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Chapter 84

Babbalanja Relates To Them A Vision


Leaving Babbalanja in the old man's bower, deep in meditation;
thoughtfully we strolled along the beach, inspiring the musky,
midnight air; the tropical stars glistening in heaven, like drops of
dew among violets.

The waves were phosphorescent, and laved the beach with a fire that
cooled it.

Returning, we espied Babbalanja advancing in his snow-white mantle.
The fiery tide was ebbing; and in the soft, moist sand, at every step,
he left a lustrous foot-print.

"Sweet friends! this isle is full of mysteries," he said. "I have
dreamed of wondrous things. After I had laid me down, thought pressed
hard upon me. By my eyes passed pageant visions. I started at a low,
strange melody, deep in my inmost soul. At last, methought my eyes
were fixed on heaven; and there, I saw a shining spot, unlike a star.
Thwarting the sky, it grew, and grew, descending; till bright wings
were visible: between them, a pensive face angelic, downward beaming;
and, for one golden moment, gauze-vailed in spangled Berenice's Locks.

"Then, as white flame from yellow, out from that starry cluster it
emerged; and brushed the astral Crosses, Crowns, and Cups. And as in
violet, tropic seas, ships leave a radiant-white, and fire-fly wake;
so, in long extension tapering, behind the vision, gleamed another
Milky-Way.

"Strange throbbings seized me; my soul tossed on its own tides. But
soon the inward harmony bounded in exulting choral strains. I heard a
feathery rush; and straight beheld a form, traced all over with veins
of vivid light. The vision undulated round me.

"'Oh! Spirit!! angel! god! whate'er thou art,'--I cried, 'leave me; I
am but man.'

"Then, I heard a low, sad sound, no voice. It said, or breathed upon
me,--'Thou hast proved the grace of Alma: tell me what thou'st
learned.'

"Silent replied my soul, for voice was gone,--'This have I learned,
oh! spirit!--In things mysterious, to seek no more; but rest content,
with knowing naught but Love.'

"'Blessed art thou for that: thrice blessed,' then I heard, and since
humility is thine, thou art one apt to learn. That which thy own
wisdom could not find, thy ignorance confessed shall gain. Come, and
see new things.'

"Once more it undulated round me; its lightning wings grew dim; nearer,
nearer; till I felt a shock electric,--and nested 'neath its wing.

"We clove the air; passed systems, suns, and moons: what seem from
Mardi's isles, the glow-worm stars.

"By distant fleets of worlds we sped, as voyagers pass far sails at
sea, and hail them not. Foam played before them as they darted on;
wild music was their wake; and many tracks of sound we crossed, where
worlds had sailed before.

"Soon, we gained a point, where a new heaven was seen; whence all our
firmament seemed one nebula. Its glories burned like thousand
steadfast-flaming lights.

"Here hived the worlds in swarms: and gave forth sweets ineffable.

"We lighted on a ring, circling a space, where mornings seemed forever
dawning over worlds unlike.

"'Here,' I heard, 'thou viewest thy Mardi's Heaven. Herein each world
is portioned.'

"As he who climbs to mountain tops pants hard for breath; so panted I
for Mardi's grosser air. But that which caused my flesh to faint, was
new vitality to my soul. My eyes swept over all before me. The spheres
were plain as villages that dot a landscape. I saw most beauteous
forms, yet like our own. Strange sounds I heard of gladness that
seemed mixed with sadness:--a low, sweet harmony of both. Else, I know
not how to phrase what never man but me e'er heard.

"'In these blest souls are blent,' my guide discoursed, 'far higher
thoughts, and sweeter plaints than thine. Rude joy were discord here.
And as a sudden shout in thy hushed mountain-passes brings down the
awful avalanche; so one note of laughter here, might start some white
and silent world.'

"Then low I murmured:--'Is their's, oh guide! no happiness supreme?
their state still mixed? Sigh these yet to know? Can these sin?'

"Then I heard:--'No mind but Oro's can know all; no mind that knows
not all can be content; content alone approximates to happiness.
Holiness comes by wisdom; and it is because great Oro is supremely
wise, that He's supremely holy. But as perfect wisdom can be only
Oro's; so, perfect holiness is his alone. And whoso is otherwise than
perfect in his holiness, is liable to sin.

"'And though death gave these beings knowledge, it also opened other
mysteries, which they pant to know, and yet may learn. And still they
fear the thing of evil; though for them, 'tis hard to fall. Thus
hoping and thus fearing, then, their's is no state complete. And since
Oro is past finding out, and mysteries ever open into mysteries
beyond; so, though these beings will for aye progress in wisdom and in
good; yet, will they never gain a fixed beatitude. Know, then, oh
mortal Mardian! that when translated hither, thou wilt but put off
lowly temporal pinings, for angel and eternal aspirations. Start not:
thy human joy hath here no place: no name.

"Still, I mournful mused; then said:--'Many Mardians live, who have no
aptitude for Mardian lives of thought: how then endure more earnest,
everlasting, meditations?'

"'Such have their place,' I heard.

"'Then low I moaned, 'And what, oh! guide! of those who, living
thoughtless lives of sin, die unregenerate; no service done to Oro or
to Mardian?'

