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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
The First Form Of Contemplation
The Mystical Life
The Preparation Of The Mystic
The Second Form Of Contemplation
The Third Form Of Contemplation
The World Of Reality
What Is Mysticism?
Anaximenes And The Air
Animism, Ancient And Modern
Brooks And Streams
Development And Discipline Of Intuition
Earth, Mountains, And Plains
Fire And The Sun
Heracleitus And The Cosmic Fire
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
The Beautiful And The Ugly
The Charge Of Anthropomorphism
The Expanse Of Heaven--colour
The Immanent Idea
The Moon--a Special Problem
The Ocean
The Waters Under The Earth
Will And Consciousness In Nature
Winds And Clouds

Rivers And Death

The world of fact, no less than the world of abstract thought, is
full of contradictions and unsolved antinomies. Here is one such
contradiction or antinomy. Moving water, it has been shown, is
suggestive of life. But over against it we find a suggestion of
death. Indeed there has been a widely diffused belief in a river
of death--a striking foil to the inspiring mysticism of the river of
life. The old-world mythology taught, in varying forms, but
with underlying unity of concept, that there is a river, or gulf,
which must be crossed by the departing soul on its way to the
land of the departed. Evidently the extension of the original
thought to cover its seeming opposite has a basis in the nature
of things. Its most elaborate presentment is in the ancient myths
of the nether regions and of the seven streams that watered
them--from Styx that with nine-fold weary wanderings bounded
Tartarus, to where

"Far off from these, a slow and silent stream,
Lethe the river of oblivion runs."

Nor has Christianity disdained to adapt the idea. Bunyan, for
example, brings his two pilgrims within sight of the heavenly
City. "Now I saw further that between them and the gate was a
river; but there was no bridge, and the river was very deep. At
the sight therefore of this river, the pilgrims were much stunned;
but the men that went with them said, you must go through or
you cannot come at the gate."

What suggestive power has the river to induce this more sombre
train of reflection? Surely that embodied in the old proverb--
Follow the river and you will come to the sea. Clough, in his
little poem, "The Stream of Life," concludes with a note of
sadness, almost of despair:

"O end to which all currents tend,
Inevitable sea,
To which we flow, what do we know,
What shall we guess of thee?

A roar we hear upon thy shore,
As we our course fulfil;
Scarce we divine a sun will shine
And be above us still."

The rushing rapid and the plunging waterfall have an influence
all their own in rousing intuitions of more than human life and
power. The dazzling and dashing rainbows of spray appeal to
the sense of sight--the internal rhythmic sound from the lighter
tones which are flung around like notes from a Stroem Karl's
magic harp, or the alluring song of a Lorelei, to the thunder of a
Niagara, nature's diapason sounding the lowest note that mortal
ears can catch, appeal to the sense of hearing--and underlying
all is a vague sense of irresistible power. How touching, how
profoundly true, the story in "Eckehard" of the little lad and his
sister who wandered off until they came to the Rheinfal. There,
gazing at the full sweep of that magnificent fall the little fellow
throws into the swirling emerald of the waters at his feet a
golden goblet, as an offering to the God whom he felt to be so
near. Unconsciously he was a natural mystic. Movement, sound,
and colour combined to produce in him, what it should produce
in all, a sense of immanent Reality, self-moving, self-sustained.
And yet even a waterfall may suggest far other thoughts--a
downward course from the freshness of the uplands of youth to
the broadening stream of manhood declining towards old age
and the final plunge. The fall itself would thus convey vague
feelings of loss of power and vigour--a loss that gathers speed
as it approaches the end. So in Campbell's well-known "River
of Life":

"When joys have lost their bloom and breath
And life itself is vapid,
Why, as we reach the Falls of Death,
Feel we its course more rapid? "

If so sad a train of reflections can be stimulated by the rapids
and the falls of rivers, how much more so by their ending in the
ocean! Old age and death can hardly fail to assert themselves in
the minds of those who sail down some noble river and

"As the banks fade dimmer away,
As the stars come out, and the night wind
Brings up the stream
Murmurs and scents of the infinite sea."

