2 : The Visions
And out of the night shot visions. Swift and relentless
and merciless they came, and I saw them as one who,
abandoned in the midst of an ugly dream
is suddenly assaulted by its teeming simulacra,
things substantial, and ephemeral, gigantic and infinitesimal –
an infinity of things.
A vast and withered heath I saw, and on the dull periphery thereof
thunder rumbled over-long, as might morose and ponderous thoughts of gods.
And away off I descried Time, tilling and reaping in his fields, a still, salt waste
inundulate, sheer-white with laden dust; yet did he till and reap,
and till and reap without surcease.
From him and his hostile hand did I turn to gaze into another, safer distance
(and ranged behind him had I spied his levies, still as stone? Faintly,
file on file, and white as bone?)
And far, far upon that other vague horizon lay
some vast and sprawling edifice all grey and indistinct, all mist and cloud-enshrouded,
but huge beyond and spreading outward many a mile,
and many and many a mile, I deemed, it reached into the heavens.
And like it was unto – so was I minded – a windmill
of those ill-affected gods who grumbled hereabouts.
For movement I discerned – so did it seem – as of great and circling sails,
and a muffled groaning strain therefrom;
and with the vagaries of shifting air, methought, there came and went
the wailing and the moaning of a-many human voices,
as of the lamentation of the forest top beneath a gale.
But naught could I see nor hear that fell within my senses‘ satisfaction:
and soon did haze envelop all.
Then did a ghost of a wind arise to moan across the dun-drab grass,
and I bit my lip, for a little dog I saw, running with that wind;
my own little dead dog, whose grave was in my garden.
But where he had been, and where the sere grass shifted last
stood now four walls low and crumbled,
hearth open to the wind and rain, all canopied with moss
and rank with weeds, and woodlouse and snail with dominion over them.
And I knew it at once for the dear farmhouse wherein I had lived
and been loved in time forepast,
and tears flowed hot down my cheeks to see it so,
and how that it was set down unmercifully in this unhallowed place.
And I told myself that sly Time would not delude me with his trickery
and turned to curse him to his face
(albeit knowing his was a face I could not look upon)
but he and his fields were no more there,
and naught but that sullen outer edge of things.
And then it was as though I was myself plucked from where I stood
and lifted up,
and looked down upon the world as from a great height,
but was at one and the same time thrown in and among
and to be part of that which I beheld, yet entered
as one would step into a quiet pool, or through a breeze-blown veil.
And I beheld stupendous things…
I saw the thronged cities of the north,
and the vast and empty deserts of the south.
Poor, naked fishermen I saw, casting nets on a lonely shore;
a ragged line of hump-backed oxen, plodding, plodding in a snow-strewn waste;
pallid salamandine things, blind, and bound by blackness.
Old, old hands, mapped blue with veins, pressed fervently in prayer.
Plumed and painted warriors I saw, stamping dust to drum and sistrum –
Baal-fires burning in their high dark places;
bale-fires ablaze atop great earthen mounds.
I saw a man addressing a multitude:
I saw each of the thousand faces of his listeners.
Vestments pure and virginal I saw, draggled through the mire,
stained unto perdition and cast upon the midden.
Against a mud and wattle wall I saw the face of a boy,
and it was devoured by disease.
I could see – and oh, I was astounded –
breath on the wind which carried the black jaws of the plague.
Other faces elsewhere there were, countless faces,
blank faces staring, blank faces in crowds
and in tunnels, and in tombs,
and pale as linen sleeves beneath the catafalques of kings.
Ghosts I saw, walking in a crowded market-place,
unseen by all but a lone, mad-yelping cur;
bones espied, deep underground, bones burnished-brown
at rest beside death’s jawless gibe.
And now must I marvel all the more –
for to me in that moment were the minds of all men made an open book,
and the thoughts of man a chest unlocked.
I beheld the thoughts of hierophants and mystagogues,
and those of they who burned on iron braziers hellebore and aconite,
and their sigils and their cyphers wrote in bile;
yes, even those lofty thoughts of the most renowned among sages,
and those wounded ones of true poets and of madmen,
whose doom it was to ever tread as exiles in the landscapes of mankind.
I read the dreams of indomitable men
who fought with the gods and prevailed, and looked upon
the wreckage of those who prevailed not.
But the snaking deeps of sophists, even at midmost,
were a passing shallow babble.
And baubles and formulae alone upsprouted in the fields of the Sybarites
and of all the carnal
who whiled away their days, equations stiff and dull and petty carousels,
even unto the accomplished and the advertised among them –
but lo you, ever and anon serpents wriggling thereunder, and blood trickling therethrough.
And oh, even so it was among all the disciples of Mammon,
where worms and raven’s-wine did lie a-bed with cold and dure glitterings.
For those, I saw, would make merchandise of their fellow man’s misfortune,
and suck his blood, and turn it into coin;
who by base art and impudence would rape the lands of every goodly bounty,
and make of it but revenue;
who were both ignorant and scornful of the past,
who lived only to make a pawn of all the present,
and who were heedless of and reckless of the future.
And by such art and impudence and ignorance and greed, I saw,
were better men than they confounded.
Fast following I glimpsed, as by the suddenness of lightning illuminate,
their final fevered minds, those ones who had sought and caught the Devil by the tail,
and not foreseen the price;
and only then their utter mockery beheld,
for – with bloodied pen cast by and past reprieve –
they sought them still to ease their debt,
to coax that lord, to bandy words, to fence with him and haggle.
