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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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CHAPTER XIV

The Return Journey

We have seen that there is some reason for believing that, simultaneously with the birth or coming to consciousness of what we have called the divine soul, there occurs within us the formation of a ‘spiritual’ or very subtly material body. This body, if only composed of atoms, may easily be so fine and subtle as to pass practically unchanged through ordinary gross matter—the walls, for instance, and other obstacles that surround us. (At this moment there is an astronomical theory current that the stellar universe consists of two vast star-systems which are passing in nearly opposite directions right through each other.) If composed of electrons its subtlety and pervasive powers must be much greater. Moreover, its fineness and subtlety would make it difficult of destruction. The ordinary agents of death—physical violence, water, fire, and so forth—would, as already pointed out, hardly reach it; and it is easy to suppose that it might continue onwards and perdure in stability and activity for thousands of years. Even the Atom of matter, which is now regarded as a complex system of electrons, is supposed to have an immensely 249 extended lifetime—nearly two thousand years in the case of Radium, and much longer in the case of all other substances; and if two thousand years or thereabouts is the minimum lifetime of an atom, it is not difficult to suppose that the lifetime of a subtle body composed as above described may be equally or much more extended.

During its lifetime, the radio-active atom, slowly disintegrating, pours out a prodigious amount of energy; and in the process apparently is transformed and takes on other characters and qualities. Radium for instance, or rather some products of its disintegration, are thought to take on the characters of Helium and of Lead. And similarly we have every reason to believe that the subtle body of Man is continually pouring out energy on all sides, radiating like a sun—pouring out mental states, sensible forms, influences of all kinds, even images of itself, and so continually entering into a wider life and touch with others, and undergoing a slow transformation of its outer form. At the same time—and leading to the same results—it is continually storing up in its recesses impressions and memories for the seed of future expression and development.

It may be imagined that the gross terrestrial body—though splendidly necessary for the localizing of the Self, and the establishment of the sense of identity, and for the electric accumulation of stores of emotion and passion, and so forth—acts on the whole in such a way as to greatly 250 hamper and limit the activities of the inner body; and we can imagine that (as at death and under other special conditions) the liberation from the gross body is naturally accompanied by an enormous extension of faculty. The soul in its new and subtler form passes out into an immensely wider sphere of action and perception—so much so, indeed, as to make direct converse between the two worlds (the new world it is in, and the old one it has left) difficult to establish and very difficult permanently to maintain. The author of Interwoven says (p. 221) that the first body and the second body differ greatly in their chemical particles, “and so the same degree of sight and hearing is not possible.... We have just as much trouble to see the outsides of things as mortals have to see the insides.”

Nor can we place a necessary limit to the birth of finer bodies. There may be a succession of such things. The electron brings us very near to a mental state; for whereas an Atom—conceived as similar to the speck of dust which one can roll between one’s fingers, only much more minute—seems to have no relation to mentality, a tiny electric charge, capable of conveying a shock, comes very close! And at that stage the truth becomes apparent that the inner intelligent being in all things is the core, and the body is only the surface of contact—the surface, in fact, along which one intelligence administers shocks to another! With liberation from the gross body that surface may grow 251 enormously extended, and it may become possible to touch or see, or to render oneself visible or tangible, to others far beyond all ordinary possibilities of contact or perception.

The succession of finer bodies may exist in any gradation, from what we call gross matter to the subtlest ether of emotion. At any rate we can see that at every stage there will be a finer body which is more of the nature of thought, and an outer and coarser which is less so. As the gifted author of The Science of Peace, Bhagavan Das, says:—“At each stage the Jiva-core (i.e. the core of the living individual) consists of matter of the inner plane, while its outer upâdhi (or sheath) consists of matter of the outer plane; and when a person says, I think, I act, it means that the matter of the inner core, which is the I, for the time being, is actually, positively, modified by, or is itself modifying in a certain manner, the outer real world.” The inner film of matter (or mind), as he says, “is posing and masquerading, for the time being, as the truly immaterial self.”

This central Self we can never wholly reach, but the movement of each divine soul is toward it; and the assurance and salvation of each soul is in the growing sense of union with it. The personal self can only ‘survive’ by ever fading and changing toward the universal. Our inner identity is fixed, but our outward identity we can only preserve by, as it were, forever losing it.

252 After life’s fitful fever—after the insurgence and resurgence of passions; after the heart-breaking struggles which are forced upon some for the sake of a mere material footing upon the earth; after the deadly sufferings which others must undergo in order to gain scantiest allowance and expression of their inner and spiritual selves; after the mortal conflict and irreconcilableness of material and mental needs; the battles with opponents, the betrayal of friends, the fading and souring of pleasures, and the dissipation of ideals—the consent of mankind goes to affirm and confirm the conclusion that sleep is well, sleep is desirable. As after a hard day’s labor, when the sinews are torn and the mind is racked, Nature’s soft nurse commends a period of rest and healing—so it would seem fitting that a similar period should follow, for the human soul, on the toil and the dislocation of life.

