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The Colloquy of Monos and Una

_ Sophocles - Antig _:

"These; things are in the future."

_ Una._ "Born again?"

_ Monos._ Yes, fairest and best beloved Una, "born again." These
were the words upon whose mystical meaning I had so long pondered,
rejecting the explanations of the priesthood, until Death himself
resolved for me the secret.

_Una._ Death!

_Monos._ How strangely, sweet Una, you echo my words! I observe,
too, a vacillation in your step - a joyous inquietude in your eyes.
You are confused and oppressed by the majestic novelty of the Life
Eternal. Yes, it was of Death I spoke. And here how singularly sounds
that word which of old was wont to bring terror to all hearts -
throwing a mildew upon all pleasures!

_ Una._ Ah, Death, the spectre which sate at all feasts! How
often, Monos, did we lose ourselves in speculations upon its nature!
How mysteriously did it act as a check to human bliss - saying unto
it "thus far, and no farther!" That earnest mutual love, my own
Monos, which burned within our bosoms how vainly did we flatter
ourselves, feeling happy in its first up-springing, that our
happiness would strengthen with its strength! Alas! as it grew, so
grew in our hearts the dread of that evil hour which was hurrying to
separate us forever! Thus, in time, it became painful to love. Hate
would have been mercy then.

_ Monos._ Speak not here of these griefs, dear Una - mine, mine,
forever now!

_ Una._ But the memory of past sorrow - is it not present joy? I
have much to say yet of the things which have been. Above all, I burn
to know the incidents of your own passage through the dark Valley and
Shadow.

_ Monos._ And when did the radiant Una ask anything of her Monos
in vain? I will be minute in relating all - but at what point shall
the weird narrative begin?

_Una._ At what point?

_Monos._ You have said.

_Una._ Monos, I comprehend you. In Death we have both learned the
propensity of man to define the indefinable. I will not say, then,
commence with the moment of life's cessation - but commence with that
sad, sad instant when, the fever having abandoned you, you sank into
a breathless and motionless torpor, and I pressed down your pallid
eyelids with the passionate fingers of love.

_ Monos._ One word first, my Una, in regard to man's general
condition at this epoch. You will remember that one or two of the
wise among our forefathers - wise in fact, although not in the
world's esteem - had ventured to doubt the propriety of the term
"improvement," as applied to the progress of our civilization. There
were periods in each of the five or six centuries immediately
preceding our dissolution, when arose some vigorous intellect, boldly
contending for those principles whose truth appears now, to our
disenfranchised reason, so utterly obvious - principles which should
have taught our race to submit to the guidance of the natural laws,
rather than attempt their control. At long intervals some masterminds
appeared, looking upon each advance in practical science as a
retro-gradation in the true utility. Occasionally the poetic
intellect - that intellect which we now feel to have been the most
exalted of all - since those truths which to us were of the most
enduring importance could only be reached by that analogywhich speaks
in proof tones to the imagination alone and to the unaided reason
bears no weight - occasionally did this poetic intellect proceed a
step farther in the evolving of the vague idea of the philosophic,
and find in the mystic parable that tells of the tree of knowledge,
and of its forbidden fruit, death-producing, a distinct intimation
that knowledge was not meet for man in the infant condition of his
soul. And these men - the poets - living and perishing amid the scorn
of the "utilitarians" - of rough pedants, who arrogated to themselves
a title which could have been properly applied only to the scorned -
these men, the poets, pondered piningly, yet not unwisely, upon the
ancient days when our wants were not more simple than our enjoyments
were keen - days when mirth was a word unknown, so solemnly
deep-toned was happiness - holy, august and blissful days, when blue
rivers ran undammed, between hills unhewn, into far forest solitudes,
primæval, odorous, and unexplored.