There came to me the thoughts of men who scorned communion with the angels,
and who despised the brotherhood of humankind;
who abused the greater cousinhood of creation.
Those there were, too, of they who did seek that communion;
who did celebrate that brotherhood;
who did cherish that great cousinhood;
but few, few indeed were those of they who sought, and celebrated, and cherished
the sacred, life-shaped trinity thereof,
and shunned were they by the many, and by the crowd discounted.
With ease I gazed into the minds of the arrogant and of the intolerant,
unnumbered and untold,
wherein I found, and penned in flaming majuscules,
fear innate; contempt unbridled; ignorance unbounded –
so that I was wroth and repelled,
and pitied all that was humble in creation.
And as though thought itself were conjuror,
the peoples of the margin I saw, and heard the clarions and the baying
of the thousand-year hunting of them,
saw them subjugated and disinherited, and their laws annulled
for being worthless laws,
and their tongues riven from them for their own well-being,
and the voice of the singer stilled
and the hands of the musician snapped and bleeding;
and because naught of theirs was of any value save their land and their gold
did the scourge of Ascendancy with injustice describe its scarlet runes upon their flesh
and gallows dance to the music of his writ,
and the children of the margin impressed into alien servitude
and scattered among the kingdoms of the masterful.
Laid bare was the hypocritical logic of the torturer
and of those who played dice with the torturer
– and here was I stung in my heart, for I felt that I had sat among them –
his savage craft pursued behind his mask of sanctimony
only that the statutes of his own creed
be exalted beyond the narrowness of his demesne
and the articles of his kingdom’s catechism glorified
beyond his bounden borders.
And naked too were the minds of all the Lordly of State
and the thoughts of princes and potentates
and of all the high and mighty ones of the earth,
even unto the greatest and the most revered among them.
And the many were seen to be consummate in cunning –
yes, and to be versed exquisitely in deceit;
their lies to be refined until they bore all the semblance of truth,
and their treaties and decrees all inked in manicon;
that beneath their cloak of honour and integrity
they did with daggers of intrigue and untruth
play at spillikins with nations and with the lives of the people.
And I saw that behind gilded gates Liberty went heavy about her heels,
and that a man might not live to see his sons grow tall when Justice was his neighbour.
That Law was to bind the weak, but to be broken by the strong,
and oftentimes a hempen collar about the neck of the one,
but a cudgel in the hands of the other.
While the thoughts of the meek,
bent by the sweat of their brow, careworn and forspent,
were quiescent and uncomprehending, and it was made plain to my sight
that naught but the clods of the earth would they inherit
and a cold and narrow lodging-place therein.
And I saw again he who had addressed the multitude – and his mind was not of this world.
And now I found that I stood among his listeners,
and marked his countenance and the glory that shone therefrom,
and though they came drifting to me dreamlike,
now clear and distinct, now snatched away as by the turning of the wind,
I stood there rooted and spellbound by the wonder of his words,
and for him there welled within me a great, sad, unfathomable pity.
“But I tell you,” said he, and these his words,
these few and precious it was my privilege to be allowed
as though they were addressed to me alone of all the throng,
have I remembered and held unto my heart over all the many passing years:
“But I tell you,” said he, and laid his eyes upon me then,
“the book of God that men have yet to find,
and the holiest of books, I say, is this –
it is the sun which throws its miracle each day upon the hillside;
the glory on the wing of the butterfly;
the soil which brings forth the matchless beauty of the lily.
Through an understanding of this,
and this above all things,
may we gain at last unto the sight of God.”
But the voice of the multitude grew great about me,
and I could no more hear my teacher’s words,
but was astounded to behold, now that I stood among the many,
that each perceived his message in a different way,
for some there were who shed tears of joy, or raised their arms in adulation,
or prostrated themselves before him,
or pressed forward that they might touch the hem of his robe,
and raised a cry that he was the foretold prophet who would
lead them forth against the world;
while others gave out great cries of sorrow and beat their flesh and rent their garments,
while some there were that smirked and jested, making light of all his words,
and others still stood sullen or grew wroth or shook their fists,
or left the throng with vexatious eyes and vengeful thoughts,
as though they would seek out the authorities that were, to silence him
and place him under duress to be led away in chains.
Plain and frightful unto me came the thoughts of these,
and fraught with muttered hate were they, which said:
“He abides not by the Law, and he desecrates the Book.”
And now was the clamour of the crowd a tempest,
and its movement a tossing sea wherein I was borne,
whether I willed it or no, hither and thither, and no more could I hope to see
him who spoke those holy words of wisdom.
Then was I alone again, and a quietude, and a sombre greyness gathering.
And awhile was there naught but the grey shadows all about me,
and the memory, yes, and queer echoes of those things I had but now looked upon.
Then did some thing draw my gaze to a point in all the shadows
where darkness, in conventicle, lay darker than all else round about.
And there now sat, in silent sad embrace, a man and maid
so young, scarce entered in the springtide of their youth.
And they, having found one in the other that thing of mystery
which is a fount of great gladness and a fire for all littleness
had come, they and their treasure, to this place of close-sealed darkness
– for they knew that on the morrow’s morn would come upon their world
a fury that knew not love, and that the fury could in no-wise be escaped;
but that there, for the few and precious passing hours,
was a place of blessed sanctuary and of peace,
And softly, and like unto the trickling of harp-strings in the dark
did the thoughts of those twain come to me,
and as a whispered, piteous litany.
