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The World and the Soul

By Charles Harpur

Part 1

From the crude records which mysterious Time
Hath graven on the crag-boned hills, and strewn
In crumbled fragments, and embedded deep,
On wild sea-shores, in dim dells, watery chasms,
And in the death-dark bowels of the Earth,
Where never sunshine, since Creation’s dawn,
Hath fallen in its golden splendor down,
We learn that she, at dateless intervals,
Hath been the plastic and predestined mould
Of awfullest changes. And from these again,
Reading their crude significance, more and more
Into coherency, we wondering find
That her dark womb, through immemorial tracts
Of years so countless, that they ghostly seem,
Hath also teemed with still successive births
Of vegetable prophecies of spirit,
Ever ascending to their own fulfilment;
And thence with sentient natures, linking on
In strict organic sequency, from forms
Of lowest power and purpose,—on and on
To higher and highest.

                        Thus her quickening mass
Quickened yet more, till knotted reptile things
Stolid, yet frightful through mere multitude,
(Even as beheld only in thought), have swarmed
O’er all her clammy disc, as vile worms clothe,
In horrible mockery of both life and death,
An else-stark corpse; or beings unto which
The monstrous serpent of the Indian wastes
Were but a minim, in her miry lap
Have wallowed, snorting in their ponderous joy—
Beings enormous! But in function low
And gross in shape—yea, ugly as enorm!
And evermore pre-doomed to perish, when
Her altering surface grew the meet abode
For things of greater beauty. Whether wrought
Into such meetness by set laws of change,
For ever active, and thence through all time
Distributing their forces; or by some
Mystical energy at work within,
Of Demogorgon kind; or by the sweep
Of sudden cataclysms wild and vast;
Or by the upburst of internal fires,
Instant and universal.

                                        First emerged
Mountains abrupt, like those upon the moon,
Scarred through with fissures out of which there seethed
A white volcanic heat; while spongy growths
Of cypress-dark and flowerless forests, filled
Vast valleys with a damp and noisome shade,
But luminous at intervals with drear
Avernian lakes, that blackened under storms
Drifting aloft, or imaged back the bulk
Of bat-like monsters, flying o’er; or glassed
(Along their low shores shadowing out) the huge
Unwieldy masses of some mammoth herd,
As into the dim spaces of the dense
And bordering woods it passed, and onward then
Crashed, munching as it went. And yet on this
So lonesome scene, the sun arose as now,
True to his season, and the moon unveiled
Her pale face over it night after night,
Bevied about with all her golden train
Of stellar glories raying influence down.
Yea thus, for countless centuries, beneath
The fulgent host of heaven, did all the bare
And slopeless hills show ghastly in their light,
And the dull waters gleam: although as yet,
Through all these patient periods immature,
No soul intelligent, save God himself,
Might know or visit them—

                                 But lo, at last,
In jubilant ascension, Man, and all
The tribes of living creatures over which
He reigneth absolute, with comelier forms
Of higher cast, and inwardly endued
With spirits and faculties that flourished forth
To finer issues and to ends more nice,
Gave to their mother Earth’s time-tempered orb
That worth and excellence which now are hers.

Then, on the hills, the hunter’s voice went forth
And, in the valleys, the glad chaunt of birds
Chimed sweetly with the gurgling interflows,
And musical motions, manifold and mixt
Of rivers in their broad abundant flow
Through boundless depths of bloomy boughs, all tossed
And billowing in the breeze; and Echoes, housed
In rocky steeps, and caves, and twilight dells,
Made merry with the cheerful noise that came
Mellowed by distance, out of lowing glens
And multitudinously bleating vales,
In large scopes,—lying all within each broad
Allotted heritage that stretched around
The low-roofed homesteads of an early world;—
Low-roofed, but staunch,—and welcome fraught, as seen
Bosomed in trees from which ripe golden globes
Hung clustered, while about them rippled deep
Glad fields of rustling corn: till hence at length,
Through all meet channels working, Nature taught
Music to Art; and answering to a want
Hence too created, Poetry arose
Out of the dayspring like a morning star
Upon the awakened spirit of delight;
And thence descending in her influence, grew
More intimate and plastic,—till at last
Semblance idealised in hues, or wrought
From the rude rock into a life which spake
The language of immutable Loveliness,
Adorned the abodes of learning, and the shrines
Of Worship, and of Virtue;—Sister Arts,
Three Sister Arts in fellowship divine—
A triune glory of exalted Soul.

Part II

But dare we think the awful laws of Change
From good to better, still though over roads
So rough in seeming have even yet an end?
That Earth is Man’s for ever? His and theirs,
The tribes o’er which pre-eminent he reigns
As king—his one true Kingship? No: the Hours
That shall behold her the prepared abode
For new successions in the Scheme of Life,
May even now—like a long flight of storks
Or ere it loom in view,—up, where the waves
Of ocean welter in the spectral haze
On heaven’s apparent verge;—thus, even now,
May these upon their dim but destined way
Be winging world-ward, through the eternal clouds
That hide the Future in their pregnant folds.

