Life and Vitality
The Machine Will Never Triumph, part thirty-nine
The primal passions—
If you will go down into yourself, under your surface personality
you will find you have a great desire to drink life direct
from the source, not out of bottles and bottled personal vessels.
What the old people call immediate contact with God.
That strange essential communication of life
not bottled in human bottles.
What even the wild witchcraft of the past was seeking
before it degenerated.
Life from the source, unadulterated
with the human taint.
Contact with the sun of suns
that shines somewhere in the atom, somewhere pivots the curved space,
and cares not a straw for the put-up human figments.
Communion with the Godhead, they used to say in the past.
But even that is human-tainted now,
tainted with the ego and the personality.
To feel a fine, fine breeze blowing through the navel and the knees
and have a cool sense of truth, inhuman truth at last
softly fluttering the senses, in the exquisite orgasm of coition
with the godhead of energy that cannot tell lies.
The cool, cool truth of pure vitality
pouring into the veins from the direct contact with the source.
Uncontaminated by even the beginnings of a lie.
The soul’s first passion is for sheer life
entering in shocks of truth, unfouled by lies.
And the soul’s next passion is to reflect
and then turn round and embrace the extant body of life
with the thrusting embrace of new justice, new justice
between men and men, men and women, and earth and stars and suns.
The passion of justice being profound and subtle
and changing in a flow as all passions change.
But the passion of justice is a primal embrace
between man and all his known universe.
And the passion of truth is the embrace between man and his god
in the sheer coition of the life-flow, stark and unlying.1
We are not what we think we are. What we think we are is just the projection of our lower selves. We are not the mind, nor the ego, nor the body, but something more. The satisfactions of the mind and ego are not the things that quench the thirst of the soul. To do that, one needs to drink deeply from the rivers of Life. Moderns think that by denying God or the Gods that they are liberating themselves from chains that bind them, but, in truth, we are nothing without a connection to the Divine. It does not matter what the ancient peoples called their God or Gods; just know that they bowed down before them and were in turn suffused with godly energy. The human is an abstraction; what we are is not human, but divine, so long as we are in vital contact with the fountains of life. Once we realize that Thales was correct and that all things are full of Gods, we can look and listen, and discover sacred energy everywhere. The Gods are in the trees, you and me, and even in every atom. Mystical union with the Divine is life-affirming, ecstatic, and not some intellectual exercise, which so many false mystics of today make it out to be. To have a better world we cannot start with man, but must start with the Divine, with the Gods. Then, and only then, may we turn round with our newfound power of the sun, and lead people into a better world, free from the taint of the mechanical and electronic infrastructure we have become totally and dangerously dependent upon (the Machine).
All is living, aside from many humans. Humans who choose, even if subconsciously, not to live are robots. But, say you want to live: you cannot bring yourself life with force, nor with more technology. Life can only be given in an act of grace from the Gods, and that will only come when you approach them with a heart full of love and tenderness. Lawrence writes:
The wood was like a sanctuary of life itself. Life itself! Life itself! That was all one could have, all that one could yearn for. And yet the human will cuts off the human from living. Alone of all created things, the human being cannot live.
Life is so soft and quiet, and cannot be seized. It will not be raped. Try to rape it, and it disappears. Try to seize it, and you have dust. Try to master it, and you see your own image grinning at you with the grin of an idiot.
Whoever wants life must go softly towards life, softly as one would go towards a deer and a fawn that was nestling under a tree. One gesture of violence, one violent assertion of self-will, and life is gone. You must seek again. And softly, gently, with infinitely sensitive hands and feet, and a heart that is full and free from self-will, you must approach life again, and come at last into touch. Snatch even at a flower, and you have lost it for ever out of your life. Come with greed and the will-to-self towards another human being, and you clutch a thorny demon that will leave poisonous stings. […]
It is no good trying to fight life. You can only lose. The will is a mysterious thing, but the golden apples it wins are apples of Sodom and bitter, insane dust. One can fight for life, fight against the grey unliving armies, the armies of greedy ones and bossy ones, and the myriad hosts of the clutching and self-important. Fight one does and must, against the enemies of life. But when you come to life itself, you must come as the flower does, naked and defenseless and infinitely in touch.2
To be in touch, to be fully in touch with all that is, is the meaning of life. If one is in touch with the cosmos, one experiences godly power. No matter if our bodies are limited, for they fulfil their purposes, and act as lightning rods for the pulsing power of the Gods to enter our souls. Richard Aldington, the friend of Lawrence, and the first editor of his Last Poems, was touched by Lawrence beyond the grave, and wrote the following deeply Lawrencian lines:
I was swept speechless
By a huge choking wave of life.
I knew it was folly and wickedness
To worship Christs and abstractions
And never to revere the real holy ones
Sun Sea and Earth.
The solid mountain at my feet
Bore me through space like a wave
A delicious wave of life.
