual insight. But as I strove to hear more inwardly into that music of concrete spirits in countless worlds, I caught echoes not merely of joys unspeakable, but of griefs inconsolable. For some of these ultimate beings not only suffered, but suffered in darkness. Though gifted with full power of insight, their power was barren. The vision was withheld from them. They suffered as lesser spirits would never suffer. Such intensity of harsh experience was intolerable to me, the frail spirit of a lowly cosmos. In an agony of horror and pity I despairingly stopped the ears of my mind. In my littleness I cried out against my maker that no glory of the eternal and absolute could redeem such agony in the creatures. Even if the misery that I had glimpsed was in fact but a few dark strands woven into the golden tapestry to enrich it, and all the rest was bliss, yet such desolation of awakened spirits, I cried, ought not, ought never to be. By what diabolical malice, I demanded, were these glorious beings not merely tortured but deprived of the supreme consolation, the ecstasy of contemplation and praise which is the birthright of all fully awakened spirits? There had been a time when I myself, as the communal mind of a lowly cosmos, had looked upon the frustration and sorrow of my little members with equanimity, conscious that the suffering of these drowsy beings was no great price to pay for the lucidity that I myself contributed to reality. But the suffering individuals within the ultimate cosmos, though in comparison with the hosts of happy creatures they were few, were beings, it seemed to me, of my own, cosmical, mental stature, not the frail, shadowy existences that had contributed their dull griefs to my making. And this I could not endure.

Yet obscurely I saw that the ultimate cosmos was nevertheless lovely, and perfectly formed; and that every frustration and agony within it, however cruel to the sufferer, issued finally, without any miscarriage in the enhanced lucidity of the cosmical spirit itself. In this sense at least no individual tragedy was vain.

But this was nothing. And now, as through tears of compassion and hot protest, I seemed to see the spirit of the ultimate and perfected cosmos face her maker. In her, it seemed, compassion and indignation were subdued by praise. And the Star Maker, that dark power and lucid intelligence, found in the concrete loveliness of his creature the fulfilment of desire. And in the mutual joy of the Star Maker and the ultimate cosmos was conceived, most strangely, the absolute spirit itself, in which all times are present and all being is comprised; for the spirit which was the issue of this union confronted my reeling intelligence as being at once the ground and the issue of all temporal and finite things.

But to me this mystical and remote perfection was nothing. In pity of the ultimate tortured beings, in human shame and rage, I scorned my birthright of ecstasy in that inhuman perfection, and yearned back to my lowly cosmos, to my own human and floundering world, there to stand shoulder to shoulder with my own half animal kind against the powers of darkness; yes, and against the indifferent, the ruthless, the invincible tyrant whose mere thoughts are sentient and tortured worlds.

Then, in the very act of this defiant gesture, as I slammed and bolted the door of the little dark cell of my separate self, my walls were all shattered and crushed inwards by the pressure of irresistible light, and my naked vision was once more seared by lucidity beyond its endurance.

Once more? No. I had but reverted in my interpretative dream to the identical moment of illumination, closed by blindness, when I had seemed to spread wing to meet the Star Maker, and was struck down by terrible light. But now I conceived more clearly what it was that had overwhelmed me. I was indeed confronted by the Star Maker, but the Star Maker was now revealed as more than the creative and therefore finite spirit. He now appeared as the eternal and perfect spirit which comprises all things and all times, and contemplates timelessly the infinitely diverse host which it comprises. The illumination which flooded in on me and struck me down to blind worship was a glimmer, so it seemed to me, of the eternal spirit’s own all-penetrating experience.

It was with anguish and horror, and yet with acquiescence, even with praise, that I felt or seemed to feel something of the eternal spirit’s temper as it apprehended in one intuitive and timeless vision all our lives. Here was no pity, no proffer of salvation, no kindly aid. Or here were all pity and all love, but mastered by a frosty ecstasy. Our broken lives, our loves, our follies, our betrayals, our forlorn and gallant defenses, were one and all calmly anatomized, assessed, and placed. True, they were one and all lived through with complete understanding, with insight and full sympathy, even with passion. But sympathy was not ultimate in the temper of the eternal spirit; contemplation was. Love was not absolute; contemplation was. And though there was love, there was also hate comprised within the spirit’s temper, for there was cruel delight in the contemplation of every horror, and glee in the downfall of the virtuous. All passions, it seemed, were comprised within the spirit’s temper; but mastered, icily gripped within the cold, clear, crystal ecstasy of contemplation.

That this should be the upshot of all our lives, this scientist’s, no, artist’s, keen appraisal! And yet I worshipped!

But this was not the worst. For in saying that the spirit’s temper was contemplation, I imputed to it a finite human experience, and an emotion; thereby comforting myself, even though with cold comfort. But in truth the eternal spirit was ineffable. Nothing whatever could be truly said about it. Even to name it “spirit” was perhaps to say more than was justified. Yet to deny it that name would be no less mistaken; for whatever it was, it was more, not less, than spirit, more, not less, than any possible human meaning of that word. And from the human level, even from the level of a cosmical mind, this “more,” obscurely and agonizingly glimpsed, was a dread mystery, compelling adoration.