The Path – August 1887

THE POETRY OF REINCARNATION IN WESTERN LITERATURE: II — E. D. Walker

PART II.
BRITISH POETRY.

FROM "INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY."

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting
The soul that rises with us, our life's star
     Hath had elsewhere its setting
     And cometh from afar.
     Not in entire forgetfulness
     And not in utter nakedness
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
          From God who is our home.
Heaven lies about us in our infancy
Shades of the prison house begin to close
          Upon the growing boy;
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows
          He sees it in his joy.
The youth who daily farther from the East
Must travel, still is nature's priest
     And by the vision splendid
     Is on his way attended.
At length the man perceives it die away
And fade into the light of common day.

     WM. WORDSWORTH

A REMEMBRANCE.

Methinks I can remember when, a shade
All soft and flowery was my couch, and I
A little naked child, with fair white flesh
And wings all gold bedropt, and o'er my head
Bright fruits were hanging and tall balmy shrines
Shed odorous gums around me and I lay
Sleeping and waking in that wondrous air
Which seemed infused with glory, and each breeze
Bore as it wandered by, sweet melodies;
But whence, I knew not. One delight was there
Whether of feeling or of sight or touch
I know not now — which is not in this earth,
Something all-glorious and all beautiful,
Of which our language speaketh not, and which
Flies from the eager grasping of my thought
As doth the shade of a forgotten dream.
All knowledge had I, but I cared not then
To search into my soul and draw it thence.
The blessed creatures that around me played
I knew them all, and where their resting was,
And all their hidden symmetry I knew,
And how the form is linked into the soul,
I knew it all, but thought not on it then
I was so happy.

     And once upon a time
I saw an army of bright beaming shapes
Fair faced and rosy cinctured and gold winged
Approach upon the air. They came to me
And from a crystal chalice silver brimmed
Put sparkling potion to my lips and stood
All around me, in the many blooming shades,
Shedding into the centre where I lay
A mingling of soft light, and then they sang
Songs of the land they dwelt in; and the last
Lingereth even till now upon mine ear.
     Holy and blest
     Be the calm of thy rest
     For thy chamber of sleep
     Shall be dark and deep
     They shall dig thee a tomb
     In the dark deep womb
     In the warm dark womb.

Spread ye, spread the dewy mist around him
Spread ye, spread till the thick dark night surround him.
Till the dark long night has bound him
Which bindeth all before their birth
Down upon the nether earth.
The first cloud is beaming and bright
The next cloud is mellowed in light
The third cloud is dim to sight
And it stretches away into gloomy night.
Twine ye, twine, the mystic threads around him
Twine ye, twine, till the fast firm fate surround him
Till the firm cold fate hath bound him
Which bindeth all before their birth
Down upon the nether earth.     

The first thread is beaming and bright
The next thread is mellowed in light
The third thread is dim to sight,
And it stretches away into a gloomy night.
Sing ye, sing, the fairy songs around him
Sing ye, sing, till the dull warm sleep surround him
Till the warm damp sleep hath bound him
Which bindeth all before their birth     

Down upon the nether earth.
The first dream is beaming and bright
The next dream is mellowed in light
The third dream is dim to sight
And it stretches away into gloomy night.

Then dimness passed upon me and that song
Was sounding o'er me when I woke
To be a pilgrim on the nether earth.

     DEAN ALFORD, 1850.

FROM "CATO'S SOLILOQUY ON THE SOUL.

Eternity — thou pleasing, dreadful thought
Through what variety of untried being
Through what new scenes and dangers must we pass?
The wide, th' unbounded prospect lies before me
But shadows, clouds and darkness rest upon it.

     JOSEPH ADDISON.

RETURNING DREAMS.

As in that world of Dream whose mystic shades
Are cast by still more mystic substances,
We ofttimes have an unreflecting sense
A silent consciousness, of some things past
So clear that we can wholly comprehend
Others of which they are a part, and even
Continue them in action, though no stress
Of after memory can recognize
That we have had experience of those things
Or sleeping or awake:
                              Thus in the dream,
Our universal Dream, of Mortal Life,
The incidents of an anterior dream,
Or it may be, Existence, noiselessly intrude
Into the daily flow of earthly things,
Instincts of good — immediate sympathies
Places come at by chance, that claim at once
An old acquaintance — single random looks
That bare a stranger's bosom to our eyes;
We know these things are so, we ask not why
But act and follow as the Dream goes on.

     R. M. MILNES, (Lord Houghton).

FROM "THE MYSTIC."

Who dreams not life more tearful than the hours
Since first into this world he wept his way
Earthward, may be called of God, man's soul
In patriarchal periods, comet-like
Ranges, perchance, all spheres successive, and in each
With nobler powers endowed and senses new
Set season bideth.

     PHILIP TAMES BAILEY.