It seemed I was not on the world’s edge
But in the real centre of the earth
Between Egypt and the Western Isles
Feeling in a flash the long generations
From the first of the husbandmen
To the last of the machine men
And the first new men after the machines
They who shall revere again
Sea Sun and Earth.
All I had suffered was forgotten
All I had to suffer was discounted;
I knew that I had striven rightly
And that my deathless body was accepted
By Earth Sun and Sea.
I knew that I was one of the remnant of life-seekers
In the narrowing dwindling free spaces
Outside the prisons.
But men and women
Before it is too late
Will you not draw back from greed
Ere the earth becomes a cruel desert
And the sea a sterile pollution
And the sun black with anger against
You are building up the world with
For yourselves and your children,
You are rotten with death-worship.
I think you are dying,
All the more do I think it
Because you breed pallid millions
And try to drill them into health.
Nothing that is worth being
Can be learned by drill,
Nothing that is worth giving
Can be bullied into another.
But there is deep and delicate life
If only you can seek in patience
For the moment, and let it come to you
From Sun Earth and Sea.
When I think of the world of men and
The world as it is
I bow my head in my arms
And lament destruction and greed.
But in myself I feel exquisitely alive,
Life flows through me,
In a touch beyond prayer I ask
That my life quest go on till I die,
Oh, let the Sun still be mine
And the undying Sea
And the Holy Earth!3
As Aldington makes clear, modern humans are raping the earth, turning the beautiful things of the world to ash, but even in the midst of such carnage, we can still be at peace within ourselves, and we can still be in touch with all that lives. But, it is hard, so very hard, for a modern person to do this. Ah, the conceit of modern men and women to think they are superior to the ancients! No, you are wrong, it is, in fact, the ancients who were far better off, happier, and in touch with all that matters. As Lawrence writes:
Because they lacked our modern mental and mechanical attainments, were they any less “civilised” or “cultures”, the Egyptians and the Chaldeans, the Cretans and the Persians and the Hindus of the Indus, than we are? Let us look at a great seated statue of Rameses, or at Etruscan tombs, let us read of Assiburnipal or Darius, and then say. How do our modern factory workers show beside the delicate Egyptian friezes of the common people of Egypt? or our khaki soldiers, beside the Assyrian friezes? or our Trafalgar Square lions beside these of Mycene? Civilisation? it is revealed rather in sensitive life than inventions; and have we anything as good as the Egyptians of two or three thousand years before Christ, as a people? Culture and civilisation are tested by vital consciousness. Are we more vitally conscious than an Egyptian 3000 years B.C. was? Are we? Probably we are less. Our conscious range is wide, but shallow as a sheet of paper. We have no depth to our consciousness.4
Alas, my poor young men,
do you lack vitality?
Has the shell grown too heavy for the tortoise?
Does he just squirm?
Is the frame of things too heavy
for poor young wretched men?
Do they jazz and jump and wriggle
and rush about in machines
and listen to bodiless noises
and cling to their thin young women
as to the last straw
just in desperation,
because their spirit can’t move?
Because their hope is pinned down by the system
and can’t even flutter?
Well well, if it is so it is so;
but remember, the undaunted gods
give vitality still to the dauntless.
And sometimes they give it as love,
ah love, sweet love, not so easy!
But sometimes they give it as lightning.
And it’s no good wailing for love
if they only offer you lightning.
And it’s no good mooning for sloppy ease
when they’re holding out the thunderbolt
for you to take.
You might as well take the lightning
for once, and feel it go through you.
You might as well accept the thunderbolt
and prepare for storms.
You’ll not get vitality any other way.5
In the years since Lawrence’s death, modern man has become even more lacking in vitality. Modern man is barely alive. Few modern men do work that matters or that they like. Even when people feel okay about their lives, it doesn’t mean that they are free or truly happy. Throughout the writings of Eric Gill are statements about how true freedom only comes from a connection to the Divine. One cannot be truly free when he has no connection to the Gods, and one cannot be truly free when he is lacking in human agency. Most people today, even the wealthy, are cogs in a giant system. They are not autonomous humans who create things as an artist would. When early man made things with tools, it was the tool that helped man, but now that we use machines, it is as if the situation has inverted and it is now we who help the machines. Everything is standardized, and we have little control over outcomes, so we are not artists, and are not truly free. To be in such a state saps one of vitality. There is only one solution: to turn one’s face to the Gods, and to accept what they give, whether that is love or power. And how, in this day and age does one find the Gods? Through the world and through the cosmos. As Lawrence writes:
He was looking into the heart of the world; because the faces of men, and the hearts of men are helpless quicksands. Only in the heart of the cosmos man can look for strength. And if he can keep his soul in touch with the heart of the world, then from the heart of the world new blood will beat in strength and stillness into him, fulfilling his manhood.6
But, how, you may ask, do we look into the heart of the world? Read on.
In cold blood, I cannot feel goddesses in the summer evening
trafficking mysteriously through the air.
But what right has my blood to be cold
before I am dead?
