And an old priest said, “Speak to us of Religion.”
And he said:
Have I spoken this day of aught else?
Is not religion all deeds and all reflection,
And that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?
Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?
Who can spread his hours before him, saying,
“This for God and this for myself;
“This for my soul and this other for my body”?
All your hours are wings that beat through space from self to self.
He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked.
The wind and the sun will tear no holes in his skin.
And he who defines his conduct by ethics imprisons his song-bird in a cage.
The freest song comes not through bars and wires.
And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to dawn.
Your daily life is your temple and your religion.
Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.
Take the slough and the forge and the mallet and the lute,
The things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight.
For in reverie you cannot rise above your achievements nor fall lower than your failures.
And take with you all men:
For in adoration you cannot fly higher than their hopes nor humble yourself lower than their despair.
And if you would know God, be not therefore a solver of riddles.
Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children.
And look into space; you shall see Him walking in the cloud, outstretching His arms in the lightning and descending in rain.
You shall see Him smiling in flowers, then rising and waving His hands in trees.
Then Almitra spoke, saying, “We would ask now of Death.”
And he said:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
FOR what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
And now it was evening.
And Almitra the seeress said, “Blessed be this day and this place and your spirit that has spoken.”
And he answered,
Was it I who spoke?
Was I not also a listener?
Then he descended the steps of the Temple and all the people followed him.
And he reached his ship and stood upon the deck.
And facing the people again, he raised his voice and said:
People of Orphalese, the wind bids me leave you.
Less hasty am I than the wind, yet I must go.
We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us.
Even while the earth sleeps we travel.
We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered.
Brief were my days among you, and briefer still the words I have spoken.
But should my voice fade in your ears, and my love vanish in your memory, then I will come again,
And with a richer heart and lips more yielding to the spirit will I speak.
Yea, I shall return with the tide,
And though death may hide me, and the greater silence enfold me, yet again will I seek your under standing.
And not in vain will I seek.
If aught I have said is truth, that truth shall reveal itself in a clearer voice, and in words more kin to your thoughts.
I GO with the wind, people of Orphalese, but not down into emptiness;
And if this day is not a fulfillment of your needs and my love, then let it be a promise till another day.
Man’s needs change, but not his love, nor his desire that his love should satisfy his needs.
Know, therefore, that from the greater silence I shall return.
The mist that drifts away at dawn, leaving but dew in the fields, shall rise and gather into a cloud and then fall down in rain.
And not unlike the mist have I been.
In the stillness of the night I have walked in your streets, and my spirit has entered your houses,
And your heart-beats were in my heart, and your breath was upon my face, and I knew you all.
Aye, I knew your joy and your pain, and in your sleep your dreams were my dreams.
And oftentimes I was among you a lake among the mountains.
I mirrored the summits in you and the bending slopes, and even the passing flocks of your thoughts and your desires.
And to my silence came the laughter of your children in streams, and the longing of your youths in rivers.
And when they reached my depth the streams and the rivers ceased not yet to sing.
But sweeter still than laughter and greater than longing came to me.
It was the boundless in you;
The vast man in whom you are all but cells and sinews;
He in whose chant all your singing is but a soundless throbbing.
It is in the vast man that you are vast,
And in beholding him that I beheld you and loved you.
For what distances can love reach that are not in that vast sphere?
What visions, what expectations and what presumptions can outsoar that flight?
Like a giant oak tree covered with apple blossoms is the vast man in you.
His might binds you to the earth, his fragrance lifts you into space, and in his durability you are deathless.
You have been told that, even like a chain, you are as weak as your weakest link.
This is but half the truth.
You are also as strong as your strongest link.
To measure you by your smallest deed is to reckon the power of ocean by the frailty of its foam.
To judge you by your failures is to cast blame upon the seasons for their inconstancy.
Aye, you are like an ocean,
And though heavy-grounded ships await the tide upon your shores, yet, even like an ocean, you cannot hasten your tides.
And like the seasons you are also,
And though in your winter you deny your spring,
Yet spring, reposing within you, smiles in her drowsiness and is not offended.
Think not I say these things in order that you may say the one to the other,
“He praised us well.
“He saw but the good in us.”
I only speak to you in words of that which you yourselves know in thought.
And what is word knowledge but a shadow of wordless knowledge?
Your thoughts and my words are waves from a sealed memory that keeps records of our yesterdays,
And of the ancient days when the earth knew not us nor herself,
And of nights when earth was upwrought with confusion.
Wise men have come to you to give you of their wisdom.
I came to take of your wisdom:
And behold I have found that which is greater than wisdom.
It is a flame spirit in you ever gathering more of itself,
While you, heedless of its expansion, bewail the withering of your days.
It is life in quest of life in bodies that fear the grave.
There are no graves here.
These mountains and plains are a cradle and a stepping-stone.