And who it was that spake the first and who the second I know not,
but that there was gentle supplication, and like response:
Beloved,lest the world be lost
be by my side.
Should darkness darken more
and nightness burst,
be near me.
Stand with me now, console me,
ungird your strength
Be by my side:
be near me.
My loved one,
if the world be lost
then by your side I’ll be.
Should darkness darken more
and nightness burst,
then near you I’ll be.
Stand with you then, console you,
ungird my strength
Be by your side,
be near you:
and you with me.
Such, in the midst of mute despair, was the testimony of new-found love.
But for me, as on the morn of the morrow that they did yet await,
did the raging thoughts of those brutal ones who would scoff at love
and who would wrench apart those twain and all of they that live by love,
to ill-use them in body and in spirit,
dash furiously upon me and drave me backward and away,
with naught but vile derision as answer to my implorations
for the lives and the love of that poor maid and youth.
Thus to me were the minds of men an open book and a chest unlocked,
and many another undiscovered and unholy thing made manifest,
unseen beneath, and in wait beyond, the kenning of man’s mind.
But now in the brightness of a five-fold noon
was a great conglomeration of things ineffable thrust upon my sight,
and I must abide in awe:
For Truth I witnessed, Truth raised high on banners,
and trampled underfoot in blood.
I saw its thousand shades, and its impostors,
and its suffering;
saw it twisted and stretched on all the racks of righteousness;
saw it mangled by the cloven tongue of mischief.
And in its name false prophets and the scions thereof
I saw ensconced, effete and diademed.
Faith too there was, flaming and guttering withal,
proclaimed from marble fanes, and cowering in corners;
holding steadfast among the blazing branches; unflinching beneath the hail of stones.
Imprisoned in dogma; marching as to war. Tormented and tormenting;
sprung purblind from the seeds of fear and uncertainty;
and a million times betrayed.
The sycophants of holy writ I saw, those authors of pious misquotation
who would burn a man as zealously as swathe in flame his books;
shoulder to shoulder they walked, and their number was legion –
but the cross they bore before them no jot nor tittle holier
than a circled swarth gammadion,
their hymns all horned and cloven-hoofed.
And Good I saw, and Evil,
but where one did end and the other begin I saw not,
so ravelled were they, and entangled as fallen balls of twine
among the kingdoms and the ages of mankind.
For across their span did virtue become vice and wrong be seen as right,
and within themselves were shrouded in the vilest contrarieties:
I observed the machinations of evil in soft voices and flowered gardens.
I saw sarcoma in the hearts of saints.
I saw the flowing tears of Lilith,
and they were not of fire and gall but of the purest milk-chalcedony;
and I knew that these were the tears of all women.
(And oft there came Death in the guise of Beauty,
and crooked marvels made by the left hand of God).
And close upon these things poor hapless Love I saw,
and she was pale and beautiful.
And leading her by the hand there went a scrawny youth,
who leered at her and whispered: “I shall have my will of you…”
and pressed into her hand three dice.
And this was Chance, assigned by his tutelary goddess
to be Love’s only guide.
Then did that sacred and lovely lady grow paler still.
But now was a thing most foul shown unto me:
For hard by enough to send me staggering aghast
a fearful goat-headed man did I see
of great and sturdy stature, shaggy and snarling,
with eyes of blackest flint that raged disastrously about him,
tramping to and fro, to and fro tramping
in a pit of his own fermenting dung and urine.
Without let did he convulse with glarings and with mutterings,
and a pounding of fists against great straining thews.
His snarling and his grunting were of no earthly speech –
yet did I understand those loathsome words, which said, unerring and repeatedly:
“There will come the day and you will know my name…”
And I blenched, for fear that he might arise,
and march about the world.
But then of a great sudden did I stand enshadowed by a thing as huge and high as Babel
that blotted out all hope of light and sky, and clear it was to me that I stood now
beneath that which I was minded from afar to be the windmill of the gods.
And I stood all mazed at this, and back and back my head did go upon my neck
as that on which I gazed went up and up, as, foot to spire,
would half a score cathedrals passing hazy into clouds.
And lo, it was a great and turning wheel, configured with a witchery to foil imagination,
and as no wheel conceived by Adam’s sons.
For wheel on wheel was built this titan mechaneme
and ring and ring encompassed those within;
and some would spin sustainedly, but others without harmony;
and some spun as the clock does spin, while others circled widdershins,
so manifold, and so divers, the telling thwarts the mind.
But midmost stout and strong was it contrived
built all of oblong beams of wondrous size, dense-grained and hard as stone
and endlong cut from Cyclopean trees.
And iron-shod were these in massy bands, and bolted overthwart
and through and through each one,
and beam and beam traversed and joined and left the eye perplexed.
Yet outward did these timbers minish thinner and more worn,
and midst the great ones of those girdles were there gaps
and broken struts, and rotting wood
ill-patched by slender slats and ties, and hung with rusting hasp and hinge
until the very outer worm-holed rim was ever loose, a-sway,
all frayed and ragged as the torn wings of a butterfly.
And if the mighty pile itself rebelled against the telling,
then that within was verily beyond the fantasies of gods.
For, God-a-mercy, were those wheels a-seething and alive with humankind!
Oh, faces pale and bodies wan! Womankind and man,
as countless as the maggot that infests the flesh corrupt,
inhabited – all swarmed within – the thing! And wildered is my mind to treat
upon their outward way, such stern articulation seen
within such wanton wheels – the one concentric rote ordained
in ancient days gone by – here, stationed strict, of Adam’s rib, was every sort and kind!
