The Dream of Pythagoras

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«The soul was not then imprisoned in a gross mortal body, as it is now: it was united to a luminous, heavenly, ethereal body, which served it as a vehicle to fly through the air, rise to the stars, and wander over all the regions of immensity.» PYTHAGORAS, in Travels of Cyrus.

PYTHAGORAS, amidst Crotona's groves, One summer eve, sat; whilst the sacred few And favour'd at his feet reclin'd, entranc'd, List'ning to his great teachings. O'er their heads A lofty oak spread out his hundred hands Umbrageous, and a thousand slant sunbeams Play'd o'er them; but beneath all was obscure And solemn, save that, as the sun went down, One pale and tremulous sunbeam, stealing in Through the unconscious leaves her silent way, Fell on the forehead of Pythagoras Like spiritual radiance; all else wrapt In gloom delicious; while the murmuring wind, Oft moving through the forest as in dreams, Made melancholy music. Then the sage Thus spoke: «My children, listen; let the soul Hear her mysterious origin, and trace Her backward path to heaven. 'Tvas but a dream; And yet from shadows we may learn the shape And substance of undying truth. Methought In vision I beheld the first beginning And after-changes of my soul. O joy! She is of no mean origin, but sprang From loftier source than stars or sunbeam know. Yea, like a small and feeble rill that bursts From everlasting mountain's coronet, And, winding through a thousand labyrinths Of darkness, deserts, and drear solutudes, Yet never dies, but gaining depth and power, Leaps forth at last with uncontrolable might Into immortal sunshine and the breast Of boundless ocean, - so is this my soul. I felt myself spring like a sunbeam out From the Eternal, and my first abode Was a pure particle of light, wherein, Shrined like a beam in crystal, I did ride Gloriously through the firmament on wings Of floating flowers, ethereal gems, and wreaths Of vernal rainbows. I did paint a rose With blush of day-down, and a lily-bell With mine own essence; every morn I dipt My robe in the full sun, then all day long Shook out its dew on earth, and was content To be unmark'd, unworshipp'd and unknown, And only lov'd of heaven. Thus did my soul Live spotless like her source. 'Tvas mine to illume The palaces of nature, and explore Her hidden cabinets, and, raptur'd, read Her joyous secrets. O return, thou life Of purity! I flew from mountain-top To mountain, building rainbow-bridges up – From hill to hill, and over boundless seas: Ecstasy was such life, and on the verge Of ripe perfection. But, alas! I saw And envied the bold lightning, who could blind And startle nations, and long'd to be A conqueror and destroyer, like to him. Methought it was a glorious joy, indeed, To shut and open heaven as he did, And have the thunders for my retinue, And tear the clouds, and blacken palaces, And in moment whiten sky, and sea, And earth: therefore I murmur'd at my lot, Beautiful as it was, and that one murmur Despoil'd me of my glory. I became A dark and tyrant cloud driven by the storm, Too earthly to be bright, too hard of heart To drop in mercy on the thirsty land; And so no creature lov'd me. I was felt A blot where'er I came. Fair Summer scorn'd And spurn'd me from her blueness, for, she said I would not wear her golden fringe, and so She could not rank me in her sparkling train. Soft Spring refused me, for she could not paint Her rainbows on a nature cold as mine, Incapable of tears. Autumnn despised One who could do no good. Dark Winter frown'd And number'd me among his ruffian host Of racers. Then unceasingly I fled Despairing through the murky firmament, Like a lone wreck athwart a midnight sea, Chased by the howling spirits of the storm, And without. At last, one day I saw In my continual flight, a desert blank And broad beneath me, where no water was; And there I mark'd a weary antilope, Dying for thirst, all streched out on the sand, With her poor trembling lips in agony Press'd to a scorch'd-up spring; then, then at last My hard heart, and I could weep. At once My terrible race was stopped, and I did melt Into the desert's heart, and with my tears I quench'd the thirst of the poor antelope. So having pour'd myself into the dry And desolate waste, I sprang up a wild flower In solitary beauty. There I grew Alone and feverish, for the hot sun burn'd And parch'd my tender leaves, and not a sigh Came from the winds. I seemed to breathe an air Of fire, and had resign'd myself to death, When lo! a solitary dewdrop fell Into my burning bosom; then, for joy, My spirit rush'd into my lovely guest, And I became a dewdrop. Then, once more, My life was joyous, for the kingly sun Carried me up into the firmament, And hung me in rainbow, and my soul Was robed in seven bright colors, and became A jewel in the sky. So did I learn The first great lessons; mark ye them, my sons. Obedience is nobility; and meek Humility is glory; self alone Is base; and pride is pain; patience is power; Beneficence is bliss. And now first brought To know myself and feel my littleness, I was to learn what greatness is prepar'd For virtuous souls, what moghty war they wage, What vast impossibilities o'ercome, What kingdoms, and infinitude of love, And harmony, and never-ending joy, And converse, and comminion with the great And glorious Mind unknown, - are given to high And godlike souls.

