The World I Live In Part 6

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Yet remove the dream-world, and the loss is inconceivable. The magic spell which binds poetry together is broken. The splendour of art and the soaring might of imagination are lessened because no phantom of fadeless sunsets and flowers urges onward to a goal. Gone is the mute permission or connivance which emboldens the soul to mock the limits of time and s.p.a.ce, forecast and gather in harvests of achievement for ages yet unborn. Blot out dreams, and the blind lose one of their chief comforts; for in the visions of sleep they behold their belief in the seeing mind and their expectation of light beyond the blank, narrow night justified. Nay, our conception of immortality is shaken. Faith, the motive-power of human life, flickers out. Before such vacancy and bareness the shocks of wrecked worlds were indeed welcome. In truth, dreams bring us the thought independently of us and in spite of us that the soul

"may right Her nature, shoot large sail on lengthening cord, And rush exultant on the Infinite."




IT is astonis.h.i.+ng to think how our real wide-awake world revolves around the shadowy unrealities of Dreamland. Despite all that we say about the inconsequence of dreams, we often reason by them. We stake our greatest hopes upon them. Nay, we build upon them the fabric of an ideal world. I can recall few fine, thoughtful poems, few n.o.ble works of art or any system of philosophy in which there is not evidence that dream-fantasies symbolize truths concealed by phenomena.

The fact that in dreams confusion reigns, and illogical connections occur gives plausibility to the theory which Sir Arthur Mitch.e.l.l and other scientific men hold, that our dream-thinking is uncontrolled and undirected by the will. The will--the inhibiting and guiding power--finds rest and refreshment in sleep, while the mind, like a barque without rudder or compa.s.s, drifts aimlessly upon an uncharted sea. But curiously enough, these fantasies and inter-twistings of thought are to be found in great imaginative poems like Spenser's "Faerie Queene." Lamb was impressed by the a.n.a.logy between our dream-thinking and the work of the imagination. Speaking of the episode in the cave of Mammon, Lamb wrote:

"It is not enough to say that the whole episode is a copy of the mind's conceptions in sleep; it is--in some sort, but what a copy! Let the most romantic of us that has been entertained all night with the spectacle of some wild and magnificent vision, re-combine it in the morning and try it by his waking judgment. That which appeared so s.h.i.+fting and yet so coherent, when it came under cool examination, shall appear so reasonless and so unlinked, that we are ashamed to have been so deluded, and to have taken, though but in sleep, a monster for a G.o.d. The transitions in this episode are every whit as violent as in the most extravagant dream, and yet the waking judgment ratifies them."

Perhaps I feel more than others the a.n.a.logy between the world of our waking life and the world of dreams because before I was taught, I lived in a sort of perpetual dream. The testimony of parents and friends who watched me day after day is the only means that I have of knowing the actuality of those early, obscure years of my childhood. The physical acts of going to bed and waking in the morning alone mark the transition from reality to Dreamland. As near as I can tell, asleep or awake I only felt with my body. I can recollect no process which I should now dignify with the term of thought. It is true that my bodily sensations were extremely acute; but beyond a crude connection with physical wants they are not a.s.sociated or directed. They had little relation to each other, to me or the experience of others. Idea--that which gives ident.i.ty and continuity to experience--came into my sleeping and waking existence at the same moment with the awakening of self-consciousness. Before that moment my mind was in a state of anarchy in which meaningless sensations rioted, and if thought existed, it was so vague and inconsequent, it cannot be made a part of discourse. Yet before my education began, I dreamed. I know that I must have dreamed because I recall no break in my tactual experiences. Things fell suddenly, heavily. I felt my clothing afire, or I fell into a tub of cold water. Once I smelt bananas, and the odour in my nostrils was so vivid that in the morning, before I was dressed, I went to the sideboard to look for the bananas. There were no bananas, and no odour of bananas anywhere! My life was in fact a dream throughout.

The likeness between my waking state and the sleeping one is still marked. In both states I see, but not with my eyes. I hear, but not with my ears. I speak, and am spoken to, without the sound of a voice. I am moved to pleasure by visions of ineffable beauty which I have never beheld in the physical world. Once in a dream I held in my hand a pearl.

The one I saw in my dreams must, therefore, have been a creation of my imagination. It was a smooth, exquisitely moulded crystal. As I gazed into its s.h.i.+mmering deeps, my soul was flooded with an ecstasy of tenderness, and I was filled with wonder as one who should for the first time look into the cool, sweet heart of a rose. My pearl was dew and fire, the velvety green of moss, the soft whiteness of lilies, and the distilled hues and sweetness of a thousand roses. It seemed to me, the soul of beauty was dissolved in its crystal bosom. This beauteous vision strengthens my conviction that the world which the mind builds up out of countless subtle experiences and suggestions is fairer than the world of the senses. The splendour of the sunset my friends gaze at across the purpling hills is wonderful. But the sunset of the inner vision brings purer delight because it is the wors.h.i.+pful blending of all the beauty that we have known and desired.