            But, granting this, from whence, it may be asked,
Might spring these novel Orders? Even from where
All that preceded them in time’s long tract
Have hitherto sprang life-ward:—from the womb
Prolific of that Spirit of the World
Called nature, and wherein, even from the first,
In virtual preparation shall have slept
Their causes,—darkling; but awaiting so
The evoking word of God! And what besides
Were needed, for thrice greater things,—the births
Of mightiest Systems, than that potent Word
Which the mind heareth, as expressed through laws
Whose sure results are but the far-produced
Decisions of His will,—as fore-designed,
Will and design in an omniscient Spirit
Being co-incident.

                                 Or rather, what
I would adumbrate in this serious song,
Were but progressive changes in the sum
And complement of that Divine Idea
Whereof the Earth’s so solid-seeming mass
Is, with its fleshly populations whole,
The vesture,—yea, the tactual shape, and thence
The visual sign in manifold reflection,
As ever forth fulfilling, more and more,
Its part in that great Sequence which ensures
The prospering intercourse of all the worlds:
Even as a human thought—so far as what
Is finite, and imperfect therefore, may
With Infinite compare,—as knowledge grows
Before it, and combines all congruent things,
A necessary progress undergoes
In its accruing unity with Truth.

But come what changes may, yet is the Soul,
As individualised in all mankind,
Beyond the swoop of chance, and lifted high
Out of the wasting whirl of brute Appearance,
When thence eliminated. She, complete
In her self-being, evermore aspires
An ultimate of all that went before—
A Spirit of Thought, and thence of that prime Cause
Whereby the world itself began and is.
And thus derived,—a Virtue purer far
Than that invisible ethereal fire—
That vital spirit of the world which breathes
Through Being’s boundless lungs, she cannot know
Or darkness or corruption; but must be
A missioned Liberty, and thence endued
With powers of self-development that break
All bondage! Yea, ancestrally a spark
From God’s own brightness, goes she world-ward forth
To die not, but to clothe for evermore
Her mighty life and wondrous faculties
In robes of beauty and of use, and all
The comforting integuments which sense
Weaves for her wearing, in the loom of Time,
Out of the hoards and harvest of the earth;
And thence by transmigration made through that
New birth called Death, in the adapted worth
And garniture of many or all of those
Innumerable orbs, that spangle thick
The neighbouring heaven with seats of being,—such
As host on host yet farther forth, enrich
Infinite spaces, populous alike
With kindred glories bosomed all in Him!
As being indeed the million-featured modes
Of His omniscient Power;—each several mode
A shining link in one eternal chain
Of progress—to Perfection.

                                 Here we rest
Secure in soul. In secular safety too,
Here rest we,—satisfied; that come what may
Of change to Earth herself, or unto those
Her kindred glories that compose so bright
A Sisterhood in heaven,—though such as yet
Shall beat them into ruin and involve
Their death in seeming; still, in sure reserve,
For each some restoration must abide
In the unfailing consciousness of God,
And that divine necessity which makes
Creation and Advancement evermore
Link onward through all being: wherefore She
And They, though after some dread shock of change
Long lying shrouded, shall again awake,
And yet again,—wake jubilant, to hear
His far-off trumpet through the dark of doom
Calling them up into a state yet more
Exalted, as yet nearer to his own
Internal excellence and central peace.

Harpur’s Notes on “The World and the Soul”:

“Of course it is not insinuated in this Poem, that the starry systems of the Universe, in their infinitude, are the Mind of God itself, but only that they are the reflected thoughts of its divine intelligence in the boundless and eternal development of a necessary though not necessitated progress towards perfection…But the Divine Intelligence, not only conceives and interpenetrates, but is also superior and external to these starry systems: as a human intelligence not only gives birth and fashion to its own peculiar thoughts, but is also independently existent. They are not it, though they are of it. In other words, though they proceed from it, they do not constitute it.

“And as the mind of man has power to comprehend these reflexional systems of the universe, which cannot otherwise comprehend themselves (leaving out of the question their own inhabitative intelligences), it must be something which in its nature is different from them—must, in fact, be an offspring having absolute kindred with the Divine Mind itself, however much lower in degree, in relation to the Infinite, the Finite may declare it to be. However dependent then upon the Deity, as its parent, it has yet a self, is spiritually distinct, is immutably entire within this Self, and therefore immortal.

“On the other hand, the material things of the Universe are purely attributive to the mind of God, as thoughts: but thus proceeding, however progressively mutable, they must yet be eternal. Our thoughts in their finite degree are likewise enduring, though likewise subject to progressive mutation. It is the media—the material symbols through which the human mind expresses its conceptions that alone are perishable (so to speak). Were these of a like essence, our manifested thoughts would be as indestructibly visible as the vast stars of night…

“In reading Shakespeare, for instance, can we confound his glorious ideas with the mere print and paper of his book or even with the sounds which are therein symbolized. True, these are instinct with them; are the media of their revelation, but they themselves exist by virtue of a native spirituality in union with Truth, as emanations of an immortal intelligence, itself the personal offspring of an eternal one—the intelligence of God: the distinction here between an immortal and an eternal Intelligence being, that the first is immortal when once in distinct existence, the latter eternal as having always been.”


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