Religions belong to history, but great poetry is like a voice upon the Waters of Space. It is unorthodox, non-credal, and aloof from any organized religion. The great line is a convulsion from the depths of man's consciousness and speaks "from deep to deep." It reveals big ultimate things and breathes something of the Infinite to the human soul conditioned by dogma to the understanding only of secondary and superficial truths. In their mystical vision the great poets belong to one body; here on earth it is a body militant. The magic of their words echoes throughout the centuries and has the power to identify us with a liberating strength which we feel is our birthright. Poetry was traditionally invented by the gods: the Saga was Odin's daughter and the Muse was the daughter of Zeus.
Religionists and philosophers of all countries drink with equal enjoyment and understanding at the Pierian Springs. We do not expect Anglican poetry from Englishmen, Presbyterian poetry from Scots, nor Lutheran poetry from the Swedish or German people. This supports the old adage that there is no religion higher than truth.
The voice of the first Aryan man that was lifted in the Vedic Song of Creation is living today, and has been heard through an Indian civilization that has stood the storms and stresses of many thousands of years. On his journey to the Sun at death the archaic Egyptian was accompanied by a chant that would be recognized by all as touching the deepest interests of the human soul. The ancient Hebrews could convey only in poetics their story of the voice whose thunder broke the cedars of Lebanon. Had they directed their information to the reasoning powers of later generations, it would never have lived, but our imaginative perception goes out to meet their message, and in rising above the real, where no creed could bear mention, we are all one in the ideal.
All we know of the earliest Greek is what he believed and its influence on those who followed. In the Orphic hymn the departing soul is instructed to tell the Guardians: "I am a child of Earth and of Starry Heaven; but my race is of Heaven (alone) . . . Give quickly the cold water flowing forth from the Lake of Memory." The ancient teaching is that man is a child of the Sun and of the Stars. In the reincarnating soul is a lake of memory of all past lives on earth.
Though his world has vanished, the voice of Homer is still vibrant and satisfies the whole man. We feel a kinship with the Elements; the kingdoms beneath us are interested in our welfare, and the invisible hierarchies of beings beyond have us in their keeping. Greek science and philosophy were never convinced that the critical intelligence is competent to solve all the mysteries of the universe.
While the wars of the religious potentates of Rome, and the dynasties of the Caesars fail to excite us in our search for truth, Virgil, a mere "patriotic poet" in his lifetime, still moves us to feel that there were tears in mortal attachments.
Dust cannot close the eyes of Dante, who expressed the varied experiences of the Romans, nor bury his laureled brow, though shadows are thickening on the brilliance of the Italian Renaissance.
The courage of the explorer and the pride of court and galleon of Elizabethan England merge into a memory of something like the echo of tossing and storm-swept waves through which the pilgrim, Man, has passed and which is fittingly expressed in four words that rise above it: "The multitudinous seas incarnadine." Let us hope of her poet that "After life's fitful fever he sleeps well."
As far as the soul's life is concerned, the Commonwealth and the Restoration are a tale of past woe, a history lesson for the brain mechanically to memorize. But Milton's distraught Lady is still our concern:
A thousand fantasies
Begin to throng into my memory,
Of calling shapes, and beckoning shadows dire,
And aery tongues that syllable men's names
On sands, and shores, and desert wildernesses.
She changes our state of mind and lures us over the border by the sheer joy of sound into an infinity of space.
(From Sunrise magazine, February 1952; copyright © 1952 Theosophical University Press)