Voices From Afar

WE have it on a very great authority that where the body is delicate the soul is free. The imagination, however dependent upon physical health for its most vital and enduring results, may nevertheless, when ill supported by the body, receive subtle monitions not otherwise vouchsafed. There are conditions of disparity in the estate of body and soul, wherein the latter may be likened to the herald Mercury touching the surface of the earth with but one winged foot at the least point of contact. There are moments in physical illness when the soul ceases to concern itself very much with the body’s distractions, its pains and its tedium, — moments when the soul, as it were, betakes herself to some quiet upper chamber of the house, some seldom ascended tower, from whose windows the usual landscape outlook becomes all sky, with the shifting movement of its various cloud-courses ; naught else but the departing smoke wreaths from the dwellings of mortals, and the occasional flight of the desultory or the migrant bird.

The jar or perturbation between the two, body and soul, need not, to produce the latter’s wayward independence, be sufficient to menace seriously the body’s health ; nor is it implied that the soul is preparing for its final long journey hence. The liberation thus procured for the imaginative powers is perhaps not dissimilar to that enjoyed by the opiumdreamer or the reveler in hasheesh. There is, however, one very marked difference in favor of the former condition : it is the soul that invites its own dreams, and not the drug-born dreams that invite the soul. Yet in this arrest of amity between the physical and the spiritual (sometimes in continuous low fever or other illness) the autocratic inmate persists for days in the pursuance of some one chosen theme, which as often as otherwise bears allusion to the unknown great margins of life, to rumors and vague intimations borne from “ the shore of the mysterious Other World.”

Under such conditions and of such elements were produced the subjoined verses, from time to time ; the mind persistently carrying its one theme through sundry variations. On a certain dateless day, in the blank calendar of listless illness, came — and stayed — the thought that the Elysian Fields and Deepest Tartarus are but so according to the soul’s unit of measurement and comparison. How much of far future weal or woe may depend upon the foil offered by our experience in this present life! With this thought came, simultaneously, the imagined testimony of two pilgrims from what the Anglo-Saxon terms


Waked a lone voyager
To voices touched with love and mirth :
“ Rejoice ! Thou art in Heaven ! ”
“ Nay, whence I came was Heaven, —
I came but now from Earth ! ”
Waked a lone voyager
To voices on the mournful blast:
“ Thou comest to the Torment! ”
“Nay, whence I came was Torment, —
My lot on Earth was cast! ”

At one time, to the ear of the mind there seemed to be borne the message of a soul whose passing had exemplified our wistful human hopes of


Love had passed on before. My last of breath
Was as when Day absorbs a candle’s flame, —
Light lost in light supreme. I knew not Death ;
Love had passed on before—and home to Love I came.

At another time was heard what seemed the voice of complaining ones thrust out of life before they had tasted the fullness thereof.


The rich day being reaped, Toil is content —
Nay, glad — beneath Sleep’s poppied wand to pass;
So, Death, to thine our spirits’ will were bent;
But strike not yet, —we have not lived, alas !

Bred of a reminiscence I had heard related by a filibuster who had been at the siege of Granada, in Central America, came the adios, mundo, of a Spanish soldier who perished there.


Beside that Lake whose wave is hushed to hear
The surf-beat of a sea on either hand,
Far from Castile, afar in Toltec land,
Fearless I died, who, living, knew not fear.
Dark faces frowned between me and the sky ;
The Indian blade drove deep. Life grew a dream.
Far from Castile ! who heard my cry extreme
That held the sum of partings, — World, good-by !

On one occasion sleep seemed to hold aloof, to procure audience to the voice of a child. Its plaint, also, was a half-reminiscence, — the remembrance, through long years, of a little one’s pleading for an “equal Heaven.” But the fancy so blended the image of my little friend with a child of old time, whose memory a poet’s verses forever keep green, that I was fain to unite the two in my record of a voice from afar.


I was too young, they said (I was not seven),
But I would understand, as I grew older.
Why the White Dove that died was not in Heaven.
But they were wrong, for when I came to Heaven,
When first I came, and all was strange and lonely,
My pretty pet flew straight upon my shoulder!
And there she stays all day; at evening only,
Between my hands, close to my breast, I fold her.

It was one night, as I remember, that to the imagination came a hurried word, as though uttered with the dashing off of the stirrup-cup; the lament, it might have been, of


I rode my clearest champion to the ground,
I made the smiling traitor mine ally,
I gave my faithful love a lethal wound,
Truth read I in a wanton-glancing eye !
I made a darkness of the noontide sun,
I took the swamp-fire for a guiding light:
My little day of days is almost done,
Mine errors rush into the rushing night!

In course of time A Rash Rider came to possess an opposite crying in the wilderness between worlds, —a Camilla-like spirit who had fought her battle bravely, but in vain, and was now spurning the sodden field. “ Vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbris.”


I am come quickly from yon spinning hall, —
Brief, uuremembered, unregarded guest.
Some gifts were mine, but those not in request;
Mine, Constancy—but Constancy doth pall;
Fidelity — but servile knees forestall ;
And Love, with Truth, dwelt in an ardent breast:
Ere Truth could speak would Falsity attest,
And Wantouness obtained Love’s prizes all!
I am come quickly from yon spinning ball!
Naught there I gained, of naught am dispossessed.
Love, Truth, and Faith cry Onward to my quest
Through the vast, starlit, firmamental hall.
From world to world I pass, till these have rest
To whom on earth no biding-place did fall !

In his Urn Burial Sir Thomas Browne has this inquiry and answer : —

“ Who knows whether the best of men be known, or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot than any that stand remembered in the known count of time ?

“ Oblivion is not to be hired. The greater part must be content to be as though they had not been ; to be found in the register of God, not in the record of man.”

By some alchemic process of the mind brooding upon this ancient theme, the above-quoted paragraphs became transformed into a canticle of resignation, the swan - song of one not unwilling to be counted as


“ A verse, a verse before I go,” I cried,
“ That, though I vanish out of time and place
And glad encounter of the human face,
Some dwelling in the heart be not denied! ”
(This between dream and deeper sleep untried.)
Then like a wind that groweth out of space,
Fraught and oppressed with murmurs of the race,
A Voice beneath the evening casement sighed :
“And why this boon to thee ? Of earth, the best
Have closed the gracious lip, the lovely eye,
And in meek silence sweetly gone to rest,
Nor craved to leave behind a troubling cry.”
So spake the Voice that I content might die,
Content might join the Unremembered Blest.

The “Uuremembered Blest” was not without its sequence, — the last in the flight of voices from afar.


“ Why over thee sweeps Sorrow’s moaning wave ?
O Soul, why wilt thou not in Eunoe lave ? ”
“ The ripple of my loss hath ceased to mar
Life’s gliding stream. At night none wakes with sighs
To lose the dream of me; nor hungering eyes
Look out to see how dim have grown the ways,-
The sunlit paths of long memorial days.
This is my grief, — so soon to be forgot !
And canst thou smile ? Then happier was thy lot.”

“ Not so. But they who ceased for me their tears,
Themselves have been forgot a thousand years.
Beyond this battlement they once did lean,
Did see what all must see, what thou thyself hast seen.”

Edith M. Thomas.