If I cut my finger, my blood is hot, not cold.
And even in cold blood I know this:
I am more alive, more aware and more wise
when my blood is kindled:
and when, in the summer evening
I feel goddesses trafficking mysteriously through the air.7
To be alive, to be fully alive is the point of living, and the only way to be fully alive is to separate oneself from the stupefying work and amusements that keep us disengaged. Modern life is miserable, so modern amusements exist to bludgeon us into a state of apathy. To no longer have video games, radio, computer, and television, not to mention drugs and meaningless sex, means one will suffer the pain of withdrawal, but that will be a good thing. Only those who are alive feel pain; it is the dead and stupefied who are free from pain. Turn to the earth, feel the warmth of the sun, and feel the blood beating in your veins: know you are alive and that every moment is precious. The Gods gave us this life, and it is a sin to waste it. Aside from mental consciousness, we also have a deep-rooted consciousness of the blood, and it is there that the dark Gods roam within our bodies. No cell would live were it not for something mysteriously animate behind the cell walls. To overthrow money and the Machine we don’t need more rational planning, but life and blood. Oswald Spengler put it this way:
A power can be overthrown only by another power, not by a principle, and no power that can confront money is left. Money is overthrown and abolished by blood. Life is alpha and omega, the cosmic stream in microcosmic form. It is the fact of facts within the world-as-history. Before the irresistible rhythm of the generation-sequence, everything built up by the waking-consciousness in its intellectual world vanishes at the last. Ever in History it is life and life only […] and not the victory of truths, discoveries, or money that signifies. And so the drama of a high Culture—that wondrous world of deities, arts, thoughts, battles, cities—closes with the return of the pristine facts of the blood eternal that is one and the same as the ever-circling cosmic flow. The bright imaginative Waking-Being submerges itself into the silent service of Being, as the Chinese and Roman empires tell us. Time triumphs over Space, and it is Time whose inexorable movement embeds the ephemeral incident of the Culture, on this planet, in the incident of Man—a form wherein the incident life flows on for a time, while behind it all the streaming horizons of geological and stellar histories pile up in the light-world of our eyes.8
We must start to live once again. And what does that mean? It means, simply, a vivid connectedness between a person, the Divine, and all the cosmos. The world has a heartbeat, and the sun is full of Gods. We must get back in touch. Now, we think we are gods, but we are nothing. As Lawrence writes:
What can a man do with his life but live it? And what does life consist in, save a vivid relatedness between the man and the living universe that surrounds him. Yet man insulates himself more and more into mechanism, and repudiates everything but the machine and the contrivance of which he himself is master, God in the machine.9
We now live as little gods in the Machine, but really it is as if the Machine controls us, rather than the reverse. But, the old world with the old ways was very different. It was full of so much life and wonder that we have lost. Lawrence describes the force of wonder in the old world:
It must have been a wonderful world, that old world where everything appeared alive and shining in the dusk of contact with all things, not merely as an isolated individual thing played upon by daylight; where each thing had a clear outline, visually, but in its very clarity was related emotionally or vitally to strange other things, one thing springing from another, things mentally contradictory fusing together emotionally, so that a lion could be at the same moment also a goat, and not a goat. In those days, a man riding on a red horse was not just Jack Smith on his brown nag; it was a suave-skinned creature, with death or life in its face, surging along on a surge of animal power that burned with travel, with the passionate movement of the blood, and which was swirling along on a mysterious course, to some unknown goal, swirling with a weight of its own.10
Ancient life could be a never-ending divine epiphany, and not just for the elite. Everything was ecstatic, orgiastic, and full of life. This didn’t end when the cults of Dionysus died out. The religion of Christianity kept life alive for many centuries until it degenerated and became corrupted to the point that only remnants are still recognizable. One partakes of the body and blood of Christ, not his mind. The act of taking communion is receiving life from one of the Gods. We don’t deny Christ; he surely is an incarnation of the Divine. Christians and non-Christians alike need to rediscover the secret of power of the blood. As Klages declares:
The blood is the site of orgiastic life. What separates the ecstatic nature from the rational is not a refinement of the brain, but a condition of the blood: purple blood, blue blood, divine blood. Life resides in blood and pulse.11
There are vast realms of consciousness still undreamed of
vast ranges of experience, like the humming of unseen harps,
we know nothing of, within us.
