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Chapter 15

Dreams


Dreams! dreams! golden dreams: endless, and golden, as the flowery
prairies, that stretch away from the Rio Sacramento, in whose waters
Danae's shower was woven;--prairies like rounded eternities: jonquil
leaves beaten out; and my dreams herd like buffaloes, browsing on to
the horizon, and browsing on round the world; and among them, I dash
with my lance, to spear one, ere they all flee.

Dreams! dreams! passing and repassing, like Oriental empires in
history; and scepters wave thick, as Bruce's pikes at Bannockburn; and
crowns are plenty as marigolds in June. And far in the background,
hazy and blue, their steeps let down from the sky, loom Andes on
Andes, rooted on Alps; and all round me, long rushing oceans, roll
Amazons and Oronocos; waves, mounted Parthians; and, to and fro, toss
the wide woodlands: all the world an elk, and the forests its antlers.

But far to the South, past my Sicily suns and my vineyards, stretches
the Antarctic barrier of ice: a China wall, built up from the sea, and
nodding its frosted towers in the dun, clouded sky. Do Tartary and
Siberia lie beyond? Deathful, desolate dominions those; bleak and wild
the ocean, beating at that barrier's base, hovering 'twixt freezing
and foaming; and freighted with navies of ice-bergs,--warring worlds
crossing orbits; their long icicles, projecting like spears to the
charge. Wide away stream the floes of drift ice, frozen cemeteries of
skeletons and bones. White bears howl as they drift from their cubs;
and the grinding islands crush the skulls of the peering seals.

But beneath me, at the Equator, the earth pulses and beats like a
warrior's heart; till I know not, whether it be not myself. And my
soul sinks down to the depths, and soars to the skies; and comet-like
reels on through such boundless expanses, that methinks all the worlds
are my kin, and I invoke them to stay in their course. Yet, like a
mighty three-decker, towing argosies by scores, I tremble, gasp, and
strain in my flight, and fain would cast off the cables that hamper.

And like a frigate, I am full with a thousand souls; and as on, on,
on, I scud before the wind, many mariners rush up from the orlop
below, like miners from caves; running shouting across my decks;
opposite braces are pulled; and this way and that, the great yards
swing round on their axes; and boisterous speaking-trumpets are heard;
and contending orders, to save the good ship from the shoals. Shoals,
like nebulous vapors, shoreing the white reef of the Milky Way,
against which the wrecked worlds are dashed; strewing all the strand,
with their Himmaleh keels and ribs.

Ay: many, many souls are in me. In my tropical calms, when my ship
lies tranced on Eternity's main, speaking one at a time, then all with
one voice: an orchestra of many French bugles and horns, rising, and
falling, and swaying, in golden calls and responses.

Sometimes, when these Atlantics and Pacifics thus undulate round me, I
lie stretched out in their midst: a land-locked Mediterranean, knowing
no ebb, nor flow. Then again, I am dashed in the spray of these sounds:
an eagle at the world's end, tossed skyward, on the horns of the tempest.

Yet, again, I descend, and list to the concert.

Like a grand, ground swell, Homer's old organ rolls its vast volumes
under the light frothy wave-crests of Anacreon and Hafiz; and high
over my ocean, sweet Shakespeare soars, like all the larks of the
spring. Throned on my seaside, like Canute, bearded Ossian smites his
hoar harp, wreathed with wild-flowers, in which warble my Wallers;
blind Milton sings bass to my Petrarchs and Priors, and laureate crown
me with bays.

In me, many worthies recline, and converse. I list to St. Paul who
argues the doubts of Montaigne; Julian the Apostate cross-questions
Augustine; and Thomas-a-Kempis unrolls his old black letters for all
to decipher. Zeno murmurs maxims beneath the hoarse shout of
Democritus; and though Democritus laugh loud and long, and the sneer
of Pyrrho be seen; yet, divine Plato, and Proclus, and, Verulam are of
my counsel; and Zoroaster whispered me before I was born. I walk a
world that is mine; and enter many nations, as Mingo Park rested in
African cots; I am served like Bajazet: Bacchus my butler, Virgil my
minstrel, Philip Sidney my page. My memory is a life beyond birth; my
memory, my library of the Vatican, its alcoves all endless
perspectives, eve-tinted by cross-lights from Middle-Age oriels.

And as the great Mississippi musters his watery nations: Ohio, with
all his leagued streams; Missouri, bringing down in torrents the clans
from the highlands; Arkansas, his Tartar rivers from the plain;--so,
with all the past and present pouring in me, I roll down my billow
from afar.

Yet not I, but another: God is my Lord; and though many satellites
revolve around me, I and all mine revolve round the great central
Truth, sun-like, fixed and luminous forever in the foundationless
firmament.

Fire flames on my tongue; and though of old the Bactrian prophets were
stoned, yet the stoners in oblivion sleep. But whoso stones me, shall
be as Erostratus, who put torch to the temple; though Genghis Khan
with Cambyses combine to obliterate him, his name shall be extant in
the mouth of the last man that lives. And if so be, down unto death,
whence I came, will I go, like Xenophon retreating on Greece, all
Persia brandishing her spears in his rear.

My cheek blanches white while I write; I start at the scratch of my
pen; my own mad brood of eagles devours me; fain would I unsay this
audacity; but an iron-mailed hand clenches mine in a vice, and prints
down every letter in my spite. Fain would I hurl off this Dionysius
that rides me; my thoughts crush me down till I groan; in far fields I
hear the song of the reaper, while I slave and faint in this cell. The
fever runs through me like lava; my hot brain burns like a coal; and
like many a monarch, I am less to be envied, than the veriest hind in
the land.

Herman Melville