Classic Essays

One Man’s Striving: Part 4

Simpson198401_Part_4_William_Gayley_Simpson_in_the_early_1930sby William Gayley Simpson

Part 4 of 7

The author of Which Way Western Man? eventually came to understand that the liberalism and egalitarianism he had imbibed from Jesus’ teachings were as alien to him as the Semitic theology he had rejected earlier.


Editor’s Introduction: While he was in India in 1928 William Simpson finally realized that he must stop trying to follow someone else’s footsteps, whether those of Jesus or Gandhi, in his search for the light within himself. On the voyage home, as a symbolic gesture, he threw his New Testament into the ocean.

But more than a gesture was needed to reorient his whole view of the world and give him a new basis for his striving. For more than another year he groped his way along, still largely within his old Franciscan framework. During this time, however, a profound reorientation was taking place.

By the beginning of 1929 his new ideas, which he was still expressing primarily to Christian audiences, were causing a growing rift between him and many of his former friends and supporters — and they were making it increasingly difficult for him to avoid breaking completely with his Franciscan existence in Wallington:

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IT WAS then also that I first got started on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. Though Scott Nearing had given me a copy seven years before, during the summer when I was building his house, it had gone unread until now ….

I read desultorily and slowly. And I did not take to … [Nietzsche] readily. Probably at any earlier time I could not have taken to him at all. But by then I was ready for him. Once his thought had touched me, I could not get away from it. His words stuck in my consciousness like splinters. They worried me. I kept coming back to think about them.

But all the while darkness was settling down upon me thicker and thicker. Doubt engulfed everything, and confusion spread and spread. It seemed to me my God had led me up a blind alley and left me.

Or was the truth something even more terrifying? Could it be that the still small voice I had heard within me had not been the word of God, after all? Had my very mystical experience, which had seemed to me the realest thing in existence, upon which I had built my entire spiritual life and staked my all — was even that only an illusion?

For the moment I did not know. I did know that I hated Wallington and all it symbolized. I knew that I didn’t have it in me to carry on my Franciscan life any longer. I was desperately tired. I could push myself no further. I must have quiet. I must let all the strain slip off. I was at an end, and chaos was before me, and I must go down into it ….

By the fall of 1929, after nine years of St. Francis, I had had enough. I knew I was through ….

For one thing, I had become increasingly suspicious of the “inas- much” doctrine [2] commonly attributed to Jesus …

Again, nine years of very searching experience had slowly forced upon me the recognition that men are not equal — not equal in their stage of development, their attainments, their capabilities, their intrinsic individual worth, or in any other way. My acceptance of the democratic dogma, like my proclamation of human equality, may have been an expression of my faith, my hope, above all of my fervent wish, but it flew in the face of reality, and it had long blinded me to the recognition and acceptance of reality. And it is one of the supreme realities of human existence that men are not equal.

But if not equal, then what were we doing in Wallington? What soil was this for our seed? If I had remembered Jesus’ “inasmuch” and the report in Matthew that the gospel was “preached unto the poor,” why had I not remembered also his “cast not your pearls before swine”?

Though at the time I would doubtless have been very loath to recognize it, there had been at work within me from the beginning an instinct for quality of life and a search for elevation and superiority: in short, for the aristocratic. And if so, I should have gone wherever it showed itself in eyes that saw and ears that heard. There certainly was never much concern about it in Wallington.

I had come to be stormed with doubts whether my Franciscan life, whatever it might have been in the beginning, was any longer a true expression of my own makeup. There was within me a constantly sharpening intuition that my devotion to Jesus had cast such a spell upon me that I had become but his satellite, when I was meant to become in my own way a sun — however small a sun, still a body that gave forth light that came from within itself. I was aware of the growing demands of a new life within me that would give itself its own law, beyond the reach of reason, ideals, moral codes, or human precedent.