Oh when man has escaped from the barbed-wire entanglement
of his own ideas and his own mechanical devices
there is a marvellous rich world of contact and sheer fluid beauty
and fearless face-to-face awareness of now-naked life
and me, and you, and other men and women
and grapes, and ghouls, and ghosts and green moonlight
and ruddy-orange limbs stirring the limbo
of the unknown air, and eyes so soft
softer than the space between the stars,
and all things, and nothing, and being and not-being
when at last we escape the barbed wire enclosure
of Know Thyself, knowing we can never know,
we can but touch, and wonder, and ponder, and make our effort
and dangle in a last fastidious fine delight
as the fuchsia does, dangling her reckless drop
of purple after so much putting forth
and slow mounting marvel of a little tree.12
Life is a miracle, and it is unknowable. There are many places we have gone wrong, but one of them was the point at which the Oracle at Delphi declared “know thyself,” since we should not just know ourselves but feel deeply within ourselves. One cannot be in touch with the mind. Again, there is nothing wrong with the mind, but we need mind and body, feeling, touch, thought, and blood. We have become so smart and can engineer massive structures, but we no longer know how to feel, how to marvel, how to wonder. Let us leave off knowing for a time, come into touch with things, and have a child-like wonder at everything, even if it is a single insect or flower. Philosophy started its downward turn from Plato onward, and without a living philosophy, we lack so much. Let us rediscover the cosmic flux of Heraclitus and the wonder of the pre-Orphic poets. Thomas Merton, in a particularly Lawrencian passage, pleas with us to live again:
Let us then say “yes” to our own nobility by embracing the insecurity and abjection that a dervish existence entails.
In the Republic of Plato there was already no place for poets and musicians, still less for dervishes and monks. As for the technological Platos who think they now run the world we live in, they imagine they can tempt us with banalities and abstractions. But we can elude them merely by stepping into the Heraklitean river which is never crossed twice.
When the poet puts his foot in that ever-moving river, poetry itself is born out of the flashing water. In that unique instant, the truth is manifest to all who are able to receive it.
No one can come near the river unless he walks on his own feet. He cannot come there carried in a vehicle.
No one can enter the river wearing the garments of public and collective ideas. He must feel the water on his skin. He must know that immediacy is for naked minds only, and for the innocent.
Come, dervishes: here is the water of life. Dance in it.13
We are, like all creatures, alive, a mixture of body, mind, and soul, and connected to the Gods. Man is no different in kind, only in degree, compared to any other form of life. By rejecting who we are and separating ourselves off from the earth and the Gods, we have ceased to truly live. We need to rediscover who we really are, as Lawrence in the following passage writes:
If man could once be reasonable enough to know that he is not a creature of reason, but only a reasoning creature, he might avoid making himself more prisons. Man is a creature, like all other creatures. And all creatures alike are born of complex and intricate passion, which will for ever be antecedent to reason.14
Be it so.
O, if a flame is in you, be it so!
When your flame flickers up, and you flicker forth in sheer purity
for a moment pure from all conceit of yourself, and all after-thought
you are for that moment one of the gods, Jesus or Fafnir or Priapus or
Passionate love and anger are both from the Gods. An emotion, when it seizes us and suffuses our entire bodies with the flames of being, is the work of the Gods. Don’t suppress your fiery flames: accept them and get in touch with them. If you come to know the work of the Gods, you may come to know the Gods directly. So many of the machines and gadgets of modernity are not worth their supposed benefits. An elderly man of today has most likely not lived nearly as much in his lifetime as a young man who died on the battlefield in the Middle Ages. We need life! What is to be done? Lawrence guides us:
I am alive, alive to the depths of my soul, and in touch, somewhere in touch with the vivid life of the cosmos. Somehow my life draws strength from the depths of the universe, from the depths among the stars, from the great “World.” […] [T]here is a flame or a Life Everlasting wreathing through the cosmos forever, and giving us our renewal, once we can get in touch with it. […]
[T]here is nothing for men to do but to turn back to life itself. Turn back to the life that flows invisibly in the cosmos, and will flow for ever, sustaining and renewing all living things. It is not a question of sins or morality, of being good or being bad. It is a question of renewal, of being renewed, vivified, made new and vividly alive and aware, instead of being exhausted and stale, as men are today. How to be renewed, re-born, re-vivified: that is the question men must ask themselves, and women too.
And the answer will be difficult. Some trick with glands or secretions, or raw food, or drugs won’t do it. Neither will some wonderful revelation or message. It is not a question of knowing something, but of doing something. It is a question of getting into contact again with the living centre of the cosmos. And how are we to do it?16
It must be reiterated that as much as diet and exercise may be good for the body, they, alone, do not suffuse one with life. Life is not truly physical, but spiritual. To really have life, we need to re-establish the old connections that have been gradually severed.
Man is more than homo sapiens.
Man is not quite a man
unless he has his pure moments, when he is surpassing.
