“Things seen through the veil”

. . .the first fact is that the most simple people have the most subtle ideas.  Everybody ought to know that, for everybody has been a child.  Ignorant as a child is, he knows more than he can say and feels not only atmospheres but fine shades. And in this matter there are several fine shades. Nobody understands it who has not had what can only be called the ache of the artist to find some sense and some story in the beautiful things he sees; his hunger for secrets and his anger at any tower or tree escaping with its tale untold. He feels that nothing is perfect unless it is personal. Without that the blind unconscious beauty of the world stands in its garden like a headless statue.  One need only be a very minor poet to have wrestled with the tower or the tree until it spoke like a titan or a dryad.  It is often said that pagan mythology was a personification of the powers of nature. The phrase is true in a sense, but it is very unsatisfactory; because it implies that the forces are abstractions and the personification is artificial.  Myths are not allegories. Natural powers are not in this case abstractions.  It is not as if there were a God of Gravitation.  There may be a genius of the waterfall; but not of mere falling, even less than of mere water. The impersonation is not of something impersonal.  The point is that the personality perfects the water with significance. Father Christmas is not an allegory of snow and holly; he is not merely the stuff called snow afterwards artificially given a human form, like a snow man.  He is something that gives a new meaning to the white world and the evergreens, so that snow itself seems to be warm rather than cold.  The test therefore is purely imaginative.  But imaginative does not mean imaginary. It does not follow that it is all what the moderns call subjective, when they mean false.  Every true artist does feel, consciously or unconsciously, that he is touching transcendental truths; that his images are shadows of things seen through the veil. In other words, the natural mystic does know that there is something there; something behind the clouds or within the trees; but he believes that the pursuit of beauty is the way to find it; that imagination is a sort of incantation that can call it up.

The Everlasting Man (1925).

Published in: on June 3, 2009 at 8:19 am  Leave a Comment  

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