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The Drama of Love and Death Edward Carpenter

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The Drama of Love and Death

by Edward Carpenter

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The Divine Soul

The liberation of buds and germs, as in the biological processes alluded to in the last chapter, is in general connected with sex, and brought about by its operation. And, similarly, I think we may say that the liberation of human souls and their disengagement from the race-matrix is brought about by love. I have already pointed out (ch. ix.) the intensely personal and individualizing character of human love. If one can imagine a love-relation going on between two members of a race—two portions, as it were, of the race-soul—at present only slightly individualized, one can see how the attraction to each other, the drawing away from their surroundings, the excitement, the agitation, all tend to further their growth as individuals—to give them form, apart from the matrix in which they are embedded, and definition and character. Of course all experience does this, but most of all and most deeply does love. It breeds souls out of the Race-self, and finally brings them away to an independent life. “It is for this that the body exercises its tremendous attraction—that mortal love torments and tears asunder the successive 238 generations of mankind—That underneath and after all the true men and women may appear, by long experience emancipated.”

As said in an early chapter, in love, though we do not know exactly what is happening, we are persuaded that something very profound and far-reaching is working itself out. And one such thing, I am sure, is the liberation of the soul of the lover—and, in less degree, the soul of the loved one. The tremendous experiences and convulsions, the profound stirrings, and the wrenchings from old ties and associations, do at last not only build the soul up into a distinct individuality, but they dig it up from its roots in the race and plant it out in the great Eden garden of emancipated humanity—the beginning of a new career.[133]

Another thing that I think is happening is that when love is strongly reciprocated the elements (as we have seen several times already), whether physical or psychical, pass over from one to the other and are interchanged—regenerating and immensely enlarging the life and capacity of each individual. This happens, I believe, in all grades of the universal life, from the Protozoa 239 upwards. Two individuals drawn together interchange some elements of their being, and grow thereby into a larger and grander life; or may even in cases fuse completely into one individual person. As Swedenborg says somewhere:—“Those who are truly married on earth are in heaven one Angel.”

Thirdly, I think that the reciprocated love of two sometimes creates a new soul. We are familiar with the idea that the love (sexual) of two bodies commonly creates a new body; and there is an age-long tradition that the same is true in the world of souls. There is in that world also, not only regeneration but generation. “Love is the desire of generation in the beautiful, both with relation to the soul and the body,” says Plato;[134] and Ellen Key, in a passage already quoted above (ch. iv., p. 61), says that “two beings through one another may become a new being, and a greater than either could be of itself alone.” By love a new soul is sometimes generated which takes possession of both persons, and which suggests—as in the Swedenborg phrase above—that in some other sphere they really become one. And by love, we may also think, between man and wife, a new soul or soul-bud is sometimes created, which may descend into and vivify the physical germ of their future child.

To consider this last point a moment. The connection between heredity and the individual self is very mysterious. We acknowledge our 240 descent, and what we owe, both mentally and bodily, to our parentage; but we are fain to think of our ego as something apart, something not to be confused with parents, and by no means merely derivative from them. Sometimes indeed there is great harmony between this ego and the parental inheritance, sometimes much the reverse; sometimes the line between the two is doubtful and uncertain. What is the explanation of all this? and what are the true facts of the relationship?

Does it not seem likely that, in the intense organic excitement which attends sexual union, this excitement—especially if strong love be also present—reaches right down into the soul-depths of each person, stirring these also, and the race oversoul at that point, most profoundly? So that, at the same moment that the germ of a bodily child is being fertilized, there is formed in the race-soul a soul-bud corresponding, which consequently descends into the physical germ and becomes its organizing life—the soul-bud thus being related to the souls of the parents, somewhat as the physical germ is related to their bodies? It springs, in fact, from a related portion of the race-oversoul.

Or again, does it not seem likely that in some cases, instead of a quite new bud being formed, the profound stirring of the race-life in that vicinity causes some older and more developed soul-bud—which has perhaps already had some earth-experiences—to wake into activity and take 241 possession of the germ? In the first case mentioned the child born will be singularly like the parents, and in nature harmonious with them, with very little extraneous in its character, and with the fair prospect before it of a smooth and even career. But in this latter case, though the child will be harmonious with the parents it will have great depths beside, of authentic character of its own which will show out as time goes on.

And again, if deep love be absent, and consequently there is no special birth or awakening of souls in that region where they should be related to the body which is being born—what is likely to happen? Is it not likely that some other soul-bud, or soul which chance or other indication of destiny may bring that way, may enter in and possess the developing organism? And is it not likely, then, that strife and conflict and doubt may also enter in, causing a character of mixed elements, possibly leading to heroic developments, but also probably to a broken or tragic life-story?