I saw an angry Italian seize an irritating little official by the throat
and all but squeeze the life out of him:
and Jesus himself could not have denied that at that moment the angry
was a god, in godliness pure as Christ, beautiful
but perhaps Ashtaroth, perhaps Siva, perhaps Huitzilopochtli
with the dark and gleaming beauty of the messageless gods.17
The religions that state that only love is pure, but that anger and hatred are always bad, are, at least in part, false religions. A true religion accepts all parts of man, and knows that even—perhaps especially—the fiercest rage comes from the Gods. To give oneself up fully, wholly to the fire that burns within it is to be like unto the Gods, and, as such, to enter a divine state. Life is complex, beautiful, and not something that can be understood. One cannot rationalize life, nor can one separate emotions into good and bad, without dreadfully impoverishing life. All we can do is live life, so it is time to stop overthinking things and trying to subjugate the world. Instead we should give ourselves over to the grand, divine, mystery of life, for as Lawrence states:
For we must draw the great distinction between the life-mystery, in which is the creative or God-mystery, and the mystery of Force and Matter. The creative mystery, which is in life, is utterly beyond control, beyond us, and before us. It is also beyond and before the whole material universe, beyond and before the great forces. Life is not a Force. It is, and will ever remain, a mystery, a limit to our presumption. All attempt to subject life, and its inherent creative mystery, to the will of man, and to the laws of Force, is materialism and ultimate death.18
For the heroes are dipped in Scarlet.
Before Plato told the great lie of ideals
men slimly went like fishes, and didn’t care.
They had long hair, like Samson,
and clean as arrows they sped at the mark
when the bow-cord twanged.
They knew it was no use knowing
their own nothingness:
for they were not nothing.
So now they come back! Hark!
Hark! the low and shattering laughter of bearded men
with the slim waists of warriors, and the long feet
of moon-lit dancers.
Oh, and their faces scarlet, like the dolphin’s blood!
Lo! the loveliest is red all over, rippling vermilion
as he ripples upwards!
laughing in his black beard!
They are dancing! they return, as they went, dancing!
For the thing that is done without the glowing as of god, vermilion,
were best not done at all.
How glistening red they are!19
We need, desperately, to ponder less and to live more. This is why Lawrence’s philosophy is so powerful: he put all of his life into his works, and by doing so made them transformative. We are so unfree, but we don’t see how chained we are. It is time to look to those such as Diogenes of Sinope, who shed all of society’s rules and expectations. Only by shedding the rules and expectations of the modern world may one start to be free. We must do this through feeling, not as part of some ideal system. Lawrence describes how an over-utilization of rationalism and ideas cut us off from the integral world of man, beast, and Gods, in the following passage:
[Man] used to make himself master by a great effort of will, and sensitive, intuitive cunning, and immense labour of body.
Then he discovered the “idea.” He found that all things were related by certain laws. The moment man learned to abstract, he began to make engines that would do the work of his body. So, instead of concentrating upon his quarry, or upon the living things which made his universe, he concentrated upon the engines or instruments which should intervene between him and the living universe, and give him mastery.
This was the death of the great Pan. The idea and the engine came between man and all things, like a death. The old connection, the old Allness, was severed, and can never be ideally restored. Great Pan is dead.
Yet what do we live for, except to live? Man has lived to conquer the phenomenal universe. To a great extent he has succeeded. With all the mechanisms of the human world, man is to a great extent master of all life, and of most phenomena.
And what then? Once you have conquered a thing, you have lost it. Its real relation to you collapses.
A conquered world is no good to man. He sits stupefied with boredom upon his conquest.
We need the universe to live again, so that we can live with it. A conquered universe, a dead Pan, leaves us nothing to live with.
You have to abandon the conquest, before Pan will live again. You have to live to live, not to conquer. What’s the good of conquering even the North Pole, if after the conquest you’ve nothing left but an inert fact? Better leave it a mystery.
It was better to be a hunter in the woods of Pan, than it is to be a clerk in a city store. The hunter hungered, laboured, suffered tortures of fatigue. But at least he lived in a ceaseless living relation to his surrounding universe.20
As Lawrence makes clear, we must strive to live again, for no other reason than life itself. Lawrence knows that the ancient world may have had difficulties that the modern world goes without, yet the ancient world of Pan and the other Gods, along with the great, living forests was infinitely better than our modern world of cement, steel, and computer screens. We won’t find Pan by striving to find Pan, but by learning to once again be receptive, and allowing Pan to find us.
Ideas and ideals created the world we live in today. If we could have preserved the world where feeling, intuition, and imagination prevailed over rational thought, we could have been spared from this monstrous world of decay. Lawrence describes how we have come to our current hell, through his account of the genesis of the modern, mechanical world:
First there is an idea; then the idea is substantiated, the inventor fabricates his machine; and then he proceeds to worship his fabrication, and himself as mouthpiece of the Logos. This is how the world, the universe, was invented from the Logos: exactly as man has invented machinery and the whole ideal of humanity. The vital universe was never created from any Logos; but the ideal universe of man was certainly so invented. Man’s overweening mind uttered the Word, and the Word was God. So that the world exists today as a flesh-and-blood-and-iron substantiation of this uttered Word.
This is all the trouble: that the invented ideal world of man is superimposed upon living men and women, and men and women are thus turned into abstracted, functioning, mechanical units. This is all the great ideal of Humanity amounts to: an aggregation of ideally functioning units: never a man or woman possible.