Whenever you pass by the field where you have laid your ancestors look well thereupon, and you shall see yourselves and your children dancing hand in hand.
Verily you often make merry without knowing.
Others have come to you to whom for golden promises made unto you faith you have given but riches and power and glory.
Less than a promise have I given, and yet more generous have you been to me.
You have given me my deeper thirsting after life.
Surely there is no greater gift to a man than that which turns all his aims into parching lips and all life into a fountain.
And in this lies my honour and my reward,—
That whenever I come to the fountain to drink I find the living water itself thirsty;
And it drinks me while I drink it.
Some of you have deemed me proud and over shy to receive gifts.
Too proud indeed am I to receive wages, but not gifts.
And though I have eaten berries among the hills when you would have had me sit at your board,
And slept in the portico of the temple when you would gladly have sheltered me,
Yet it was not your loving mindfulness of my days and my nights that made food sweet to my mouth and girdled my sleep with visions?
For this I bless you most:
You give much and know not that you give at all.
Verily the kindness that gazes upon itself in a mirror turns to stone,
And a good deed that calls itself by tender names becomes the parent to a curse.
And some of you have called me aloof, and drunk with my own aloneness,
And you have said,
“He holds council with the trees of the forest, but not with men.
“He sits alone on hill-tops and looks down upon our city.”
True it is that I have climbed the hills and walked in remote places.
How could I have seen you save from a great height or a great distance?
How can one be indeed near unless he be far?
And others among you called unto me, not in words, and they said:
“Stranger, stranger, lover of unreachable heights, why dwell you among the summits where eagles build their nests?
“Why seek you the unattainable?
“What storms would you trap in your net,
“And what vaporous birds do you hunt in the sky?
“Come and be one of us.
“Descend and appease your hunger with our bread and quench your thirst with our wine.”
In the solitude of their souls they said these things;
But were their solitude deeper they would have known that I sought but the secret of your joy and your pain,
And I hunted only your larger selves that walk the sky.
But the hunter was also the hunted;
For many of my arrows left my bow only to seek my own breast.
And the flier was also the creeper;
For when my wings were spread in the sun their shadow upon the earth was a turtle.
And I the believer was also the doubter;
For often have I put my finger in my own wound that I might have the greater belief in you and the greater knowledge of you.
And it is with this belief and this knowledge that I say,
You are not enclosed within your bodies, nor confined to houses or fields.
That which is you dwells above the mountain and roves with the wind.
It is not a thing that crawls into the sun for warmth or digs holes into darkness for safety,
But a thing free, a spirit that envelops the earth and moves in the ether.
If these be vague words, then seek not to clear them.
Vague and nebulous is the beginning of all things, but not their end,
And I fain would have you remember me as a beginning.
Life, and all that lives, is conceived in the mist and not in the crystal.
And who knows but a crystal is mist in decay?
This would I have you remember in remembering me:
That which seems most feeble and bewildered in you is the strongest and most determined.
Is it not your breath that has erected and hardened the structure of your bones?
And is it not a dream which none of you remember having dreamt, that built your city and fashioned all there is in it?
Could you but see the tides of that breath you would cease to see all else,
And if you could hear the whispering of the dream you would hear no other sound.
But you do not see, nor do you hear, and it is well.
The veil that clouds your eyes shall be lifted by the hands that wove it,
And the clay that fills your ears shall be pierced by those fingers that kneaded it.
And you shall see.
And you shall hear.
Yet you shall not deplore having known blindness, nor regret having been deaf.
For in that day you shall know the hidden purposes in all things,
And you shall bless darkness as you would bless light.
After saying these things he looked about him, and he saw the pilot of his ship standing by the helm and gazing now at the full sails and now at the distance.
And he said:
Patient, over patient, is the captain of my ship.
The wind blows, and restless are the sails;
Even the rudder begs direction;
Yet quietly my captain awaits my silence.
And these my mariners, who have heard the choir of the greater sea, they too have heard me patiently.
Now they shall wait no longer.
I am ready.
The stream has reached the sea, and once more the great mother holds her son against her breast.
Fare you well, people of Orphalese.
This day has ended.
It is closing upon us even as the water-lily upon its own to-morrow.
What was given us here we shall keep,
And if it suffices not, then again must we come together and together stretch our hands unto the giver.
Forget not that I shall come back to you.
A little while, and my longing shall gather dust and foam for another body.
A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.
Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.
The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.
If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
And if our hands should meet in another dream we shall build another tower in the sky.
So saying he made a signal to the seamen, and straightaway they weighed anchor and cast the ship loose from its moorings, and they moved eastward.
And a cry came from the people as from a single heart, and it rose into the dusk and was carried out over the sea like a great trumpeting.
Only Almitra was silent, gazing after the ship until it had vanished into the mist.
And when all the people were dispersed she still stood alone upon the sea-wall, remembering in her heart his saying:
“A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.”