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"This is more vile," he made reply,
"To breathe and loathe, to live and sigh,
Than once from dread of pain to die.
"Sick art thou—a divided will
Repulsed here, the poet falls back upon the more hopeful aspects of life, tries to awaken within himself a glow of sympathy with human effort, and recalls the time when he anticipated a life of work and a death of honor.
"In some good cause, not in mine own,
"Whose eyes are dim with glorious tears,
"Then dying of a mortal stroke,
This, says the Voice, was the stirring of the young blood— good enough for the moment, but mere illusion. Recurring to the previously urged plea that man cannot read the riddle of the earth or grasp any truth related to the mind, it reiterates its first advice.
"Cease to wail and brawl! Why inch by inch to darkness crawl? There is one remedy for all."
The poet is now stung to anger.
"0 dull, one-sided Voice," said I,
He refers to the noble lives that have been lived, and maintains that, though the atmosphere of the world is darkened
with dust of systems and of creeds, some have achieved calm, and known "the joy that mixes man with heaven." Here occurs that picture of the martyr Stephen which is in Tennyson's loftiest manner.
"He heeded not reviling tones,
Nor sold his heart to idle moans,
Tho' curs'd and scorn'd, and bruised with stones:
"But looking upward, full of grace,
The Voice answers, sullenly, that there were no real grounds of hope in Stephen's case, but that "the elements were kindlier mixed," the circumstances were more than ordinarily fitted to produce illusion.
The poet now suggests that, if he goes hence in quest of truth, he may merely exchange one riddle for a hundred, and that his anguish, " unmanacled from bonds of sense," may become permanent. On this, the Voice, reversing its original argument in favor of suicide, namely, that it might be the door to a life of more splendid activity, tempts him with the prospect of eternal rest in death. Such inconsistency of argument is admirably in keeping with the character of a tempter.
"Consider well," the Voice replied,
"His face, that two hours since hath died;
Wilt thou find passion, pain, or pride?
"Will he obey when one commands?
"His palms are folded on his breast:
In several stanzas, equally beautiful and impressive with these, or more so, tho Voice argues that death makes an end of a man. The poet calls up his whole strength to reply. If all is dark, he begins, how are we to know that the dead are dead? Why, since the victory of death seems so complete, does any one cherish a doubt upon the subject?
"The simple senses crown'd his head:
"Why, if man rot in dreamless ease,
"Who forged that other influence,
That heat of inward evidence,
By which he doubts against the sense?"
Here, at last, the poet has opened fire from his main battery. This is one of the grand arguments on which the advocate of immortality takes his stand. It is an argument pre-eminently accordant with modern science and modern philosophy, for no one can urge it with clearer logic than the evolutionist. Why is it proper for the bird to fly and for the reptile to crawl? Because, says the evolutionist, the bird has developed wings. In like manner, the human creature has developed a faith in immortality, or, to put it at the lowest, a hope of immortality. Here and there a few persons, by elaborately educating themselves in the gospel of death, have quenched their hope of life beyond the grave; but that, throughout all the millions of civilized and semi-civilized humanity, this hope has been evolved, is just as sure as that a bird has wings. And it adds greatly to the impressiveness of this hope that it has been evolved, as Tennyson specially urges, in clear antagonism to the main current of evidence that sense can produce upon the subject.
Having dwelt upon the momentous fact that, in spite of appearance, in spite of the triumph of the worm and the obstinate silence of the dead, we refuse to believe that the spirit of the deserted house has ceased to exist, the poet names several circumstances which justify this refusal. Man feels capacities
within him that ask an eternity for bloom and fruitage. There is in nature something that sends him in yearning search beyond and above nature.
That type of Perfect in his mind
This is simply true, and it would be hard to name a truth of more importance. In the entire universe, as revealed to man by his senses, there is nothing perfect; and the central impulse in all man's noblest striving is derived from the aspiration of Lis spirit toward a perfect truth, a perfect beauty, a perfect happiness, which are exemplified nowhere in the world. Art, religion, and the impetuous career of the race toward a higher grade of civilization, depend alike upon the universal imperfection of the material world, aud the impossibility that a Godrelated spirit, which man is, should be contented therewith.
But I anticipate. The momentous proposition stated respecting man in the foregoing triplet is introductory to the still more momentous proposition contained in that which comes next .
He seems to hear a Heavenly Friend,
The fount and goal of perfection is God. Being infinite, He can guarantee the eternal progress of man. Into the vast field of argument thus opened up the poet does not enter, but, after indicating by fine imagery that there is more in man's life than the senses can give account of, defies the Voice to extinguish his hope.
Heaven opens inward, chasms yawn,
The force of this reasoning is obvious. The object of the Voice hitherto has been to involve the poet in universal doubt, and if it is legitimate to doubt, it is legitimate to hope. The Voice, therefore, starts a new argument.
"Where wert thou when thy father play'd
Before the little ducts began
To feed thy bones with lime, and ran
Their course, till thou wert also man."
In one word, " You were nothing before birth, and you will be nothing after death." This is really a formidable argument, and I am not sure that Tennyson's answer is quite so satisfactory as most of his reasonings. If he granted, he says, the thesis that " to begin implies to end," he might still dispute the certainty of his having begun to exist at birth. He might take refuge in Platonic metempsychosis, and suggest that he had been previously embodied. If he has descended from a higher race, he may have hints of his ancestry in gazing up Alpine heights, or yearning toward the stars. Very skilfully he touches upon those strange rcvealings, with which every one is more or less haunted, of things witnessed in some place or time of which memory has no distinct record.
Moreover, something is or seems,
Of something felt, like something here;