Ideals, all ideals and every ideal, are a trick of the devil. They are a superimposition of the abstracted, automatic, invented universe of man upon the spontaneous creative universe.21
As Lawrence states, ideas and ideals have herded our world into hell. But, what is done is done, and there is no use fretting over it. Now, we must realize where we went wrong and change. As Lawrence writes:
What has ruined Europe, but especially northern Europe, is this very “pure idea.” Would to God the “Ideal” had never been invented. But now it’s got its claws in us, and we must struggle free. The beast we have to fight and kill is the Ideal. It is the worm, the foul serpent of our epoch, in whose coils we are strangled.22
And what do we replace all these ideas and ideals with? With a religion of life—a religion of life. We can do no better than to quote extensively from Lawrence’s Etruscan essays. Here he describes in detail what a religion of life would look like:
It seems as if the power of resistance to life, self-assertion, and overbearing, such as the Romans knew; a power which must needs be moral, or carry morality with it, as a cloak for its inner ugliness; would always succeed in destroying the natural flowering of life.—And yet there still are a few wild flowers and creatures.
The natural flowering of life! It is not so easy for human beings as it sounds. Behind all the Etruscan liveliness was a religion of life, which the chief men were seriously responsible for. Behind all the dancing was a vision, and even a science of life, a conception of the universe and man’s place in the universe which made men live to the depth of their capacity.
To the Etruscan all was alive: the whole universe lived; and the business of man was himself to live amid it all. He had to draw life into himself, out of the wandering huge vitalities of the world. The cosmos was alive, like a vast creature. The whole thing breathed and stirred. Evaporation went up like breath from the nostrils of a whale, steaming up. The sky received it in its blue bosom, breathed it in and pondered on it and transmuted it, before breathing it out again. Inside the earth were fires like the heat in the hot red liver of a beast. Out of the fissures of the earth came breaths of other breathing, vapours direct from the living physical underearth, exhalations carrying inspiration. The whole thing was alive, and had a great soul, or anima: and in spite of one great soul, there were myriad roving, lesser souls; every man, every creature and tree and lake and mountain and stream was animate, had its own peculiar consciousness. And has it today.
The cosmos was one, and its anima was one; but it was made up of creatures. And the greatest creature was earth, with its soul of inner fire. The sun was only a reflection, or off-throw, or brilliant handful, of the great inner fire.—But in juxtaposition to earth lay the sea, the waters that moved and pondered and held a deep soul of their own. Earth and waters lay side by side, together, and utterly different.
So it was. The universe, which was a single aliveness with a single soul, instantly changed, the moment you thought of it, and became a dual creature with two souls, fiery and watery, forever mingling and rushing apart, and held by the great aliveness of the universe in an ultimate equilibrium. But they rushed together and they rushed apart, and immediately they became myriad: volcanoes and seas, then streams and mountains, trees, creatures, men. And everything was dual, or contained its own duality, forever mingling and rushing apart.
The old idea of the vitality of the universe was evolved long before history begins, and elaborated into a vast religion before we get a glimpse of it. When history does begin, in China or India, Egypt, Babylonia, even in the Pacific and in aboriginal America, we see evidence of one underlying religious idea: the conception of the vitality of the cosmos, the myriad vitalities in wild confusion, which still is held in some sort of array: and man, amid all the glowing welter, adventuring, struggling, striving for one thing, life, vitality, more vitality: to get into himself more and more of the gleaming vitality of the cosmos. That is the treasure. The active religious idea was that man, by vivid attention and subtlety and exerting all his strength, could draw more life into himself, more life, more and more glistening vitality, till he became shining like the morning, blazing like a god. When he was all himself he painted himself vermilion like the throat of dawn, and was god’s body, visibly, red and utterly vivid. So he was a prince, a king, a god, an Etruscan Lucumo; Pharaoh, or Belshazzar, or Ashurbanipal, or Tarquin; in a feebler de crescendo, Alexander, or Caesar, or Napoleon.
This was the idea at the back of all the great old civilizations. It was even, half-transmuted, at the back of David’s mind, and voiced in the Psalms. But with David the living cosmos became merely a personal god. With the Egyptians and Babylonians and Etruscans, strictly there were no personal gods. There were only idols or symbols. It was the living cosmos itself, dazzlingly and gaspingly complex, which was divine, and which could be contemplated only by the strongest soul, and only at moments. And only the peerless soul could draw into itself some last flame from the quick. Then you had a king-god indeed.
There you have the ancient idea of kings, kings who are gods by vividness, because they have gathered into themselves core after core of vital potency from the universe, till they are clothed in scarlet, they are bodily a piece of the deepest fire. Pharaohs and kings of Nineveh, kings of the East, and Etruscan Lucumones, they are the living clue to the pure fire, to the cosmic vitality. They are the vivid key to life, the vermilion clue to the mystery and the delight of death and life. They, in their own body, unlock the vast treasure house of the cosmos for their people, and bring out life, and show the way into the dark of death, which is the blue burning of the one fire. They, in their own bodies, are the life-bringers and the death-guides, leading ahead in the dark, and coming out in the day with more than sunlight in their bodies. Can one wonder that such dead are wrapped in gold; or were?