It seems indeed probable—and a long tradition confirms the idea—that the human soul at death does at first pass, with its cloud-vesture of memories and qualities, into some intermediate region, astral rather than celestial (if we may use words which we do not understand), some Purgatory or Hades, rather than Paradise or Olympus; and for a long period does remain there quiescent, surveying its past, recovering from the shocks and outrages of mortal experience, knitting up and smoothing out the broken and tangled threads, trying hard to understand the pattern. It seems probable that there is a 253 long period of such digestion and reconcilement and slow brooding over the new life which has to be formed. Indeed when one comes to think of it, it seems difficult—if there is to be continuance at all—to imagine anything else. When one thinks of the strange contradictions of our mortal life, the hopelessly antagonistic elements, the warring of passions, the shattering of ideals, the stupor of monotony: the soul like a bird shut in a cage, or with bright wings draggled in the mire; the horrible sense of sin which torments some people, the mad impulses which tyrannize over others; the alternations of one’s own personality on different days, or at different depths and planes of consciousness; the supraliminal and the subliminal; the smug Upper-self with its petty satisfactions and its precise and precious logic, and the great Under-self now rising (in the hour of death) like some vast shadowy figure or genius, out of the abyss of being—when one thinks of all this one feels that if there is to be any sanity or sequence in the conclusion, it must mean a long period of brooding and reconciliation, and of readjustment, and even of sleep.

At first it may well be a troubled period, of nightmare-like confusion; but at last there must come a time when harmony is restored. The past lifetime is spread out like a map before one—all its events fall into their places, composed and clear. The genius, rising from the depths, throws a strange light upon them. “This was necessary. That could not have been otherwise. And that 254 again which seemed so fatal, do you not now see its profound meaning?” The soul surveying gradually redeems the past. It comes to understand. Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner. It beholds, far down, the little fugitive among the shadows, pursued by the hideous and imbecile mask—the sense of Sin—and, recognizing a fleeting embodiment of itself, it smiles: for that mask has been seen through and is useless any longer. It beholds another—or is it the same?—pursued by the Terror of Death; and again it smiles: for that shadow—like the vast moonshadow in a total eclipse of the sun, which seemed so solid and all-devouring, has swept by; it has been passed through, and it was only a shadow.

And it may well be also that this whole process of reconciliation and adjustment and the building up of diverse elements into one harmonious being may occupy more than one such interval between two lifetimes; it may require several periods of incubation, so to speak. Looking at the matter from the physical side, and seeing how the inner and subtle body has probably to be formed during all this time—as in a chrysalis—and differentiated into an independent life, it seems likely that several intervals of outer rest and inner growth may be needed, and a series of successive moultings! But in the end, when the string of earth-lives is finished, and the reconciliation is complete, then the essential, the divine, self has become manifest, and is ready for a whole new 255 world, a new order of experience, even to the farthest confines of the universe.


I have suggested in a former chapter that Memory—that very wonderful faculty—is probably our best test of Identity, our best test of Survival. If we apply this canon to the evolution of the independent soul out of the race-life, it may help us. When an animal dies, the group of memories, which is its life’s-experience, probably passes back and is transmitted in a more or less diffused way into the general race-life or soul.[136] In the case of some higher animals it is possible that the memory-group thus returning may cohere for a time or to a certain degree, and not be immediately diffused. In the case of the higher types of Man it is probable that such group may cohere for a long time and rather persistently; and though embedded in the general race-life and memory, and much mingled with and modified by these, it may still form to some degree an independent centre of intelligence and organization (something like a nerve-plexus in the brain or body). It will form, in fact, what I have already called a soul-bud or budding soul, and will be capable of that mixed or partial reincarnation of which I have spoken—in which some 256 truly individual streaks of memory will be mixed with general memories of race-life.

But after each successive reincarnation the group of memories returning—and allying themselves to the former groups—will necessarily give more and more definition to such budding soul, till at last the time will come when its individuality will be complete; its severance from the race-life will follow as a matter of course; and it will float out into the sea of the all-pervading and divine consciousness.

During this budding period of the human soul, which generally speaking may be said to coincide with the civilization-period of human history, the memory of each earth-life will go back into the race-soul there to swell the nucleus of the individual soul which is being brought to birth; but it will not generally revive into evidence in the next earth-life, for, being so deeply buried within, it will be too much overlaid by external layers and happenings to come distinctly into consciousness. It is not probably till the completion of the whole series of its earth-lives that the soul will resume all these memories and come into its complete heritage. Then, at some deep stage or state all its incarnations (clarified and comprehended) will become manifest to it—a glorious kingdom beyond the imagination of man at present to conceive. All its various lives it may live over again; but with as much difference in its understanding of their meaning as there is between an accomplished player’s 257 rendering of a piece of music, and a child’s first stumbling performance of the same.