Granting that the river's merging in the sea suggests the close
of life as we know it here, must we also grant that the
natural-mystic must give way to a partial, if not an absolute,
tendency to pessimism? That a natural-mystic should be a pessimist
would seem to be an anomaly. For he holds that he can hold
living communion with the Real; and such communion would
carry with it, surely, a strong hope, if not a conviction, that
change in material form cannot affect the inner being, call it the
spiritual essence, of which that form is a particular
manifestation. Deny that nature has a soul and optimism
becomes a ghastly mockery. Believe that nature and man are
linked together as kindred forms of spiritual existence, and then,
though there will not indeed be formal proof of immortality,
there will be intuitive trust in the future. What the implications
of such a trust may be is for the various philosophies and
theologies to determine; but taken at its lowest value, it would
secure a man from pessimism.

In the light of these general observations, let us consider the
particular case now presented. The river is merged in the sea--it
is absorbed--its existence as a river is terminated. But the
"substance" of its being remains; diffused in a vaster whole, but
not lost. What is this vaster whole? If we regard it as an
Absolute, there may perchance be ground for pessimism. If,
with certain scientists, we stop short at the conservation of
energy, there is nothing ahead but a blank. But if we hold to the
conservation of values, as at least a parallel to this conservation
of energy, we are impelled to hold also to the conservation of all
that is ultimate in individualities. For values imply modes of
being which can allow of the experience of values as such. And
the Nature-Mystic's direct communion with his environment is
seen to be one mode by which the individual centre of life
learns to live increasingly in the life of the Whole--the total
Reality. There is, then, no absorption where values are
conserved, but an ever richer content of experience, an ever
deepening insight into its significance, and an ever keener
enjoyment of the material it affords.

As a specific case of an optimistic creed based on an intuition of
the essential kinship of all things, it is profitable to study the
poetry of a Sufi mystic of the thirteenth century. How delicate
the thought enshrined in the following lines:

"When man passed from the plant to the animal state,
He had no remembrance of his state as a plant,
Except the inclination he felt for the world of plants,
Especially at the time of spring and sweet flowers."

What is this but an anticipation of Wordsworth's "Daffodils," or
even of his "Ode on Immortality"?

The concepts and phraseology of the transmigration theory are
merely temporary forms in which a deep thought clothes itself:
at any rate, they are not necessary adjuncts of the thought; nor
do they preclude sympathy with the following condensed
statement of this same mystic's world-philosophy:

"I died from the mineral and became a plant;
I died from the plant and reappeared as an animal;
I died from the animal and became a man.
Wherefore then should I fear? When did I grow less by
Next time I shall die from the man
That I may grow the wings of angels.
From the angel, too, I must advance.
All things shall perish save His face."

With an insight like unto this, a mystic need not fear because
the river flows into the sea! In spite of appearances, the idea of
life can still reign supreme. The river of death embodies a true
insight--but of a transition only, not of an abiding state. We die
to live more fully.

This sense of continuity in the flow of the stream of life, and of
the abidingness of its existence through all vicissitudes has been
strikingly expressed by Jefferies. He is sitting on the
grass-grown tumulus where some old warrior was buried two
thousand years ago, and his thought slips back over the interval.
"Two thousand years being a second to the soul could not cause
its extinction. . . . Resting by the tumulus, the spirit of the man
who had been interred there was to me really alive, and very
close. This was quite natural and simple as the grass waving in
the wind, the bees humming, and the lark's songs. Only by the
strongest effort of the mind could I understand the idea of
extinction; that was supernatural, requiring a miracle; the
immortality of the soul natural, like the earth. Listening to the
sighing of the grass I felt immortality as I felt the beauty of the
summer morning, and I thought beyond immortality, of other
conditions, more beautiful than existence, higher than

Let Morris sum up the thoughts and emotions aroused by the
mystical influences of water flowing onward to join the ocean.

"Flow on, O mystical river, flow on through desert and city;
Broken or smooth flow onward into the Infinite sea.
Who knows what urges thee on?
. . .
Surely we know not at all, but the cycle of Being is eternal,
Life is eternal as death, tears are eternal as joy.
As the stream flowed it will flow; though 'tis sweet, yet the
sea will be bitter;
Foul it with filth, yet the Deltas grow green and the ocean is
Always the sun and the winds will strike its broad surface
and gather
Some purer drops from its depths to float in the clouds of the
Soon these shall fall once again, and replenish the
full-flowing river.
Roll round then, O mystical circle! flow onward, ineffable

Next: The Ocean

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