The life-bringers, and the death-guides. But they set guards at the gates both of life and death. They keep the secrets, and safeguard the way. Only a few are initiated into the mystery of the bath of life, and the bath of death: the pool within pool within pool, wherein, when a man is dipped, he becomes darker than blood, with death, and brighter than fire, with life; till at last he is scarlet royal as a piece of living life, pure vermilion.
The people are not initiated into the cosmic ideas, nor into the awakened throb of more vivid consciousness. Try as you may, you can never make the mass of men throb with full awakenedness. They cannot be more than a little aware. So you must give them symbols, ritual and gesture, which will fill their bodies with life up to their own full measure. Any more is fatal. And so the actual knowledge must be guarded from them, lest knowing the formulae, without undergoing at all the experience that corresponds, they may become insolent and impious, thinking they have the all, when they have only an empty monkey-chatter. The esoteric knowledge will always be esoteric, since knowledge is an experience, not a formula. But it is foolish to hand out the formulae. A little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing. No age proves it more than ours. Monkey-chatter is at last the most disastrous of all things.
The clue to the Etruscan life was the Lucumo, the religious prince. Beyond him were the priests and warriors. Then came the people and the slaves. People and warriors and slaves did not think about religion. There would soon have been no religion left. They felt the symbols and danced the sacred dances. For they were always kept in touch, physically, with the mysteries. The “touch” went from the Lucumo down to the merest slave. The blood-stream was unbroken. But “knowing” belonged to the high-born and the pure-bred.23
There is little we can add to this beautiful passage from Lawrence, save to reiterate his passionate defense of the need for sun-men as gatekeepers to esoteric wisdom. The more a religion becomes exoteric, the less it binds one back to the Gods, the less it is religious. We vitally need religion, and religion vitally needs esoterism. The intermediaries between the deepest religious truths and the masses of men are the sun-men. Men who insist that all should be privy to secret knowledge are fools who don’t know that when the secret is divulged to the wrong person, they either lose their faith, or are burnt alive, spiritually, by the fire of the Gods, and become mad.
It is not only that life was better in the ancient days, and that most people suffer from diminished vitality now, but that evil has become far more diabolical as time goes on. Sometimes evil is direct, but often, in the modern world, the most diabolical forms of evil wear a pretty face. R. S. Thomas puts this poetically, as follows:
Under the Pharoahs [sic] it was power;
backs broke under the stones
for galleries where mice play.
At Delphi the power shifted
to the mind that gave uncomfortable
answers to its own questions.
In Judaea it was the beginning
of an ability to play blind
for tall stakes at the foot of the cross.
Leonardo possessed it,
but the price to be paid
was that the smile of his Madonna
was a reflection of the smile
on the countenance of the machine
he was in adultery with.24
Life is now horribly out of balance. Things will right themselves eventually. They always do. But until that time, each man has a very simple choice: to contribute to or acquiesce in the monstrous features of modern life, or strive to eradicate those features and live as a dignified and humble man. Most likely the man who thinks himself the greatest savior is the man who will turn out to be the greatest monster. Things are out of balance. We can’t cure the world with more thinking, nor more machines. We need to stop, take a break, and hope that in that brief moment of quiet, man finds the nobility of his true self again. As Jeffers writes:
Life’s norm is lost: no doubt it is put away with Plato’s
Weights and measures in the deep mind of God,
To find reincarnation, after due time and their own deformities
Have killed the monsters: but for this moment
The monsters possess the world. Look: forty thousand men’s labor and a
navy of ships, to spring a squib
Over Bikini lagoon.
Nobler than man or beast my sea-mountains
Pillar the cloud-sky; the beautiful waters in the deep gorges,
Ventana Creek and the Sur Rivers, Mal Paso Creek, Soberanes, Garapata,
Flow, and the sacred hawks and the storms go over them. Man’s fate is like
Eastern fables, startling and dull,
The Thousand and One Nights, or the jabber of delirium:—what of it?
What is not well? Man is not well? What of it?
He has had too many doctors, leaders and saviors: Let him alone. It may be
that bitter nature will cure him.25
Kissing and horrid strife.
I have been defeated and dragged down by pain
and worsted by the evil world-soul of today.
But still I know that life is for delight
and for bliss
as now when the tiny wavelets of the sea
tip the morning light on edge, and spill it with delight
to show how inexhaustible it is.
And life is for delight, and bliss
like now where the white sun kisses the sea
and plays with the wavelets like a panther playing with its cubs
cuffing them with soft paws,
and blows that are caresses,
kisses of the soft-balled paws, where the talons are.