                                 «Therefore the winds arose, 

And shook me from the rainbow where I hung, Into the dephts of ocean; then I dived Down to the coral citadels, and roved Through crystal mazes, among pearls and gems, And lovely buried creatures, who had sunk To find a jewel of eternal life. Sweet babes I saw clasp'd in their mothers' arms; Kings of the north, each with his oozy crown; Pale maidens, with their golden streaming hair Floating in solemn beauty, calm and still, In the deep, silent, tideless wave; I saw Young beautous boys wash'd down from reeling masts By sudden storm; and brothers sleeping soft, Lock'd in each other's arms; and countless wealth, And curling weed, and treasur'd knots of hair, And mouldering masts, and giant hulls that sank With thunder sobbing; and blue palaces Where moonbeams, hand in hand, did dance with me To the soft music of the surging shells, Where all else was at rest. Calm, calm, and hush'd, And stormless, were those hidden deeps, and clear And pure as crystal. There I wander'd long In speechless dreamings, and wellnigh forgot My corporal nature, for it seem'd Melting into the silent infinite Around me, and I peacefully began To feel the mighty universe commune And converse with my; and my soul became One note in nature's harmony. So sweet And soothing was that dream-like ecstasy, I could have slept into a wave, and roll'd Away through the blue mysteries forever, Dreaming my soul to nothing; I could well Have drown'd my spark of immortality In drunkeness of peace; I knew not yet The warrior life of virtue, and the high And honourable strife and storm that cleanse And exercise her pinions. I was now To learn the rapture of struggle made For immortality and truth; therefore The ocean toss'd me to his mountain chains, Bidding me front the tempest; fires of heaven Were dancing o'er his cataracts, and scared His sounding billows; glorious thunders roll'd Beneath, above, around; the strong winds fought, Lifting up pyramids of tortured waves, Then dashing them to foam. I saw great ships As feathers on the opening sepulchres And starting monuments, And the gaunt waves leap'd up like fountains fierce, And snatch'd down frighten'd clouds, then shouting – fell, And rose again. I, whirling on their tops, Dizzy flew over masts of steggering ships, Then plunged into black night. My soul grew mad Ravish'd with intense magnificence Of the harmonious chaos, for I heard Music amidst the thunders, and I saw Measure in all the madness of the waves And whirlpools; yea, I lifted up my voice In praise of the Eternal, for I felt Rock'd in His hand, as in a cradling couch; Rejoicing in His strength; yea, I found rest In the unbounded roar, and fearless sang Glad echo to the thunder, and flash'd back The bright look of lightning, and did fly On the dark pinions of the hurricane spirit In rapturous repose; till suddenly My soul expanded, and I sprang aloft Into the lightning flame, leaping for joy From cloud to cloud. Then, first I felt my wings Wave into immortality, and flew Across the ocean with a shouting host Of thunders at my heels, and lit up heaven, And earth and sea, with one quick lamp, and crown'd The mountains with a momentary gold, Then cover'd them with blackness. Then I glanced Upon the mighty city in her sleep, Pierced all her mysteries with one swift look, Then bade my thunders shout. The city trembled; And charm'd with sublime outcry, I paus'd And listen'd. Yet had I to rise and learn A loftier lesson. I was lifted high Into the heavens, and there became a star, And on my new-form'd orb two angels sat. The one thus spoke: 'O spirit, young and pure! Say, thou be my shrine? I am of old, The first of all things, and of all gratest; I am the Sovereign Majesty, to whom The universe is given, though for a while I war with rebels strong; my name is Truth. I am the Spirit of wisdom, love and power, And come to claim thee; and if thou obey My guiding, I will give thee thy desire, Even eternal life.' He ceas'd, and then The second angel spoke. 'Ask not, O soul! My name; I bid thee free thyself, and know Thou hast the fount of life in thy own breast, And need'st no guiding: be a child no longer; Throw off thy fetters, and with me enjoy Thy native independence, and assert Thy innate majesty; Truth binds not me, And yet I am immortal; be thou, too, A god unto thyself.'