FROM "DE PROFUNDIS."
BIRTH.

Out of the deep, my child, out of the deep.
Where all that was to be, in all that was,
Whirled for a million aeons thro' the vast
Waste dawn of multitudinous eddying light —
Out of the deep, my child, out of the deep,
Thro' all this changing world of changeless law.
And every phase of ever heightening life,
And nine long months of ante-natal gloom,
            Thou comest.

     A. TENNYSON

Tennyson also writes: —

For how should I for certain hold
Because my memory is so cold.
That I first was in human mould?

It may be that no life is found
Which only to one engine bound
Falls off, but cycles always round.

But, if I lapsed from nobler place,
Some legend of a fallen race
Alone might hint of my disgrace.

Or, if through lower lives I came —
Tho' all experience past became
Consolidate in mind and frame —

I might forget my weaker lot;
For is not our first year forgot?
The haunts of memory echo not.

Some draughts of Lethe doth await
As old mythologies relate
The slipping through from state to state

Moreover, something is or seems,
That touches me with mystic gleams,
Like glimpses of forgotten dreams —

Of something felt, like something here;
Of something done, I know not where;
Such as no language may declare.

In Shelley's poems the ideas of pre-existence and many lives may frequently be met expressly or implied. The title over one of his songs of unrest "The World's Wanderer" evidently alludes to himself, as do the lines in it

"Like the world's rejected guest."

The song of the spirits in "Prometheus Unbound" pictures vividly the human soul's descent into the gloom of the material world:

To the deep, to the deep!
                     Down, down!
Through the shade of sleep
Through the cloudy strife
Of Death and of Life

Through the veil and the bar
Of things which seem and are
Even to the steps of the remotest throne,
                     Down, down!

While the sound whirls around
                     Down, down!
As the fawn draws the hound
As the lightning the vapour
As a weak moth, the taper;
Death, despair; love, sorrow;
Time both; today, tomorrow;
As steel obeys the spirit of the stone
                     Down, down!

In the depth of the deep
                     Down, down!
Like the veiled lightning asleep
Like the spark nursed in embers,
The last look Love remembers,
Like a diamond which shines
On the dark wealth of mines
A spell is treasured but for thee alone,
                     Down, down!

THE RETREAT.

Happy those early days when I
Shined in my angel-infancy
Before I understood this place
Appointed for my second race
Or taught my soul to fancy aught
But a white celestial thought;
When yet I had not walked above
A mile or two from my first love,
And, looking back, at that short space
Could see a glimpse of his bright face
When on some gilded cloud or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity;
Before I taught my tongue to wound
My conscience with a sinful sound;
Or had the black art to dispense
A several sin to every sense.
But felt through all this flashy dress
Bright shoots of everlastingness.

Oh, how I long to travel back
And tread again that ancient track!
That I might once more reach that plain
Where first I left my glorious train;
From whence the enlightened spirit sees
That shady city of palm trees.
But ah! my soul with too much stay
Is drunk and staggers in the way
Some men a forward motion love,
But I by backward steps would move
And when this dust falls to the urn,
In that state I came, return.

     HENRY VAUGHAN

Edmund W. Gosse treats the idea of Wordsworth's "Intimations" in a way directly opposite to the older poet, in these verses:

TO MY DAUGHTER.

Thou hast the colors of the Spring
The gold of king cups triumphing
     The blue of wood-bells wild,
But winter thoughts thy spirit fill
And thou art wandering from us still
     Too young to be our child.

Yet have thy fleeting smiles confessed
Thou dear and much desired guest
     That home is near at hand.
Long lost in high mysterious lands
Close by our door thy spirit stands
     In journey well nigh past.

Oh sweet bewildered soul, I watch
The fountains of thine eyes, to catch
     New fancies bubbling there,
To feel one common light, and lose
The flood of strange etherial hues
     Too dire for us to share!

Fade, cold immortal lights, and make
This creature human for my sake
     Since I am nought but clay;
An angel is too fine a thing
To sit behind my chair and sing
     And cheer my passing day.

I smile, who could not smile, unless
The air of rapt unconsciousness
     Past with the fading hours;
I joy in every childish sign
That proves the stranger less divine
     And much more meekly ours.

FROM "A RECORD."

None sees the slow and upward sweep
By which the soul from life-depths deep
Ascends, — unless, mayhap when free
With each new death we backward see
The long perspective of our race
Our multitudinous past lives trace.

     WILLIAM SHARP.

THE PATH has already shown Browning's expression of Reincarnation contained in Paracelsus. In his poem "One Word More" occur these lines also:

I shall never, in the years remaining
Paint you pictures, no, nor carve you statues
This of verse alone one life allows me
Other heights in other lives, God willing.

Similar glimpses of this thought occur in Byron, Pope, Coleridge, Swinburne and others, but it is difficult to select a continuous and complete wording of it in them.


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