I believe that I am more fortunate in my dreams than most people; for as I think back over my dreams, the pleasant ones seem to predominate, although we naturally recall most vividly and tell most eagerly the grotesque and fantastic adventures in Slumberland. I have friends, however, whose dreams are always troubled and disturbed. They wake fatigued and bruised, and they tell me that they would give a kingdom for one dreamless night. There is one friend who declares that she has never had a felicitous dream in her life. The grind and worry of the day invade the sweet domain of sleep and weary her with incessant, profitless effort. I feel very sorry for this friend, and perhaps it is hardly fair to insist upon the pleasure of dreaming in the presence of one whose dream-experience is so unhappy. Still, it is true that my dreams have uses as many and sweet as those of adversity. All my yearning for the strange, the weird, the ghostlike is gratified in dreams. They carry me out of the accustomed and commonplace. In a flash, in the winking of an eye they s.n.a.t.c.h the burden from my shoulder, the trivial task from my hand and the pain and disappointment from my heart, and I behold the lovely face of my dream. It dances round me with merry measure and darts. .h.i.ther and thither in happy abandon. Sudden, sweet fancies spring forth from every nook and corner, and delightful surprises meet me at every turn. A happy dream is more precious than gold and rubies.

I like to think that in dreams we catch glimpses of a life larger than our own. We see it as a little child, or as a savage who visits a civilized nation. Thoughts are imparted to us far above our ordinary thinking. Feelings n.o.bler and wiser than any we have known thrill us between heart-beats. For one fleeting night a princelier nature captures us, and we become as great as our aspirations. I daresay we return to the little world of our daily activities with as distorted a half-memory of what we have seen as that of the African who visited England, and afterwards said he had been in a huge hill which carried him over great waters. The comprehensiveness of our thought, whether we are asleep or awake, no doubt depends largely upon our idiosyncrasies, const.i.tution, habits, and mental capacity. But whatever may be the nature of our dreams, the mental processes that characterize them are a.n.a.logous to those which go on when the mind is not held to attention by the will.




I HAVE sat for hours in a sort of reverie, letting my mind have its way without inhibition and direction, and idly noted down the incessant beat of thought upon thought, image upon image. I have observed that my thoughts make all kinds of connections, wind in and out, trace concentric circles, and break up in eddies of fantasy, just as in dreams. One day I had a literary frolic with a certain set of thoughts which dropped in for an afternoon call. I wrote for three or four hours as they arrived, and the resulting record is much like a dream. I found that the most disconnected, dissimilar thoughts came in arm-in-arm--I dreamed a wide-awake dream. The difference is that in waking dreams I can look back upon the endless succession of thoughts, while in the dreams of sleep I can recall but few ideas and images. I catch broken threads from the warp and woof of a pattern I cannot see, or glowing leaves which have floated on a slumber-wind from a tree that I cannot identify. In this reverie I held the key to the company of ideas. I give my record of them to show what a.n.a.logies exist between thoughts when they are not directed and the behaviour of real dream-thinking.

I had an essay to write. I wanted my mind fresh and obedient, and all its handmaidens ready to hold up my hands in the task. I intended to discourse learnedly upon my educational experiences, and I was unusually anxious to do my best. I had a working plan in my head for the essay, which was to be grave, wise, and abounding in ideas. Moreover, it was to have an academic flavour suggestive of sheepskin, and the reader was to be duly impressed with the austere dignity of cap and gown. I shut myself up in the study, resolved to beat out on the keys of my typewriter this immortal chapter of my life-history. Alexander was no more confident of conquering Asia with the splendid army which his father Philip had disciplined than I was of finding my mental house in order and my thoughts obedient. My mind had had a long vacation, and I was now coming back to it in an hour that it looked not for me. My situation was similar to that of the master who went into a far country and expected on his home coming to find everything as he left it. But returning he found his servants giving a party. Confusion was rampant.

There was fiddling and dancing and the babble of many tongues, so that the voice of the master could not be heard. Though he shouted and beat upon the gate, it remained closed.

So it was with me. I sounded the trumpet loud and long; but the va.s.sals of thought would not rally to my standard. Each had his arm round the waist of a fair partner, and I know not what wild tunes "put life and mettle into their heels." There was nothing to do. I looked about helplessly upon my great retinue, and realized that it is not the possession of a thing but the ability to use it which is of value. I settled back in my chair to watch the pageant. It was rather pleasant sitting there, "idle as a painted s.h.i.+p upon a painted ocean," watching my own thoughts at play. It was like thinking fine things to say without taking the trouble to write them. I felt like Alice in Wonderland when she ran at full speed with the red queen and never pa.s.sed anything or got anywhere.

