The Path – September 1887

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

CONTINENTAL POETRY

Ever since the time of Virgil, whose sixth Eneid contains a sublime version of Reincarnation, and of Ovid, whose metamorphoses beautifully present the old philosophies of metempsychosis, this theme has attracted many European poets beside those of England. While the Latin poets obtained their inspiration from the East, through Pythagoras and Plato, the Northern singers seem to express it spontaneously, unless it came to them with the Teutonic migration from the Aryan cradle of the race, and shifted its form with all their people's wanderings so that it has lost all traces of connection with its Indian source. The old Norse legends teem with many guises of soul-journeying. In sublime and lovely stories, ballads and epics, these heroic vikings and their kindred perpetuated their belief that the human individuality travels through a great series of embodiments which physically reveal the spiritual character. The Icelandic Sagas also delight in these fables of transmigration and still fire the heart of Scandinavia and Denmark. It permeated the Welsh triads, oldest of all European poetry, and among the early Saxons this thought animated their Druid ceremonies and their noblest literature. The scriptures of those magnificent races whom Tacitus found in the German forests, whose intrepid manliness conquered the mistress of the world, and from whom are descended the modern ruling race, were inspired with this same doctrine. The treasures of these ancient writings are buried away from our sight, but a suggestion of their grandeur is found in the heroic qualities of the nations who were bred upon it. The following selections are representative of the chief branches of Continental European. Boyesen, although an American citizen, is really a modernized Norwegian. Goethe stands for the Teutonic race, and Schiller keeps him good company though it is difficult to quote distinct evidence from the latter. Victor Hugo and Beranger speak for France, and Campanella represents Italy.

TRANSMIGRATION.

My spirit wrestles in anguish
     With fancies that will not depart
A wraith who borrowed my sunbeam
     Has hidden himself in my heart.

The press of this ancient being
     Compels me forever to do
The phantom deeds of a phantom
     Who lived long ages ago.

The thoughts that I feel seem hoary
     With weight of centuries bent,
My prestine creative gladness
     In happier climes was spent.

My happiest words sound wierdly
     With laughter bathed in dread,
A hollow ghost of laughter
     That is loathe to rise from the dead.

My tear has its fount in dead ages
     And choked with their rust is my sigh,
The haunting voice of a spectre
     Will ne'er from my bosom die.

Perchance in the distant cycles
     My soul from Nirvana's frost
Will gather its scattered life beams
     Rekindling the soul that I lost.

And then I may rise from my graveyard,
     And freed at last, may try
The life of a nobler being
     In the soul that shall then be I.

     — H. H. BOYSEN

THE SONG OF THE EARTH SPIRITS.
IN GOETHE'S "FAUST."

The soul of man
Is like the water
From heaven it cometh
To heaven it mounteth
And thence at once
It must back to earth
Forever changing.

From Victor Hugo's poem:

"TO THE INVISIBLE ONE."
(A CELLE QUI EST VOILEE.)

I am the drift of a thousand tides
     The captive of destiny.
The weight of all darkness upon me abides
     But cannot bury me.

My spirit endures like a rocky isle
     Amid the ocean of fate,
The thunderstorm is my domicile,
     The hurricane is my mate.

I am the fugitive who far
     From home has taken flight;
Along with the owl and evening star
     I moan the song of night.

Art thou not too, like unto me
     A torch to light earth's gloom,
A soul, therefore a mystery,

     A wanderer bound to roam.

Seek for me in the sea bird's home,
     Descend to my release,
Thy depths of cavernous shadows dumb
     Illume, thou angel of peace!

As night brings forth the rosy morn
     Perhaps 'tis heaven's law
That from thy mystic smile is born
     A glory I ne'er saw.

In this dark world where now I stay
     I scarce can see myself;
Thy radiant soul shine on my way;
     Duty's my guiding elf.

With loving tones and beckoning hand
     Thou say'st "Beyond the night
I catch a glimpse upon the strand
     Of thy mansion gleaming bright."

Before I came upon this earth
     I know I lived in gladness
For ages as an angel. Birth
     Has caused my present sadness.

My soul was once a heavenly dove
     Thou who all power retains,
Let fall a pinion from above
     Upon this bird's remains!

Yes, 'tis my dire misfortune now
     To hang between two ties
To hold within my furrowed brow
     The earth's clay, and the skies.

Alas the pain of being man
     Of dreaming o'er my fall
Of finding heaven within my span,
     Yet being but a pall;

Of toiling like a galley slave,
     Of carrying the load
Of human burdens, while I rave
     To fly unto my God;

Of trailing garments black with rust
     I, son of heaven above!
Of being only graveyard dust
     E'en though my name is — Love.

THE TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS.
(LA METEMPSYCOSE.)

In philosophic mood, last night, as I was idly lying,
That souls may transmigrate, methought there could be no denying;
So, just to know to what I owe propensities so strong,
I drew my soul into a chat — the gossip lasted long.
"A votive offering," she observed, "well might I claim for thee,
For thou in being had'st remained a cypher but for me.
Yet not a virgin soul was I when first in thee enshrined."
Ah, I suspected, little soul, thus much that I should find.

"Yes," she continued, "yes, of old — I recollect it now —
In humble Ivy was I wreathed round many a joyous brow.
More subtle next the essence was that I essayed to warm —
A bird's, that could salute the skies, a little bird's my form;
Where thickets made a pleasant shade, where Shepherdesses strolled
I fluttered round, hopped on the ground, my simple lay I trolled,
My pinious grew, while still I flew, in freedom on the wind."
Ah, I suspected, little soul, thus much that I should find.

"Medor my name, I next became a dog of wondrous tact,
The guardian of a poor blind man, his sole support in fact.
A trick of holding in my mouth a wooden bowl I knew,
I led my master through the streets, and begged his living too.
Devoted to the poor, to please the wealthy was my care,
Gleaning as sustenance for one what others well could spare.
Thus good I did, since to kind deeds so many I inclined."
Ah, I suspected, little soul, thus much that I should find.

"Next, to breathe life into her charms, in a young girl I dwelt;
There in soft prison softly housed, what happiness I felt!
Till to my hiding place a swarm of cupids entrance gained,
And after pillaging it well, in garrison remained.
Like old campaigners there the rogues all sorts of mischief did,
And, night and day, while still I lay in a little corner hid,
How oft I saw the house on fire I scarce can call to mind."
Ah, I suspected, little soul, thus much that I should find.

"Some light on thy propensities may now upon thee break,
But prithee, hark! one more remark, I still," says she, "would make.
'Tis this — that having dared one day with heaven to make too free,
God, for my punishment resolved to shut me up in thee;
And, what with sitting up at night, with work and woman's art,
Tears and despair — for I forbear, some secrets to impart,
A poet is a very hell for souls thereto consigned."
Ah, I suspected, little soul, thus much that I should find.

     — BERANGER

A SONNET ON CAUCASUS.

I fear that by my death the human race
     Would gain no vantage. Thus I do not die.
     So wide is this vast cage of misery
That flight and change lead to no happier place.
Shifting our pains, we risk a sorrier case:
     All worlds, like ours, are sunk in agony:
     Go where we will, we feel; and this my cry
I may forget like many an old disgrace.
Who knows what doom is mine? The Omnipotent
     Keeps silence; nay, I know not whether strife
     Or peace was with me in some earlier life.
Philip in a worse prison we hath pent
     These three days past — but not without God's will,
     Stay we as God decrees: God doth no ill.

     — T. CAMPANELLA


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