As in the earliest and most primitive developments of life, so in the latest and most exalted, the soul is born through love, and through love it grows and expands. It may indeed be asked whether any other way is possible. Oppositions and conflicts may give form to the growing thing, and help to carve its outlines; but this gives it expansion. Every profound attachment necessarily modifies and enlarges the man. It 242 pulls him out of his little orbit into a wider path—even if for the moment with some amount of eccentricity. Something is incorporated in his life which was not part of it before—something possibly which he did not before appreciate or understand. What we now are—whether mentally or physically—is an epitome of multitudinous loves in the past. The very cell-alliances which constitute our bodies are the records of endless heart-yearnings and romances (dating from far-back ages, and even now enduring) among a tiny people to us well-nigh invisible. And we may ask ourselves whether in the regions above and beyond our present life there may not be soul-alliances and even soul-fusions, by which we humans in our turn build up the very life of the gods? Plato in his Symposium, speaking of the strange desire of lovers for each other, makes Aristophanes say:[135]—“But the soul of each manifestly thirsts for, from the other, something which there are no words to describe, and divines that which it seeks, and traces obscurely the footsteps of its obscure desire. If Vulcan should say to persons thus affected, ‘My good people, what is it that you want with one another?’ And if, while they were hesitating what to answer, he should proceed to ask—‘Do you not desire the closest union and singleness to exist between you, so that you may never be divided night or day? If so, I will melt you together, and make you grow into one, so that both in life and death ye 243 may be undivided. Consider, is this what you desire? Will it content you if you become that which I propose?’—We all know that no one would refuse such an offer, but would at once feel that this was what he had ever sought; and intimately to mix and melt and to be melted together with his beloved, so that one should be made out of two.” And we may think—though this strange and intimate longing is never fulfilled, as we know, in the actual earth-life—that it still may possibly be an indication (as happens in other cases) of something which really is working itself out in the unseen world.

It was suggested, in the end of chapter xi. above, that limitation and hindrance are a part of the cosmic scheme of the creation of souls, and that there is a purpose in these things in regard to this mortal life. It was also suggested that the profound soul-stuff of which we are made is capable of infinitely swifter and more extended perceptions than those of which we are usually aware; and that there is a good deal of evidence to show that perceptive powers of this kind—quite independent of the usual end-organs of sight, hearing, taste, and so forth, still linger buried deep down within us. The question then naturally arises, If this limitation of faculty really exists as a fundamental fact of our mortal life, what purpose does it subserve?—And the answer to this is, I think, very clear.

It subserves the evolution of Self-consciousness and of the sense of Identity. It is obvious that 244 diffused faculties and perceptions, however swift and powerful, could never have brought these gifts with them. It was only by pinning sensitiveness down to a point in space and time, by means of a body, and limiting its perceptions by means of bodily end-organs, that these new values could be added to creation—the local self and the sense of Identity. All the variety of human and animal nature, all the endless differences of points of view, all diversity and charm of form and character and temperament must be credited to this principle; and whatever vagaries and delusions the consequent growth of self-consciousness and selfness may have caused, it is incontestable that through the development of Identity mankind and all creation must ultimately rise to a height of glory and splendor otherwise unimaginable.

And not only limitation but also hindrance. These things give an intensity and passion to life, and a power and decisiveness to individuality, the absence of which would indeed be sad. As a water-conduit by limiting the spread of the stream and confining it in a close channel gives it velocity and force to drive the mill, so limitation and hindrance in human life give the individualized energy from which, for good or evil, all our world-activities spring. As the Lord says in Goethe’s Prologue to Faust:—

“Of all the spirits of denial

The mischief-maker I most tolerate,


For man’s activity doth all too soon unravel;

Of slumber he seems never satiate;

Therefore I gladly hand him to a mate

Who’ll plague and prick, and play in fact the Devil.”

Over a long period in this cosmic process this action, we may think, goes on. The vast and pervasive soul-stuff of the universe, in its hidden way omniscient and omnipresent, suffers an obscuration and a limitation, and is condensed into a bodily prison in a point of space and time; but with a consequent explosive energy incalculable. The Devil—diabolos the slanderer and the sunderer, the principle of division—reigns. To him, the ‘milk and water’ heaven of universal but vague benevolence is detestable. He builds up the actual, fascinating, tragic, indispensable world that we know. Selfishness and ignorance, the two great Powers of discord and separation, are his ministers; the earth is his theatre of convulsive hatreds and soul-racking passion; and our mortal life, instead of being the fair channel of cosmic activities, becomes a “stricture knot,” as Whitman calls it, and a symbol of disease.

But this diabolonian process is only one segment of the whole. After the long descent and condensation and imprisonment of the spirit in its most limited and inert and self-regarding forms, after its saturation in matter, and its banishment in the world of death and suffering, the rising curve of liberation sets in, and the long process of its return. It is through love mainly, as we have seen, that this second process works 246 itself out. From point to point through unison with others, by absorbing something from their experience, by sharing a wider life, the spirit’s manifestation grows. By this the great tree of organic life spreads upon the earth; by this each race-stem multiplies its tissues and expands; by this the buds of human souls are formed; and by this the souls themselves are freed to independent life, and ultimately to circle again “dancing and sporting” as Plutarch says, “like joyous satellites round about their sun in heaven.” There is continual Transformation; but there is also continuity from end to end. For every being there is continuance, but continuance only by change. Each soul is a gradual rising to consciousness of the All-soul; a gradual liberation and self-discovery of the divine germ within it. First the race-soul rising toward this consciousness, and then the individual souls thrown off, rising each independently toward the same. It is when the latter are moving over from their (instinctive and so to speak organic) community with the race-soul to a distinct and separate knowledge of and allegiance to the divine germ now declaring within themselves, that all this period of confusion and dismay, naturally enough, occurs—this that we have called the period of Civilization and the Fall of man—the period in which indeed we are now so fatefully involved. But it is in this period too that ‘divine souls’ are formed, and their feet first set upon the path of splendor.

247 Love indicates immortality. No sooner does the human being perceive this divine nucleus within himself than he knows his eternal destiny. Plunged in matter and the gross body he has learned the lesson of identity and separateness. All that the devil can teach him he has faithfully absorbed. Now he has to expand that identity, for ever unique, into ever vaster spheres of activity—to become finally a complete and finished aspect of the One.

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