Midmost, in motion imperceptible and slow, sat emperors and empresses
and queens beside their kings
(within that firm redoubt, all quiet and sedate;
vast ignorance prevailed therein of the world which spun without).
In noticeable motion next, great ministers and churchmen sat, and magnates of the land
(a-fingering chain and staff were they, and clutching crozier tight;
for they must please those ones above, yet watch proceedings down).
More quickly circling after them, the gownsmen and the knights
(most ill-at-ease – yet courteous. While manoeuvring around
with deep pretence of dignity, their jostling never ceased.)
And on did it articulate in ever faster motion,
through merchant now, and goodman, through giddy populations –
oh, ever with more motion and with greater consternation,
till to loose and rotten rim did the peasant and the pauper,
swept in great gyrations, cling in frantic desperation,
and lacerating air with wails and screams.
And came a grinding and a groaning from the dark of the machine,
and a shaking and a rattling of the strain, and a deep and painful hum
as the sound of stone-shot slung from a hundred kicking catapults-of-war –
and, grief! About that high rondelle fell lizard-birds did glide,
and not of scale or feather made, but slat and plate and cleat,
with ratchet-mounted beak and clanking wing!
They soared, those creatures fashioned of the wheel, they hung, they swooped.
With iron-bolted eye they held each body on the rim.
And well might a lord adjust his chain, and peasant curse his life –
for whiles would those ensorcelled wheels all screech, and slow,
and stop: and in a trice reverse their spin.
Then would the mightiest shudder pass through every thing that spun,
and kings and ministers be toppled from their place
to tumble with much hurt midst common-kind;
and haply would an emperor fall down; a barefoot boy be cast into a throne;
and practiced climbers from the outer skirts push inward,
and accumulate thus dirt, and some acquire darker stains.
And folk then by the hundred be by heel and foretop flung
and land among stark strangers in the wheel;
and few with kindness be received, with rude suspicion more the rule;
and cuffings, scurvy words and castings-out; or hiss and gleam
of quick-drawn steel.
And would those who clung to tatters of the great ramshackle rim
be hurled as sacks of grain up through the air…
and some firm-snapped in ratchet-jaws, while more fared stony to the earth.
And when I durst not look on this – for folk there were rained down
that lay all broke and bloodied at my feet –
I turned abrupt away.
And then I pondered bitterly with palms against my face
how thrice and thrice a thousand years, this witch’s wheel
had held the race of man in thrall – since holy oil had sanctified
the rule of king and priest, men’s daily lives were governed
but by imposition – and a hag’s caprice.
But, mercy! Through the mist two figures moved apace,
and the first did lead the other in hot haste to the wheel.
And he that led was lanky, and clumsy in his gait,
and the one he led was light of flank, and in every whit a maid.
And I that watched, her mendicant, must stand and bar the way…
Then slyly did the fickle witch whose charge was that foul wheel
– bitch-tutor to yon lurching youth who led that hallowed lady on –
draw back all apparitions to the mirk.
So too did the hag Fortuna will that I, as a stone-wrought statue, stand and stare;
and bade me stand and stare distraught.
And still a-daze, must stare at naught –
till from that same obscure space a mighty clamour broke,
and out from it a fleeing company of young and old did pour in wild-eyed terror,
and infants too, and babes in arms!
And, lo! Grey scaly-coated demons, wit-struck among them fled –
the wicked thoughts and deeds of that fine folk, at the apex of their fear
hurled forth incarnate out of them, were these!
And marvellous high above that throng there rolled a raging wall of ash
that rained it down upon them as might spears and darts of Satan
until not a one was fleeing, but all lay beaten into earth.
Whereat that wall did break but as as a wave upon the shore, and as a wave
did spend itself in shallow far-flung ripples; and anon naught seen but
the dumb and umber dust again.
But straightway did another host come by,
both beasts and humankind in strange array together,
as, for want, both predator and prey will gather at a water-hole;
and slow and silently and hopelessly came these.
Behemoth came, bleeding and tuskless; emaciated lion walked with little limping lamb.
Poor beasts of burthen too, all cruel-laden, as ever answering to goad and lash.
And these that came were of all nations, and all kindreds, and all tongues.
Women clutched their poor dead sucklings to their breasts
as others clutched their chattels;
men, recalcitrant, nursed still their rusted weaponry; incorrigible fools
went still with murder in their eyes.
The other eyes told only of the limits of despair.
And all – both man and beast – were scarred, and starved, and spiritless.
As silent, sorry skeletons they went, and went they knew not where.
As wraiths, they faded into ether at their passing,
and far away behind I glimpsed the land that they had made a sterile, burning waste.
And now a long grey catenation came of men with gutted eyes,
one and one, and each with a hold upon the shoulders of his fellow at his front;
thus held firmly each by other were these dismissed the battlefield,
a bleeding, blinded serpent creeping home, and its head was he
that was spared a single eye.
And others I saw who had awaked upon the field those poor sightless ones had left
and knew that they were broken, shattered men and close to death
perceived that an evil angel stood astride them, to inform them, from a gore-stained scroll,
that they had fought and bled and died for naught;
that they were but victims of ambitious and deluded men
whose certitude that they themselves and no man else was right
was so deep-graven in obsessive minds
that their word became for all the land a fixed law and an oracle;
that to such errant ends, and for such blinkered men
their good life’s blood was spilled unjustly and as sacrifice.