Yet these noble exceptions from the general misrule served but to
strengthen it by opposition. Alas! we had fallen upon the most evil
of all our evil days. The great "movement" - that was the cant term -
went on: a diseased commotion, moral and physical. Art - the Arts -
arose supreme, and, once enthroned, cast chains upon the intellect
which had elevated them to power. Man, because he could not but
acknowledge the majesty of Nature, fell into childish exultation at
his acquired and still-increasing dominion over her elements. Even
while he stalked a God in his own fancy, an infantine imbecility came
over him. As might be supposed from the origin of his disorder, he
grew infected with system, and with abstraction. He enwrapped himself
in generalities. Among other odd ideas, that of universal equality
gained ground; and in the face of analogy and of God - in despite of
the loud warning voice of the laws of gradation so visibly pervading
all things in Earth an Heaven - wild attempts at an omni-prevalent
Democracy were made. Yet this evil sprang necessarily from the
leading evil, Knowledge. Man could not both know and succumb.
Meantime huge smoking cities arose, innumerable. Green leaves shrank
before the hot breath of furnaces. The fair face of Nature was
deformed as with the ravages of some loathsome disease. And methinks,
sweet Una, even our slumbering sense of the forced and of the
far-fetched might have arrested us here. But now it appears that we
had worked out our own destruction in the perversion of our taste, or
rather in the blind neglect of its culture in the schools. For, in
truth, it was at this crisis that taste alone - that faculty which,
holding a middle position between the pure intellect and the moral
sense, could never safely have been disregarded - it was now that
taste alone could have led us gently back to Beauty, to Nature, and
to Life. But alas for the pure contemplative spirit and majestic
intuition of Plato! Alas for the which he justly regarded as an
all-sufficient education for the soul! Alas for him and for it! -
since both were most desperately needed when both were most entirely
forgotten or despised. {*1}

Pascal, a philosopher whom we both love, has said, how truly! -
"que tout notre raisonnement se rèduit à céder au sentiment;" and it
is not impossible that the sentiment of the natural, had time
permitted it, would have regained its old ascendancy over the harsh
mathematical reason of the schools. But this thing was not to be.
Prematurely induced by intemperance of knowledge the old age of the
world drew on. This the mass of mankind saw not, or, living lustily
although unhappily, affected not to see. But, for myself, the Earth's
records had taught me to look for widest ruin as the price of highest
civilization. I had imbibed a prescience of our Fate from comparison
of China the simple and enduring, with Assyria the architect, with
Egypt the astrologer, with Nubia, more crafty than either, the
turbulent mother of all Arts. In history {*2} of these regions I met
with a ray from the Future. The individual artificialities of the
three latter were local diseases of the Earth, and in their
individual overthrows we had seen local remedies applied; but for the
infected world at large I could anticipate no regeneration save in
death. That man, as a race, should not become extinct, I saw that he
must be "born again."

And now it was, fairest and dearest, that we wrapped our spirits,
daily, in dreams. Now it was that, in twilight, we discoursed of the
days to come, when the Art-scarred surface of the Earth, having
undergone that purification {*3} which alone could efface its
rectangular obscenities, should clothe itself anew in the verdure and
the mountain-slopes and the smiling waters of Paradise, and be
rendered at length a fit dwelling-place for man: - for man the Death
purged - for man to whose now exalted intellect there should be
poison in knowledge no more - for the redeemed, regenerated,
blissful, and now immortal, but still for the material, man.

_Una._ Well do I remember these conversations, dear Monos; but
the epoch of the fiery overthrow was not so near at hand as we
believed, and as the corruption you indicate did surely warrant us in
believing. Men lived; and died individually. You yourself sickened,
and passed into the grave; and thither your constant Una speedily
followed you. And though the century which has since elapsed, and
whose conclusion brings us thus together once more, tortured our
slumbering senses with no impatience of duration, yet, my Monos, it
was a century still.

_Monos._ Say, rather, a point in the vague infinity.
Unquestionably, it was in the Earth's dotage that I died. Wearied at
heart with anxieties which had their origin in the general turmoil
and decay, I succumbed to the fierce fever. After some few days of
pain, and many of dreamy delirium replete with ecstasy, the
manifestations of which you mistook for pain, while I longed but was
impotent to undeceive you - after some days there came upon me, as
you have said, a breathless and motionless torpor; and this was
termed Death by those who stood around me.