                                   «But I learn'd 

My own deep insufficiency, and gazed Indignant on th' unholy angel's face, And pierced its false refulgence, knowing well Obedience only is true liberty For spirits form'd to obey; so best they reign. Straight the base rebel fled, and ruled by Truth, I roll'd unerring on my shining road Around a glorious centre; free, though bound, Because love bound me, and my law became My life and nature; and my lustrous orb Pure spirits visited: I wore a light That shone across infinitude, and serv'd To guide returning wanderers. I sang With all my starry sisters, and we danced Around the throne of Time, and wash'd the base Of high Eternity like golden sands. There first my soul drank my music, and was taught That melody is part of heaven, and lives In every heaven-born spirit like her breath; There did I learn, that music without end Breathes, murmurs, swells, echoes, and floats, and peals, And thunders through creation, and in truth Is celestial language, and the voice Of love; and now my soul began to speak The speech of immortality. But yet I was to learn a lesson more severe – To shine alone in darkness, and the deeps Of sordid earth. So did I fall from heaven Far into night, beneath the mountains roots There, as a diamond burning amidst things Too base for utterance. Then, alas! I felt The stirrings of impatience, pining sore For freedom, and communion with the fires And majesties of heaven, with whom erewhile I walk'd, their equal. I had not yet learn'd That our appointed place is loftiest, However lowly. I was made to feel The dignity of suffering. O, my sons! Sorrow and joy are but the spirit's life; Without these she is scarcely animate; Anguish and bliss ennoble: either proves The greatness of its subject, and expands Her nature into power; her every pulse Beats into new-born force, urging her on To conquering energy. – Then was I cast Into hot fires and flaming furnaces, Deep in the hollow globe; there did I burn Deathless in agony, without murmur, Longing to die, until my patient soul Fainted into perfection: at that hour, Being victorious, I was snatch'd away To yet another lesson. I became A date-tree in the desert, to pour out My life in dumb benevolence, and full Obedience to each wind of heaven that blew. The traveller came – I gave him all my shade, Asking for no reward; the lost bird flew For shelter to my branches, and I hid Her nest among my leaves; the sunbeams ask'd To rest their hot and weary feet awhile On me, and I spread out my every arm T' embrace them, fanning them with all my plumes. Beneath my shade the dying pilgrim fell Praying for water; I cool dewdrops caught And shook them on his lip; I gave my fruit To strenghten the faint stranger, and I sang Soft echoes to the winds, living in nought For self; but in all things for others' good. The storm arose, and patiently I bore And yielded to his tyranny; I bow'd My tenderest foliage to his angry blast, And suffer'd him to tear it without sigh, And scatter on the waste my all of wealth. The billowing sands o'erwhelm'd me, yet I stood Silent beneath them; so they roll'd away, And rending up my roots, left me a wreck Upon the wilderness.

                                      «'T was thus, my sons, 

I dream'd my spirit wander'd, till at length, As desolate I mourn'd my helpless woe, My guardian angel took me to his heart, And thus he said: 'Spirit, well tried and true! Conqueror I have made thee, and prepar'd For human life; behold! I wave the palm Of immortality before thine eyes: 'T is thine; it shall be thine, if thou aright Acquit thee of the part yet remains, And teach what thou hast learn'd.'

«This said, he smil'd And gently laid me in my mother's arms. Thus for vision brought me – then it fled, And all was silence. Ah! 't was but a dream; This soul in vain struggles for purity; This self-tormenting essence may exist For ever; but what joy can being give Without perfection! vainly do I seek That bliss for which I languish. Surely yet The Day-spring of our nature is to come; Mournful we wait that dawning; until then We grovel in the dust – in midnight grope, For ever seeking, never satisfied.»

Thus spake the solemn seer, then pausing, sigh'd For all was darkness.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.