And there upon the bloodied field those souls had left
there lay a single huge black feather,
fallen from the clouds up-piled above the carnage
– so roared to me the mantic one who claimed it as his quill –
from the great dark clapping wings of Lucifer.
Carnage. I saw the carnage of unrecorded battles and of wars unsung
that shaped the unknown empires of the world.
Yes, horns I heard, the blare and the echo of them
winding down the immeasurable epochs
to summon men as insects and, as insects,
clash aloft the red pincers of war.
I heard the helpless death-gasps of those who were stricken
by the lightning of adversaries unseen,
and the glee and the gloating of those ones
who could with impunity deal death-strokes from afar.
And it was revealed
that the savage thoughts of conquerors and those ravaged of the dispossessed
were made one and the same
in that they were abandoned with naught but their own weakness as companion,
and their own weakness only to sustain them.
And this it was that brought, now clear, a picture to my mind,
obscured when first I witnessed it – so fast was my mind then whirled
by the sweeping and the churning of that many-peopled wheel –
as how, hard by the perilled rim had some souls driven by distress
cast by their hopes and with them tossed their wits,
and as men who had bouzed them up to sullenness, were for light cause cursing all,
and threatening, and a-breaking of their neighbours’ bones;
some even to the scathing and the slaying of themselves.
And many a score of these, as in the grip of some infectious craze,
had taken up the pot and brush and painted, wildly,
vast portions near the rim in swathes of stark vermeil,
the hue of anger and of blood, and of violence and war,
so that up against the edge of all there ran a mad-inspired ring of fiery rampant red.
And as I remembered me this
so did I cross myself and cry mutedly in the name of holy Jesu, for I feared
– having but new-seen those utter madnesses of war –
that a blood-red tide was the fated mark of Man.
But now did the troubled air recede and die,
and a calm settle upon all things, and a dusk to gather round about.
And I knew it to be ordained that I – would I, would I not –
must bend my steps to follow all they that had passed me by into the ether.
And it seemed to me, then, that I walked a long white road in moonlight,
and at whiles the way would glimmer, now here, now there, with cold shinings,
and its surface shift and softly crack beneath my tread.
And I slowed my gait, and cast about, and saw that my road was
a road of fragments,
and that the fragments were of bone, broken and triturated
with here and there the glint of tooth and of thin and polished flakes,
and the interstices filled with white and finely powdered dust –
and I knew then, that he it was again, and that I walked upon the road of Time,
and that his road was fashioned as were his far-off winnowed fields.
And I sobbed a breath and stayed my steps,
and would, were mine own will master, go no further on that road.
And after a weary while, as I yet stood distressful and perplexed,
it seemed that Time mocked me from within the very dust whereon I stood, saying:
“Wherefore do you tarry so, you Man? I know you who you are.
There is naught for you, even unto the end.
You came without portent; you made no name; you departed without epitaph.”
And, I fancied it, the dust itself did laugh unpleasantly beneath my feet;
but after a time the voice to say, now in a strangely tired tone and sad:
“Yet a portent will I give unto you;
and even as worse things await than did ever populate the direst of your dreams,
it shall speak louder than those petty things shown you heretofore.
And therein shall you see what is your calling – and who shall see
no carven grammar will there be to mark your passing.”
Then it was that I heard a low murmur gathering, low and afar,
as of some distant tide,
which swelled mightily in the gloom ahead, swelled with ever increasing turbulence
until, in a single moment, as a deafening and unimaginable immensity of resonance
it came rushing and crashing upon me in that place where I had stayed my steps,
rushing and crashing upon me as a great inundation,
and I knew – great God! – I knew that I hearkened unto the discourses of all time
and in all places as a flood!
Heard and understood their subtleties and their obscurities –
discerned even the lost and frantic voices of the dead.
And teeming from these myriad, myriad souls of the present and of the past,
the living and the dead,
there issued great words and little words, distinct and clear each one –
righteous and evil side by side, wiseards words and those of fools,
the ravings of demented souls with the entreaties of the oppressed –
convoluted though they were in one single, vast discordant strain.
And I heard too in the midst of this
that scream which, it is written, struck the hearts of all men with terror
and caused them to forfeit their courage and their strength,
and their womenfolk to relinquish the unborn of their wombs;
that caused all creatures to abandon their senses,
and trees to shed their leaves and the land to become barren,
and the waters to become bitter and poisoned,
until the uttermost corners of the earth was filled with its pain.
And when I had heard these things
I became fully and completely aware of every wrong, and every loss, and every failure
that had ever visited the world in all its entirety
as though they were being suffered at that very moment –
and I cried out in terror and in wrath,
cursing the callous god that had let me be party to these things
and held my hands to my ears
and tried to shut tight my eyes.
But there was naught that could blot out that sound,
and my eyes seemed held open as though forced wide by a quillon’s blade;
and so it was that I suffered
every silent and secret cruelty committed
in the closed, secluded places, in the dens of the offscourings of the earth,
and those, too, committed in the respectable places,
in the lands of, and at the hands of, the decent and the godly.
I felt the anguish of each individual happening
in the death-camps of all time;
saw fear heaped up in mountains, and anguish as an ocean;
grief swelling as does the sea.
And blood. Blood written in the stars,
and starred on sand, and on snow, on the good earth,
and on the hands of the people.