Words are vague things. My condition did not deprive me of
sentience. It appeared to me not greatly dissimilar to the extreme
quiescence of him, who, having slumbered long and profoundly, lying
motionless and fully prostrate in a midsummer noon, begins to steal
slowly back into consciousness, through the mere sufficiency of his
sleep, and without being awakened by external disturbances.

I breathed no longer. The pulses were still. The heart had ceased
to beat. Volition had not departed, but was powerless. The senses
were unusually active, although eccentrically so - assuming often
each other's functions at random. The taste and the smell were
inextricably confounded, and became one sentiment, abnormal and
intense. The rose-water with which your tenderness had moistened my
lips to the last, affected me with sweet fancies of flowers -
fantastic flowers, far more lovely than any of the old Earth, but
whose prototypes we have here blooming around us. The eyelids,
transparent and bloodless, offered no complete impediment to vision.
As volition was in abeyance, the balls could not roll in their
sockets but all objects within the range of the visual hemisphere
were seen with more or less distinctness; the rays which fell upon
the external retina, or into the corner of the eye, producing a more
vivid effect than those which struck the front or interior surface.
Yet, in the former instance, this effect was so far anomalous that I
appreciated it only as sound - sound sweet or discordant as the
matters presenting themselves at my side were light or dark in shade
- curved or angular in outline. The hearing, at the same time,
although excited in degree, was not irregular in action - estimating
real sounds with an extravagance of precision, not less than of
sensibility. Touch had undergone a modification more peculiar. Its
impressions were tardily received, but pertinaciously retained, and
resulted always in the highest physical pleasure. Thus the pressure
of your sweet fingers upon my eyelids, at first only recognised
through vision, at length, long after their removal, filled my whole
being with a sensual delight immeasurable. I say with a sensual
delight. All my perceptions were purely sensual. The materials
furnished the passive brain by the senses were not in the least
degree wrought into shape by the deceased understanding. Of pain
there was some little; of pleasure there was much; but of moral pain
or pleasure none at all. Thus your wild sobs floated into my ear with
all their mournful cadences, and were appreciated in their every
variation of sad tone; but they were soft musical sounds and no more;
they conveyed to the extinct reason no intimation of the sorrows
which gave them birth; while the large and constant tears which fell
upon my face, telling the bystanders of a heart which broke, thrilled
every fibre of my frame with ecstasy alone. And this was in truth the
Death of which these bystanders spoke reverently, in low whispers -
you, sweet Una, gaspingly, with loud cries.

They attired me for the coffin - three or four dark figures which
flitted busily to and fro. As these crossed the direct line of my
vision they affected me as forms; but upon passing to my side their
images impressed me with the idea of shrieks, groans, and other
dismal expressions of terror, of horror, or of wo. You alone, habited
in a white robe, passed in all directions musically about me.

The day waned; and, as its light faded away, I became possessed
by a vague uneasiness - an anxiety such as the sleeper feels when sad
real sounds fall continuously within his ear - low distant
bell-tones, solemn, at long but equal intervals, and mingling with
melancholy dreams. Night arrived; and with its shadows a heavy
discomfort. It oppressed my limbs with the oppression of some dull
weight, and was palpable. There was also a moaning sound, not unlike
the distant reverberation of surf, but more continuous, which,
beginning with the first twilight, had grown in strength with the
darkness. Suddenly lights were brought into the room, and this
reverberation became forthwith interrupted into frequent unequal
bursts of the same sound, but less dreary and less distinct. The
ponderous oppression was in a great measure relieved; and, issuing
from the flame of each lamp, (for there were many,) there flowed
unbrokenly into my ears a strain of melodious monotone. And when now,
dear Una, approaching the bed upon which I lay outstretched, you sat
gently by my side, breathing odor from your sweet lips, and pressing
them upon my brow, there arose tremulously within my bosom, and
mingling with the merely physical sensations which circumstances had
called forth, a something akin to sentiment itself - a feeling that,
half appreciating, half responded to your earnest love and sorrow;
but this feeling took no root in the pulseless heart, and seemed
indeed rather a shadow than a reality, and faded quickly away, first
into extreme quiescence, and then into a purely sensual pleasure as
before.