And life is for dread,
for doom that darkens, and the Sunderers
that sunder us from each other
that strip us and destroy us and break us down
as the tall fox-gloves and the mulleins and mallows
are torn down by dismembering autumn
till not a vestige is left, and bleak winter has no trace
of any such flowers;
and yet the roots below the blackness are intact:
the Thunderers and the Sunderers have their term
their limit, their thus far and no further.
Life is for kissing and for horrid strife.
Life is for the angels and the Sunderers
Life is for the daimons and the demons
those that put honey on our lips, and those that put salt.
But life is not
for the dead vanity of knowing better, nor the blank
cold superiority, nor silly
conceit of being immune,
nor puerility of contradictions
like saying snow is black, or desire is evil.
Life is for kissing and for horrid strife,
the angels and the Sunderers.
And perhaps in unknown Death we perhaps shall know
Oneness and poised immunity.
But why then should we die while we can live?
And while we live
the kissing and communing cannot cease
nor yet the striving and the horrid strife.26
Life cannot be explained away: it is beautiful and full of joy. Pessimistic philosophers, such as Schopenhauer, wasted their precious lives away discoursing about how meaningless life is. Tolstoy went through phases where he trusted the scientists and philosophers, and it made him suicidal and hate life. Only religion gave him meaning. True religion gives meaning, but false religion takes it away. A religion that claims that life is evil, that the body is an evil, or that desire is perverse, is a religion that has descended far from the truth. There is a place in the world for evil; there is a place for conflict, but evil shall always fail. While there is room for the wrong-opinioned, there should never be room for those with arrogance, hubris, and mental conceit. There are luminous things after death—which is not the end of individual existence—but, as Lawrence states, we should live well while we live. Some men seem to be born without souls, but most men are born with a love for life and sense of wonder. All too often these days, the Machine crushes it out of them violently. When this happens, the earth starts to die. Only sun-men; men who are directly connected to the Gods and the cosmos, can set things right again. As Lawrence states:
And some men are not divine at all. They have only faculties. They are slaves, or they should be slaves.
But many a man has his own spark of divinity, and has it quenched, blown out by the winds of force or ground out of him by machines.
And when the spirit and the blood in man begin to go asunder, bringing the great death, most stars die out.
Only the man of a great star, a great divinity, can bring the opposites together again, in new unison.27
Aldington, Richard. The Complete Poems of Richard Aldington. London: Allan Wingate, 1948.
Jeffers, Robinson. The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Edited by Tim Hunt. Vol. Three. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1988.
Klages, Ludwig. Cosmogonic Reflections. Translated by Joseph D. Pryce. London: Arktos, 2015.
Lawrence, D. H. Apocalypse. Edited by Mara Kalnins. London: Penguin Books, 1995.
———. John Thomas and Lady Jane. Edited by Roland Gant. New York: The Viking Press, 1974.
———. Late Essays and Articles. Edited by James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays. Edited by Virginia Crosswhite Hyde. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays. Edited by Michael Herbert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
———. Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays. Edited by Simonetta De Filippis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. Studies in Classic American Literature. Edited by Ezra Greenspan, Lindeth Vasey, and John Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. The Plumed Serpent. Edited by L. D. Clark. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. The Poems. Edited by Christopher Pollnitz. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Merton, Thomas. Raids on the Unspeakable. New York: New Directions, 1966.
Spengler, Oswald. The Decline of the West. Edited by Arthur Helps and Helmut Werner. Translated by Charles Francis Atkinson. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.
Thomas, R. S. Collected Later Poems. Hexham: Bloodaxe Books, 2004.
D. H. Lawrence, The Poems, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 416–17.
D. H. Lawrence, John Thomas and Lady Jane, ed. Roland Gant (New York: The Viking Press, 1974), 107–8.
Richard Aldington, The Complete Poems of Richard Aldington (London: Allan Wingate, 1948), 324–27.
D. H. Lawrence, Apocalypse, ed. Mara Kalnins (London: Penguin Books, 1995), 90.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:486.
D. H. Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent, ed. L. D. Clark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 194.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:565–66.
Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, ed. Arthur Helps and Helmut Werner, trans. Charles Francis Atkinson (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), 414–15.
D. H. Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays, ed. Virginia Crosswhite Hyde (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 160.
D. H. Lawrence, Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays, ed. Simonetta De Filippis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 124.
Ludwig Klages, Cosmogonic Reflections, trans. Joseph D. Pryce (London: Arktos, 2015), 9–10.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:575–76.
Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable (New York: New Directions, 1966), 160–61.
Lawrence, John Thomas and Lady Jane, 130.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:581.
D. H. Lawrence, Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 310.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:581–82.
D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, ed. Ezra Greenspan, Lindeth Vasey, and John Worthen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 194.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:602–3.
Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays, 162–63.
D. H. Lawrence, Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 69.
Lawrence, Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays, 250.
R. S. Thomas, Collected Later Poems (Hexham: Bloodaxe Books, 2004), 120.
Robinson Jeffers, The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, ed. Tim Hunt, vol. Three (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1988), 208.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:623–24.
Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent, 418.