"'They, too, have their place,' I heard; 'but 'tis not here. And
Mardian! know, that as your Mardian lives are long preserved through
strict obedience to the organic law, so are your spiritual lives
prolonged by fast keeping of the law of mind. Sin is death.'

"'Ah, then,' yet lower moan made I; 'and why create the germs that sin
and suffer, but to perish?'

"'That,' breathed my guide; 'is the last mystery which underlieth all
the rest. Archangel may not fathom it; that makes of Oro the
everlasting mystery he is; that to divulge, were to make equal to
himself in knowledge all the souls that are; that mystery Oro guards;
and none but him may know.'

"Alas! were it recalled, no words have I to tell of all that now my
guide discoursed, concerning things unsearchable to us. My sixth sense
which he opened, sleeps again, with all the wisdom that it gained.

"Time passed; it seemed a moment, might have been an age; when from
high in the golden haze that canopied this heaven, another angel came;
its vans like East and West; a sunrise one, sunset the other. As
silver-fish in vases, so, in his azure eyes swam tears unshed.

"Quick my guide close nested me; through its veins the waning light
throbbed hard.

"'Oh, spirit! archangel! god! whate'er thou art,' it breathed; 'leave
me: I am but blessed, not glorified.'

"So saying, as down from doves, from its wings dropped sounds. Still
nesting me, it crouched its plumes.

"Then, in a snow of softest syllables, thus breathed the greater and
more beautiful:--'From far away, in fields beyond thy ken, I heard thy
fond discourse with this lone Mardian. It pleased me well; for thy
humility was manifeat; no arrogance of knowing. Come _thou_ and learn
new things.'

"And straight it overarched us with its plumes; which, then, down-
sweeping, bore us up to regions where my first guide had sunk, but for
the power that buoyed us, trembling, both.

"My eyes did wane, like moons eclipsed in overwhelming dawns: such
radiance was around; such vermeil light, born of no sun, but pervading
all the scene. Transparent, fleck-less, calm, all glowed one flame.

"Then said the greater guide This is the night of all ye here behold--
its day ye could not bide. Your utmost heaven is far below.'

"Abashed, smote down, I, quaking, upward gazed; where, to and fro, the
spirits sailed, like broad-winged crimson-dyed flamingos, spiraling in
sunset-clouds. But a sadness glorified, deep-fringed their mystic
temples, crowned with weeping halos, bird-like, floating o'er them,
whereso'er they roamed.

"Sights and odors blended. As when new-morning winds, in summer's
prime, blow down from hanging gardens, wafting sweets that never pall;
so, from those flowery pinions, at every motion, came a flood of
fragrance.

"And now the spirits twain discoursed of things, whose very terms, to
me, were dark. But my first guide grew wise. For me, I could but
blankly list; yet comprehended naught; and, like the fish that's
mocked with wings, and vainly seeks to fly;--again I sought my lower
element.

"As poised, we hung in this rapt ether, a sudden trembling seized the
four wings now folding me. And afar of, in zones still upward
reaching, suns' orbits off, I, tranced, beheld an awful glory. Sphere
in sphere, it burned:--the one Shekinah! The air was flaked with
fire;--deep in which, fell showers of silvery globes, tears magnified
--braiding the flame with rainbows. I heard a sound; but not for me,
nor my first guide, was that unutterable utterance. Then, my second
guide was swept aloft, as rises a cloud of red-dyed leaves in autumn
whirlwinds.

"Fast clasping me, the other drooped, and, instant, sank, as in a
vacuum; myriad suns' diameters in a breath;--my five senses merged in
one, of falling; till we gained the nether sky, descending still.

"Then strange things--soft, sad, and faint, I saw or heard; as, when,
in sunny, summer seas, down, down, you dive, starting at pensive
phantoms, that you can not fix.

"'These,' breathed my guide, 'are spirits in their essences; sad, even
in undevelopment. With these, all space is peopled;--all the air is
vital with intelligence, which seeks embodiment. This it is, that
unbeknown to Mardians, causes them to strangely start in solitudes of
night, and in the fixed flood of their enchanted noons. From hence,
are formed your mortal souls; and all those sad and shadowy dreams,
and boundless thoughts man hath, are vague remembrances of the time
when the soul's sad germ, wide wandered through these realms. And
hence it is, that when ye Mardians feel most sad, then ye feel most
immortal.

"Like a spark new-struck from flint, soon Mardi showed afar. It glowed
within a sphere, which seemed, in space, a bubble, rising from vast
depths to the sea's surface. Piercing it, my Mardian strength
returned; but the angel's veins once more grew dim.

"Nearing the isles, thus breathed my guide:--'Loved one, love on! But
know, that heaven hath no roof. To know all is to be all. Beatitude
there is none. And your only Mardian happiness is but exemption from
great woes--no more. Great Love is sad; and heaven is Love. Sadness
makes the silence throughout the realms of space; sadness is universal
and eternal; but sadness is tranquillity; tranquillity the uttermost
that souls may hope for.'

"Then, with its wings it fanned adieu; and disappeared where the sun
flames highest."

We heard the dream and, silent, sought repose, to dream away our
wonder.

Herman Melville