In one fleeting moment of respite
I was able to look upon the dearest and innermost secrets of my heart,
and saw them to be weighed and found wanting,
my dreams and my desires to be illusions,
and counted among the deserts of my days.
And then it was that, for an instant, I beheld again the prophet,
he that had addressed the multitude,
and my heart cried out after him for he was bloodied and he was bound,
forsaken and derided by the crowd, and delivered into the hands of brutal men.
For one mercurial moment too, one winged moment of fearful dismay,
I saw the one that I had erstwhile seen – he that had paced the pit;
but now – God pity! – did he stride throughout the lands
and roar foul imprecations to the firmament, and his clenched fists shake terribly thereat,
and to strike the earth with a great spiked oaken bludgeon
and cause it to tremble with many and mighty concussions,
so that I lost my breath and fell a-sickened and a-sobbing to the ground.
For in that single blighted moment had my heart been informed
– as had the hearts of all the race of man in seasons long foregone –
that whenas that evil one had been finally released,
naught in the power of man nor creation was there
that could reverse his furious blind advance,
for that each time his tyrant tree-wrought club did strike the earth
his strength and his violence and his rage were an hundredfold increased.
And in such depths of terror and helplessness did my mind hark back
as to how I fancied me to have sat among the friends of torturers,
and to those demons that had dwelt within the very bodies of that fleeing folk,
and to the savage swathes of red upon the wheel…
and saw that some germ of the cast of the goat-headed one
had ever dwelt endungeoned within us all,
and appointed to be for the most part caged through all the ages,
but that by and by the people were too many
and the miasma pent within them multiplied and overflown
and become a contagion and a deluge that had at the last released the Rampager
whose nature and nourishment and name were known even from the ancient of days.
His name is Hatred – and Ultimate hisepithet.
Strife his nourishment.
His nature, a malady that is born and thrives in no place other but
the dark and sangliant soul of Man.
And then beneath a black, defeated sun
and in a world that fell inward upon itself
I looked upon a vision of Man’s suzerainty at its end,
upon the dying, spiteful groans of the weary, warring giants of his making,
and for them was left no door, and no key,
and the only justice lay in the triumph of oblivion.
But in my afflicted mind was I then borne through the icy skies of night,
until from immeasurably far away there came unto mine ears
only the long-drawn thunder of the avalanche;
and slow and dull within it, and echoing thereafter,
the deep and measured tolling of a mighty iron bell.
Long and very long it tolled, and long and long again.
And whenas that knell had sounded the last hour that there was to be for all my kind
was I allowed a vision of heaven’s blasphemy,
and there beheld the Jealous God decrepit on his throne,
harried by puny vassals, his empery usurped and shared among them
(and these were and are still among the great and the holy ones of the earth),
the god that dwelt in a darkened box, the god that smiled not nor forgave,
the futile, unemployed god, the erroneous god
that was created over-large by little men and, when his usefulness was
perceived to be at an end, was by them cast down.
And on that last day of heaven and of earth,
on that vast landscape of the slain of men and angels
did the wan worm Sarcotroctes – he who makes an economy of all things –
emerge rejoicing and victorious from his halls beneath the soil;
and did write, after his own especial fashion of curlicue and flourish,
a crimson epitaph for Man.
And lastly came one horsed out of a grey world,
and that upon which he rode was paler than the greyness round about.
In silence he came, and upon that field of bones there was no clop of hoof
nor ring of iron shoe.
He spake not, but left he coursed and right, as if surveying that all was
as should be.
No word he spake, but reining, seemed to hold me from beneath the shadow
of his cowl.
He uttered naught, but in my quaking thoughts did say:
“Yea, I am he.
I am he who cometh unto men in the quiet of the night,
and he who cometh unto them in the brightness of the day;
he that visiteth the peasant in his hovel, and entereth unimpeded
into the chamber of the king;
upon the infant in the cradle do I steal, and the infant babe unborn,
as much upon the eldern forward-treading in the vale.
He who forgetteth no-one.
And whenas I pass, no thing shall be as it was before.
Yet, from the blood-red tide which is his mark, doth man rush forth to greet me.
And meseemed that this was none but Death himself whom I faced
across the field,
but scarce could I tell, so addled in the head was I and close to swooning…
and for that he stood there in the guise and in the very garb
as erstwhile I saw Time.
“Yea,” said he , “for he and I are brethren insomuch as we are one,
and unto eternity will we till and reap and ride the world;
but the race of Man shall we pass by no more – for it is at an end.
And the grass will grow where he, for the blinking of an eyelid,
held over-haughty sway;
and across white deserts will the winds of the ages amuse themselves
with his dust.”
And after I had been held and compelled to gaze on all of this,
and faint and pained unto the depth of me so that blackness upon blackness
swum before my eyes and hell’s flute whistled a long note in my skull,
it seemed – sweet Mercy! – in truth it seemed that I was transported and left
alone and shivering again
in the dark plain of the beginning –
but it was to me as though I stood now, still and dumb as a graven image
on the thin plain of skin that tightened
over the mad pulsations of my own heart.
I knew – merciful God! –
I knew that I had been allowed
for what reason I know not, nor will ever know –
in a place of unleashing where there were no walls and no ward
to keep all conceivable existence in check,
a glimpse of the edge, the borderland, the shadow
of that great, uncommunicable secret thing
which must forever remain unknown to mortal man;
and I was filled with a great and unbearable burden of sadness.