The merry frolic went on madly. The dancers were all manner of thoughts.

There were sad thoughts and happy thoughts, thoughts suited to every clime and weather, thoughts bearing the mark of every age and nation, silly thoughts and wise thoughts, thoughts of people, of things, and of nothing, good thoughts, impish thoughts, and large, gracious thoughts.

There they went swinging hand-in-hand in corkscrew fas.h.i.+on. An antic jester in green and gold led the dance. The guests followed no order or precedent. No two thoughts were related to each other even by the fortieth cousins.h.i.+p. There was not so much as an international alliance between them. Each thought behaved like a newly created poet.

"His mouth he could not ope, But there flew out a trope."

Magical lyrics--oh, if I only had written them down! Pell-mell they came down the sequestered avenues of my mind, this merry throng. With baccha.n.a.l song and shout they came, and eye hath not since beheld confusion worse confounded.

Shut your eyes, and see them come--the knights and ladies of my revel.

Plumed and turbaned they come, clad in mail and silken broideries, gentle maids in Quaker gray, gay princes in scarlet cloaks, coquettes with roses in their hair, monks in cowls that might have covered the tall Minster Tower, demure little girls hugging paper dolls, and rollicking school-boys with ruddy morning faces, an absent-minded professor carrying his shoes under his arms and looking wise, followed by cronies, fairies, goblins, and all the troops just loosed from Noah's storm-tossed ark. They walked, they strutted, they soared, they swam, and some came in through fire. One sprite climbed up to the moon on a ladder made of leaves and frozen dew-drops. A peac.o.c.k with a great hooked bill flew in and out among the branches of a pomegranate-tree pecking the rosy fruit. He screamed so loud that Apollo turned in his chariot of flame and from his burnished bow shot golden arrows at him.

This did not disturb the peac.o.c.k in the least; for he spread his gem-like wings and flourished his wonderful, fire-tipped tail in the very face of the sun-G.o.d! Then came Venus--an exact copy of my own plaster cast--serene, calm-eyed, dancing "high and disposedly" like Queen Elizabeth, surrounded by a troop of lovely Cupids mounted on rose-tinted clouds, blown hither and thither by sweet winds, while all around danced flowers and streams and queer little j.a.panese cherry-trees in pots! They were followed by jovial Pan with green hair and jewelled sandals, and by his side--I could scarcely believe my eyes!--walked a modest nun counting her beads. At a little distance were seen three dancers arm-in-arm, a lean, starved plat.i.tude, a rosy, dimpled joke, and a steel-ribbed sermon on predestination. Close upon them came a whole string of Nights with wind-blown hair and Days with f.a.ggots on their backs. All at once I saw the ample figure of Life rise above the whirling ma.s.s holding a naked child in one hand and in the other a gleaming sword. A bear crouched at her feet, and all about her swirled and glowed a mult.i.tudinous host of tiny atoms which sang all together, "We are the will of G.o.d." Atom wedded atom, and chemical married chemical, and the cosmic dance went on in changing, changeless measure, until my head sang like a buzz-saw.

Just as I was thinking I would leave this scene of phantoms and take a stroll in the quiet groves of Slumber I noticed a commotion near one of the entrances to my enchanted palace. It was evident from the whispering and buzzing that went round that more celebrities had arrived. The first personage I saw was Homer, blind no more, leading by a golden chain the white-beaked s.h.i.+ps of the Achaians bobbing their heads and squawking like so many white swans. Plato and Mother Goose with the numerous children of the shoe came next. Simple Simon, Jill, and Jack who had had his head mended, and the cat that fell into the cream--all these danced in a giddy reel, while Plato solemnly discoursed on the laws of Topsyturvy Land. Then followed grim-visaged Calvin and "violet-crowned, sweet-smiling Sappho" who danced a Schottische. Aristophanes and Moliere joined for a measure, both talking at once, Moliere in Greek and Aristophanes in German. I thought this odd, because it occurred to me that German was a dead language before Aristophanes was born.

Bright-eyed Sh.e.l.ley brought in a fluttering lark which burst into the song of Chaucer's chanticleer. Henry Esmond gave his hand in a stately minuet to Diana of the Crossways. He evidently did not understand her nineteenth century wit; for he did not laugh. Perhaps he had lost his taste for clever women. Anon Dante and Swedenborg came together conversing earnestly about things remote and mystical. Swedenborg said it was very warm. Dante replied that it might rain in the night.