And now, from the wreck and the chaos of the usual senses, there
appeared to have arisen within me a sixth, all perfect. In its
exercise I found a wild delight - yet a delight still physical,
inasmuch as the understanding had in it no part. Motion in the animal
frame had fully ceased. No muscle quivered; no nerve thrilled; no
artery throbbed. But there seemed to have sprung up in the brain,
that of which no words could convey to the merely human intelligence
even an indistinct conception. Let me term it a mental pendulous
pulsation. It was the moral embodiment of man's abstract idea of
Time. By the absolute equalization of this movement - or of such as
this - had the cycles of the firmamental orbs themselves, been
adjusted. By its aid I measured the irregularities of the clock upon
the mantel, and of the watches of the attendants. Their tickings came
sonorously to my ears. The slightest deviations from the true
proportion - and these deviations were omni-prævalent - affected me
just as violations of abstract truth were wont, on earth, to affect
the moral sense. Although no two of the time-pieces in the chamber
struck the individual seconds accurately together, yet I had no
difficulty in holding steadily in mind the tones, and the respective
momentary errors of each. And this - this keen, perfect,
self-existing sentiment of duration - this sentiment existing (as man
could not possibly have conceived it to exist) independently of any
succession of events - this idea - this sixth sense, upspringing from
the ashes of the rest, was the first obvious and certain step of the
intemporal soul upon the threshold of the temporal Eternity.

It was midnight; and you still sat by my side. All others had
departed from the chamber of Death. They had deposited me in the
coffin. The lamps burned flickeringly; for this I knew by the
tremulousness of the monotonous strains. But, suddenly these strains
diminished in distinctness and in volume. Finally they ceased. The
perfume in my nostrils died away. Forms affected my vision no longer.
The oppression of the Darkness uplifted itself from my bosom. A dull
shock like that of electricity pervaded my frame, and was followed by
total loss of the idea of contact. All of what man has termed sense
was merged in the sole consciousness of entity, and in the one
abiding sentiment of duration. The mortal body had been at length
stricken with the hand of the deadly Decay.

Yet had not all of sentience departed; for the consciousness and
the sentiment remaining supplied some of its functions by a lethargic
intuition. I appreciated the direful change now in operation upon the
flesh, and, as the dreamer is sometimes aware of the bodily presence
of one who leans over him, so, sweet Una, I still dully felt that you
sat by my side. So, too, when the noon of the second day came, I was
not unconscious of those movements which displaced you from my side,
which confined me within the coffin, which deposited me within the
hearse, which bore me to the grave, which lowered me within it, which
heaped heavily the mould upon me, and which thus left me, in
blackness and corruption, to my sad and solemn slumbers with the
worm.

And here, in the prison-house which has few secrets to disclose,
there rolled away days and weeks and months; and the soul watched
narrowly each second as it flew, and, without effort, took record of
its flight - without effort and without object.

A year passed. The consciousness of being had grown hourly more
indistinct, and that of mere locality had, in great measure, usurped
its position. The idea of entity was becoming merged in that of
place. The narrow space immediately surrounding what had been the
body, was now growing to be the body itself. At length, as often
happens to the sleeper (by sleep and its world alone is Death imaged)
- at length, as sometimes happened on Earth to the deep slumberer,
when some flitting light half startled him into awaking, yet left him
half enveloped in dreams - so to me, in the strict embrace of the
Shadow came that light which alone might have had power to startle -
the light of enduring Love. Men toiled at the grave in which I lay
darkling. They upthrew the damp earth. Upon my mouldering bones there
descended the coffin of Una.

And now again all was void. That nebulous light had been
extinguished. That feeble thrill had vibrated itself into quiescence.
Many lustra had supervened. Dust had returned to dust. The worm had
food no more. The sense of being had at length utterly departed, and
there reigned in its stead - instead of all things - dominant and
perpetual - the autocrats Place and Time. For that which was not -
for that which had no form - for that which had no thought - for that
which had no sentience - for that which was soulless, yet of which
matter formed no portion - for all this nothingness, yet for all this
immortality, the grave was still a home, and the corrosive hours,
co-mates.

Edgar Allan Poe