And when after a great while I took courage and opened my eyes,
I saw with joy that a dawn was breaking
among rose and saffron ribands to the east.
I did not dare to move.
But a voice rumbled in my head:
“Go now. Remember what you have seen.”
I walked out into the cold new day,
and at the first guiltless song of a small bird,
I would not forget.
The simplest things would never be the same again.
There is much in the way of notes which should accompany this poem – but notes take up a lot of time, and they have had a tendency to become rather cumbersome of late, both in the writing and, I fancy, the reading. Suffice to say that there are many references within this poem to ideas found in other works – philosophical, religious, mythological, historical, literary – some of which regular viewers may, in passing, recognise, and to which attention should really be drawn and their relevance discussed. I apologize for not properly going into this at present, but will point quickly to the presence of Jorge Luis Borge [The Aleph], the figure of Lilith, first wife of Adam [the flowing tears of Lilith‘ from my ‘The Tears of Lilith’ previously posted in The Ig-Og, along with ‘Eye Contact in Eden’ and the longer poem ‘Adam and Madam’]; the Roman Goddess Fortuna [and her wheel – ‘Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi’ in Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’]; the 1014 Battle of Clidium [the blinding of Tsar Samuel’s entire Bulgarian army by Byzantine Emperor Basil II]; Lludd a Llefelys, the 6th tale of The Mabinogion [the First and Second Plagues]; Branwen verch Llyr , the 2nd tale of The Mabinogion [the opening of the Forbidden Door]; and fleeting allusions to other things – Gurdjieff’s Law of Reciprocal Maintenance [the ‘sacred trinity’ of Nature’s cousinhood], my’Young Soldier among Torturers’ [previously posted in The Ig-Og], the Marwnad of Gruffydd ab yr Ynad Côch for Llewelyn ein Llyw Olaf [‘Nyt oes na chyngor na chlo nac agor’ and echoed in David Jones’ ‘Cara Wallia Derelicta’] along with other epitomized phases and phrases which must presently go without elucidation, derived from William Morris, Joseph Conrad, William Hope Hodgson, James Joyce, Dunsany, Daniel Corkery, Clark Ashton Smith, Russell Kirk, and I think others. An olla podrida, I know, of briefly alluded-to mixed thoughts and transient references. There is also a lion walking with a lamb, and this as we all know is from the figurative representation / two aspects of Christ we find when ‘you get the Holy Bible in the back of the Book’. Then there is the prophet, the ‘Jesus figure’, although, despite the similarity, not intended to specifically relate to that personage (or what we have left of him after the intervention of time and talk, which allows us, as is true of the evolution of all revolutionary ideologies, not the ‘first edition’ but the ‘revised version’) but to a like visitor who possesses such attributes as sometimes is to be seen in the more authentic ‘Messengers of God’. I have a series of three poems built around this figure which I hope to include in future issues of The Ig-Og.
The language is archaic to fit the content, although not overly so; many expressions which, centering on and in common use in the 16th and 17th centuries characterize earlier English, have been avoided. Condensed excerpts from The Apocalypse of Gweir have been published separately as independent poems elsewhere in The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion, (The Angels of Mons, The Encounter with Time and his Brother) and regular viewers may recognise their fuller appearance here.The linear arrangement of the poem has been revised in order to make formatting as a post easier; many continuations of lines which were originally inset now appear left-margin aligned, and while this affects appearance to a degree, it does not really affect the flow of the reading. For any small mis-spacings which might appear I apologize. The poem was written a long time ago, and looking over it now I see that there remain, in the first third or so, one or two sequences the inclusion about which I have at various times since nursed doubt, but which I have, for the time it would take to play about with them, whether substantially revising or deleting and further playing about in order to meld reasonably with following sequences, decided to leave as they originally stood. This is also true of lesser parts of some later sequences.
What is the subject and centre of the Apocalypse? Well, it is a world we know only too well, and the expression of thoughts which may in this age of culmination be possibly found on the edges of many of our minds. And who is ’Gweir’? If you Google the name you will be left, I think, with a variety of impressions, none of which will be satisfactory. You would do better by punching in ‘The Prisoner Gweir (or Gwair); this will lead you to a lot more. If you are then still interested, and wish to go further into the matter, Gweir as an entity is discussed again in my notes to The Bound God, which appeared earlier in The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion.
The Opening of the Forbidden Door
To return for a moment to what was briefly mentioned above – the story of Branwen in the Mabinogi. In this tale, the seven survivors of the war with the men of Ireland made their way back to Wales and rested themselves in a fine palace on the island of Gwales (pronounced in two separate syllables – Gwâ-les). Here an enchantment was put on them; they forgot all the weary years which had preceded, all the intrigue and misunderstandings which had led to the bloody affair with the men of Ireland, and brought such death and sorrow on both peoples, and passed the time in enjoyment and happiness which lasted, though they did not know it, all of eighty years. However, when they had first arrived at the palace they had found two doors which were open, and a third one closed, with the warning that it was not to be opened; this was the door which faced south toward Cornwall. One day – naturally and of course! – the curiosity of one of the seven overtook him, and he opened the door. ‘And when he looked, they were as conscious of every loss they had ever sustained, and of every kinsman and friend they had missed, and of every evil that had come upon them, as if it were even then it had befallen them… And from that same moment they could not rest… ‘ [Gwyn and Thomas Jones’ translation]. This result has been greatly magnified in The Apocalypse… ‘ to cosmic proportions, as it has in The Third Door, below. If we are looking for literary parallels, we can find them in Pandora and her box and Eve and her apple (always women who are to blame, and this is an axiom to be found throughout Judaeo-Christian, Graeco-Roman and Mediaeval literature); here, and refreshingly, in this mediaeval Welsh story the rabbity culprit is a male.
