Wednesday, April 4, 2018


"The Earth is all on my brain, on my brain, O dark-minded Mother, with thy passionate cravings after the Infinite, thy regrets, and mighty griefs, and comatose sleeps, and sinister coming doom, O Earth: and I, poor man, though a king, sole witness of thy bleak tremendous woes. Upon her I brood, and do not cease, but brood and brood—the habit, if I remember right, first becoming fixed and fated during that long voyage eastward: for what is in store for her God only knows, and I have seen in my broodings long visions of her future, which, if a man should see with the eye of flesh, he would spread the arms, and wheel and wheel through the mazes of a hiccuping giggling frenzy, for the vision only is the very verge of madness. If I might cease but for one hour that perpetual brooding upon her! But I am her child, and my mind grows and grows to her like the off-shoots of the banyan-tree, that take root downward, and she sucks and draws it, as she draws my feet by gravitation, and I cannot take wing from her: for she is greater than I, and there is no escaping her; and at the last, I know, my soul will dash itself to ruin, like erring sea-fowl upon pharos-lights, against her wild and mighty bosom. Often a whole night through I lie open-eyed in the dark, with bursting brain, thinking of that hollow Gulf of Mexico, how identical in shape and size with the protuberance of Africa just opposite, and how the protuberance of the Venezuelan and Brazilian coast fits in with the in-curve of Africa: so that it is obvious to me—it is quite obvious—that they once were one; and one night rushed so far apart; and the wild Atlantic knew that thing, and ran gladly, hasting in between: and how if eye of flesh had been there to see, and ear to hear that cruel thundering, my God, my God—what horror! And if now they meet again, so long apart ...but that way fury lies. Yet one cannot help but think: I lie awake and think, for she fills my soul, and absorbs it, with all her moods and ways. She has meanings, secrets, plans. Strange, strange, for instance, that similarity between the scheme of Europe and the scheme of Asia: each with three southern peninsulas pointing south: Spain corresponding with Arabia, Italy with India, the Morea and Greece, divided by the Gulf of Corinth, corresponding with the Malay Peninsula and Annam, divided by the Gulf of Siam; each with two northern peninsulas pointing south, Sweden and Norway, and Korea and Kamschatka; each with two great islands similarly placed, Britain and Ireland, and the Japanese Hondo and Yezo; the Old World and the New has each a peninsula pointing north—Denmark and Yucatan: a forefinger with long nail—and a thumb—pointing to the Pole. What does she mean? What can she mean, O Ye that made her? Is she herself a living being, with a will and a fate, as sailors said that ships were living entities? And that thing that wheeled at the Pole, wheels it still yonder, yonder, in its dark ecstasy? Strange that volcanoes are all near the sea: I don't know why; I don't think that anyone ever knew. This fact, in connection with submarine explosions, used to be cited in support of the chemical theory of volcanoes, which supposed the infiltration of the sea into ravines containing the materials which form the fuel of eruptions: but God knows if that is true. The lofty ones are intermittent—a century, two, ten, of silent waiting, and then their talk silenced for ever some poor district; the low ones are constant in action. Who could know the dark way of the world? Sometimes they form a linear system, consisting of several vents which extend in one direction, near together, like chimneys of some long foundry beneath. In mountains, a series of serrated peaks denotes the presence of dolomites; rounded heads mean calcareous rocks; and needles, crystalline schists. The preponderance of land in the northern hemisphere denotes the greater intensity there of the causes of elevation at a remote geologic epoch: that is all that one can say about it: but whence that greater intensity? I have some knowledge of the earth for only ten miles down: but she has eight thousand miles: and whether through all that depth she is flame or fluid, hard or soft, I do not know, I do not know. Her method of forming coal, geysers and hot sulphur-springs, and the jewels, and the atols and coral reefs; the metamorphic rocks of sedimentary origin, like gneiss, the plutonic and volcanic rocks, rocks of fusion, and the unstratified masses which constitute the basis of the crust; and harvests, the burning flame of flowers, and the passage from the vegetable to the animal: I do not know them, but they are of her, and they are like me, molten in the same furnace of her fiery heart. She is dark and moody, sudden and ill-fated, and rends her young like a cannibal lioness; and she is old and wise, and remembers Hur of the Chaldees which Uruk built, and that Temple of Bel which rose in seven pyramids to symbolise the planets, and Birs-i-Nimrud, and Haran, and she bears still, as a thing of yesterday, old Persepolis and the tomb of Cyrus, and those cloister-like vih├órah-temples of the ancient Buddhists, cut from the Himalayan rock; and returning from the Far East, I stopped at Ismailia, and so to Cairo, and saw where Memphis was, and stood one bright midnight before that great pyramid of Shafra, and that dumb Sphynx, and, seated at the well of one of the rock-tombs, looked till tears of pity streamed down my cheeks: for great is the earth, and her Ages, but man 'passeth away.' These tombs have pillars extremely like the two palace-pillars, only that these are round, and mine are square: for I chose it so: but the same band near the top, then over this the closed lotus-flower, then the small square plinth, which separates them from the architrave, only mine have no architrave; the tombs consist of a little outer temple or court, then comes a well, and inside another chamber, where, I suppose, the dead were, a ribbon-like astragal surrounding the walls, which are crowned with boldly-projecting cornices, surmounted by an abacus. And here, till the pressing want of food drove me back, I remained: for more and more the earth over-grows me, wooes me, assimilates me; so that I ask myself this question: 'Must I not, in time, cease to be a man, and become a small earth, precisely her copy, extravagantly weird and fierce, half-demoniac, half-ferine, wholly mystic—morose and turbulent—fitful, and deranged, and sad—like her?'"

The Purple Cloud, M. P. Shiel

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