Suddenly there was a great clamour, and I found that "The Battle of the Books" had begun raging anew. Two figures entered in lively dispute. One was dressed in plain homespun and the other wore a scholar's gown over a suit of motley. I gathered from their conversation that they were Cotton Mather and William Shakspere. Mather insisted that the witches in "Macbeth" should be caught and hanged. Shakspere replied that the witches had already suffered enough at the hands of commentators. They were pushed aside by the twelve knights of the Round Table, who marched in bearing on a salver the goose that laid golden eggs. "The Pope's Mule" and "The Golden Bull" had a combat of history and fiction such as I had read of in books, but never before witnessed. These little animals were put to rout by a huge elephant which lumbered in with Rudyard Kipling riding high on its trunk. The elephant changed suddenly to "a rakish craft." (I do not know what a rakish craft is; but this was very rakish and very crafty.) It must have been abandoned long ago by wild pirates of the southern seas; for clinging to the rigging, and jovially cheering as the s.h.i.+p went down, I made out a man with blazing eyes, clad in a velveteen jacket. As the s.h.i.+p disappeared from sight, Falstaff rushed to the rescue of the lonely navigator--and stole his purse! But Miranda persuaded him to give it back. Stevenson said, "Who steals my purse steals trash." Falstaff laughed and called this a good joke, as good as any he had heard in his day.

This was the signal for a rus.h.i.+ng swarm of quotations. They surged to and fro, an inchoate throng of half finished phrases, mutilated sentences, parodied sentiments, and brilliant metaphors. I could not distinguish any phrases or ideas of my own making. I saw a poor, ragged, shrunken sentence that might have been mine own catch the wings of a fair idea with the light of genius s.h.i.+ning like a halo about its head.

Ever and anon the dancers changed partners without invitation or permission. Thoughts fell in love at sight, married in a measure, and joined hands without previous courts.h.i.+p. An incongruity is the wedding of two thoughts which have had no reasonable courts.h.i.+p, and marriages without wooing are apt to lead to domestic discord, even to the breaking up of an ancient, time-honoured family. Among the wedded couples were certain similes. .h.i.therto inviolable in their bachelorhood and spinsterhood, and held in great respect. Their extraordinary proceedings nearly broke up the dance. But the fatuity of their union was evident to them, and they parted. Other similes seemed to have the habit of living in discord. They had been many times married and divorced. They belonged to the notorious society of Mixed Metaphors.

A company of phantoms floated in and out wearing tantalizing garments of oblivion. They seemed about to dance, then vanished. They reappeared half a dozen times, but never unveiled their faces. The imp Curiosity pulled Memory by the sleeve and said, "Why do they run away? 'Tis strange knavery!" Out ran Memory to capture them. After a great deal of racing and puffing and collision it apprehended some of the fugitives and brought them in. But when it tore off their masks, lo! some were disappointingly commonplace, and others were gipsy quotations trying to conceal the punctuation marks that belonged to them. Memory was much chagrined to have had such a hard chase only to catch this sorry lot of graceless rogues.

Into the rabble strode four stately giants who called themselves History, Philosophy, Law, and Medicine. They seemed too solemn and imposing to join in a masque. But even as I gazed at these formidable guests, they all split into fragments which went whirling, dancing in divisions, subdivisions, re-subdivisions of scientific nonsense! History split into philology, ethnology, anthropology, and mythology, and these again split finer than the splitting of hairs. Each speciality hugged its bit of knowledge and waltzed it round and round. The rest of the company began to nod, and I felt drowsy myself. To put an end to the solemn gyrations, a troop of fairies mercifully waved poppies over us all, the masque faded, my head fell, and I started. Sleep had wakened me. At my elbow I found my old friend Bottom.

"Bottom," I said, "I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Methought I was--there is no man can tell what. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, his hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was."



"_My wings are folded o'er mine ears, My wings are crossed o'er mine eyes, Yet through their silver shade appears, And through their lulling plumes arise, A Shape, a throng of sounds._"

_Sh.e.l.ley's "Prometheus Unbound."_

I DARE not ask why we are reft of light, Banished to our solitary isles amid the unmeasured seas, Or how our sight was nurtured to glorious vision, To fade and vanish and leave us in the dark alone.

The secret of G.o.d is upon our tabernacle; Into His mystery I dare not pry. Only this I know: With Him is strength, with Him is wisdom, And His wisdom hath set darkness in our paths.

_Out of the uncharted, unthinkable dark we came, And in a little time we shall return again Into the vast, unanswering dark._

O Dark! thou awful, sweet, and holy Dark!

In thy solemn s.p.a.ces, beyond the human eye, G.o.d fas.h.i.+oned His universe; laid the foundations of the earth, Laid the measure thereof, and stretched the line upon it; Shut up the sea with doors, and made the glory Of the clouds a covering for it; Commanded His morning, and, behold! chaos fled Before the uplifted face of the sun; Divided a water-course for the overflowing of waters; Sent rain upon the earth-- Upon the wilderness wherein there was no man, Upon the desert where grew no tender herb, And, lo! there was greenness upon the plains, And the hills were clothed with beauty!

The World I Live In Part 6

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The World I Live In Part 6 summary

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