The Third Door
What lies beyond
Omega Point’s green door
those seven saw.
Minute and vast, present,
past, emergent, cast;
first and last.
in single stark procession –
all and everything
And from that time
they could not rest.
So, although the subject here is the opening of the third door by one of the seven survivors of the Irish expedition, what met the eye is treated as a traumatic cosmic revelation rather than a return of a mass of bitter personal memories, bringing the experience in line with the totality of The Apocalypse… ‘.
‘Omega Point’ looms large in Tielhard de Chardin’s philosophy as a point in which all existence converges into one; it lies at the precise edge of the end of time, and the centre upon which all the forces of the Universe converge. ‘Omega’ will be recognized as the second part of ‘Alpha and Omega’ (the ‘Beginning and the End‘ as representative of the Christian God) in John’s Revelation (known also, it happens, but not nearly so generally, as The Apocalypse of John); the couplet being taken from the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Related to Alpha is Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew and other Semitic alphabets, and in Jewish symbolism used similarly to represent the oneness of God. The Aleph is the title of a superbly imaginative and disturbing (1945) short story, and if you have not already read it a story not to be missed, by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. In Borges’ story, ‘the Aleph is a point in space that contains all other points. Anyone who gazes into it can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping, or confusion’. It is this fascinating, astonishing idea which is the basis of the Apocalypse. The ‘green door’ deserves a mention, too, thrown piquantly in as that secret, inaccessible place of which you might have heard from which tantalizing, never-to-be-shared laughter and music emanates; ‘green door’ is also somehow in keeping with the location of the island of Gwales. The line ‘all and everything’ is a reference to George Ivanovich Gurdjieff’s trilogy ‘All and Everything’. Gurdjieff, already mentioned at the beginning of these notes, was an influential thinker in the early-mid 20th century, and who, as founder of ‘The Fourth Way’ system of inner development is still widely discussed and has many adherents today. His ‘Law of Reciprocal Maintenance’ while it deals with much of an esoteric nature, is also at base a thesis for respect and responsibility for what is above and what is below our human world. Gurdieff himself waxes very peculiar both in method and style, but much has been published to elucidate this. And if you have read Gurdjieff you will also have come across his collaborator, Pyotr Damienovich Ouspensky, and probably Ouspensky’s continuator, Rodney Collin. As astute observers and commentators on humankind’s place in the cosmos, all are worth reading.
The island of Gwales (Ynys Gwales) is identified with Grassholm, the rocky islet sitting so lonely out there in the Celtic Sea, the most westerly point of all Wales except for the wave-washed reef of The Smalls some miles beyond. It’s a high, bare sentinel white with guano from its breeding colony of North Atlantic gannets. But, hmmm… Just enough space on top there, I’d say, to build a small palace…
Now the old stone-built home of my early youth stood high atop a hill and hard by its gaunt grey-white, upthrust cap of dolerite (a ‘carn’, one of a number of such outcrops which dot the peninsula of Dewisland). It stood within a mile or so of the most westerly point in mainland Wales; it stood just 300 yards or so from the clifftop; the nearest building was a ruined Celtic chapel of the 6th/7th century; our nearest neighbours were a community of Irish monks whose small monastery was perched close by the cliff’s very edge. Every morning, when I woke up, through my bedroom window I would see the whole sweep of St. Bride;s (St. Bridget’s) Bay; there, to the south-east, lay the island of Skomer; then a wide stretch of open sea until out there, some nine miles to the south-west and outside the Bay, lay lonely Gwales. I would see it in summer sunshine or under autumn’s cloud-laden skies. Morning and evening, in its changing hues. In the wintertime it was mostly invisible. I used to go out in the fishing boats, then. Mostly we would follow the coast fetching up the lobster-pots (and their mixed company of starfish, spider crabs and sea-urchins), or do some line-fishing (mackerel were plentiful – we would literally catch one a minute; this I remember after bringing up, one day, sixty in exactly an hour). Rarely we would go out to the islands – nearby Ramsey, distant Skomer, and just once, far Grassholm. It was something of a strange feeling, coasting so close beneath that rock which had always appeared so remote as to touch the horizon. (Now, these days, boats go out there crammed with summer sightseers; then, in those days, no-one ventured out to lonely Gwales). And it was there, on that day, as we slowly moved beneath its shadow, that I made a fatal mistake. I thought to myself, ‘Why, we’re beyond St.Anne’s Head and outside the Bay! if I look to the south, way beyond there somewhere will be Cornwall’. A callow youth was I; I had no idea of what this island was identified with; I had not heard a word of the story. And it was that single, innocent, unknowing act which I firmly believe then and there utterly scrambled my brain and left me as I have been ever since and as I am today…
You can find out much more about this stretch of west Wales coast by going to ‘The Farthest Shore’, previously posted in The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion.
As to the final stanza of the poem, from the small handful of individuals who had read the poem either in manuscript or in typescript I recall particularly two responses. The first lady said it was ‘stunning’, which naturally pleased me no end and gave me a warm glow about the kidneys for days. The second said ‘Yes, but whose voice was that rumbling in his head?’. To which I was minded to reply: ‘Oh, that was Mickey Mouse’.