It will perceive that, in a sense, it has pre-existed from eternity. For though certainly there was a time when it first sprang as a bud from the Race, and entered into a gradually evolving and self-defining series of personal lives, yet that first bud was itself but a particular limitation and condensation of the Race-self; and that again, far back and beyond, a limitation through many intermediate stages of the All-self. It (the human-divine soul) will perceive that it pre-existed from eternity as the All-self; that it suffered in its time the necessary obscurations and limitations; that it abdicated the high prerogative of universal consciousness; and that it was born again as a tiny Cinderella-spark; destined to rise through all the circles of personal and individual life, and the enacting of the great drama of Love and Death—the great cycle of Evolution and Transfiguration—once more to the eternal Throne.


The glory of that Heaven where the All-self dwells radiant as the Sun, and each lesser or partial soul knows itself as a ray conveying the whole light, but in a direction of its own—we need not dwell on or attempt to portray. As the emancipated soul, just described, may include the personalities of many earth-lives and bodies, so there may be—probably are—larger inclusive selves, special gods, having troops of souls united 258 to them in the bonds of love and devotion. Telepathic radiations, travelling as it were on lines of light, and with the velocity and directness of light, bring each unit into possible touch with every other, and over an enormous field. As the modern theory of electricity supposes that every electric charge, however small, or associated with the smallest atom, is connected by lines of force with some other and complementary charge somewhere—even perhaps at a practically infinite distance—negative with positive, and positive with negative; so the idea is suggested that in the free world of the spirit every need felt by one atom of personality anywhere is felt also and answered to by some complementary impulse and personality somewhere. In the bringing together of these needs and affections, in the recovery and the building up and the presentation in sensible form of all the worlds of memory, slumber infinite possibilities, and the outlines of endless situations and developments. The individual is clearly not lost in any ‘Happy Mass’; but may contribute to the formation of such a thing in the sense that he comes into such wide and extended touch with others as to have a practically unlimited range of experience, memory, knowledge, creative power, and so forth, to draw on.

Nor is there any call to think of a bodiless heaven or bodiless state of being in any plane of existence. The body in any stage or state is, I repeat, a surface of contact. Wherever one 259 intelligent being comes into touch with another—whether actively, by impressing itself on the other, or passively by being impressed—there immediately arises a body. There arises the sense of matter, which is in fact the impression made by one being upon another. The external senses, of sight, hearing and the rest, are modifications or limitations of more extended inner faculties, of vision, audition, and so forth. The actual world of Nature which we know, in the bodies of the woods and streams, and of animals and men, is built up out of the material of our senses; out of the kind of impressionability of which our senses are susceptible; but if these materials, of our sight and hearing and touch and taste, were altered but slightly in their range, the whole world would be different. They would create for us another world. And so, if these present end-organs of sense were destroyed, the soul, furnished with the inner faculties corresponding, would create another world of sense and of Nature, which would become the medium of expression and communication on that new plane, and the material of its bodily manifestation there. At present, owing to entanglement in the grosser senses, life is certainly in the main a matter of food and drink, of sex, of money-making, and the exercise of rather rude recreations and arts. With a finer range of sense, there would still remain the roots and realities of these things; the need of sustenance would still survive in the finer body, and the need 260 of interchange and the indrawing of vitality; the hunger of union and of intercourse would remain—to be expressed in some shape or other; the delight in music and in beauty of form would be no less, though sounds and colors might be different from those we know; and all the faculties that we have—and others too that are now only embryonic with us—would demand their exercise and expression. Out of such demands and needs would arise a corresponding world.

I have suggested above (ch. xi.) how, deep in the subliminal self, there lies a marvellous faculty of producing visible and audible phenomena—Visions and Voices and Forms. Out of the depths of being these can be evoked, and bodied forth into the actual world.[137] In other words, each such Self, in its moods of power, can call forth its own thoughts and mental images with such force as to impress them irresistibly on others within its range—with such force, in fact, as to give them a material vesture and location. What we have said of the vastness and range of the human Under-self, of its swift interrelation with others, of the immensity of its memory extending far back into the deeps of time, must convince us that its powers of creation must be correspondingly wonderful. The phenomena exhibited by entranced mediums, and by hypnotized subjects, are only a sample of these powers; but they hint dimly to us that when we understand ourselves, and what 261 we are, and when we understand others, and what they are, Time and Space and Estrangement will no longer avail against us; they will no longer hinder us from recognition of each other, nor hold us back from the spheres to which we truly belong, and the fulfilment of our real needs and desires.

Man is the Magician who whether in dreams or in trance or in actual life can, if he wills it, raise up and give reality to the forms of his desire and his love. It is not necessary for us feverishly to pursue our loved ones through all the fading and dissolving outlines of their future or their past embodiments. They are ours already, in the deepest sense—and one day we shall wake up to know we can call them at any moment to our side; we shall wake up to know that they are ever present and able to manifest themselves to us out of the unseen.

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