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Note 2 – “…Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have … [been charitable] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have … [been charitable] unto me.” Matthew 26: 40

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Also to be reckoned with, and doubtless an even more important cause of my breakdown, was the effect of rationalistic psychology, such as I had got from Leuba. It is comparatively easy for a mystic to hold a course in the face of “the world,” so long as he can believe that he is under the direct care and explicit direction of the “God of the universe,” whose love takes everyone into account, numbering even the hairs of his head (as Jesus put it), and whose wisdom and power ensure that all his commands will work together for the ultimate well-being of all mankind, and even of every sparrow.

The mystic himself then is but a man under orders, life becomes but obedience, and the ultimate responsibility rests upon God. But the moment an honest heed to psychology has forced him to regard his “still small voice” as but “the synthesis of all his highest perceptive faculties,” “the highest light that is able to reach his consciousness at any particular time” (as I had put it [in my journal]), its absoluteness and authority tend to be diminished, the full weight of responsibility falls on himself, and it becomes difficult to feel or to act with the same sense of complete certainty that has been such a light and stay to mystics in a less scientific and skeptical age, who in a real sense could be and actually were childlike and naive.

There is an answer to all this, and in the course of time I was to find it, without any sacrifice of intellectual integrity, but through my last summer in Wallington the skepticism left my footing shaky just where I most needed to have it absolutely sure.

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Editor’s Note: Years later he was able to look back on the breakdown of his venture of faith with a sense of profound relief. He notes:

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… [I]t was perhaps by only a little that it missed becoming what the world would have called a success …. [I]f I had perceived sooner the error of settling myself among, and trying to identify myself principally with, the most underprivileged and oppressed, the venture might easily have become a movement. And if it had become a movement, I would have been responsible for releasing upon the world an influence that every passing day now makes me more certain would have been largely unwholesome.

For one thing, it was too full of the folly of Christian pity. It is no less than a crime against life when the superior is sacrificed to the inferior, a crime that is in no wise mitigated or its effects alleviated when the sacrifice is made by a man’s own free will and choice. Yet our group there in Wallington, in training and in both actual capability and inherited potentiality were certainly the superiors of all the people among whom we lived and for whom we gave ourselves.

The kind of thing Albert Schweitzer did in the jungles of Africa was sentimental waste of life. Instead of being held up for admiration and emulation, as was done for years in the churches of America, it ought to have been cried down as a betrayal of life and a thing of shame.

Our belief in equality, likewise, was a betrayal of life — or rather, of quality of life. For where all are believed equal., the voice of the superior man is drowned in the roar and shuffle of the mob, and taste tends to gravitate to the level of the gutter. This is happening all over America. Moreover, wherever this belief in equality spreads, there goes a disbelief in the importance of heredity, of blood. The cry always becomes the weakling’s cry for a change in environment, something that the strong man ever wills to master and to dominate; and all effort to weed out the defectives by cutting off the flow of tainted blood at its source and to build up an improved stock of men and women by attention to intelligent mating is rendered almost impossible.

All are equal, is the cry. Anybody can marry anybody. Even the races are equal. Every breeder may know that you must be most particular by what bull you breed your cows, and every informed farmer gives heed to it, but among humans — so the perverters of mankind would have us believe, journalists, professors, and even preachers — there is no good reason why Whites should not marry Japs or Chinese, or even Negroes ….

[I]t is the suicide of a people when they allow themselves to be made into a “melting pot,” where you no longer have a people but only a hodgepodge of peoples, a stew of conflicting bloods, instincts, traditions, capabilities, characters, values, and tastes. It is the betrayal and surrender of those differentiations that their ancestors, by segregation, painfully achieved and maintained through a long period of time, and that give them their direction and their keys to mastery, and thus to their existence all its ultimate potential and significance.

I am glad my venture failed, if for no other reason, because I am convinced that my preaching of equality would have worked against the only kind of life I believe to be worth striving for — that is, against quality of life.

But there is another reason why I am glad it failed, and for me personally a very important reason. If it had succeeded and become a movement, I can but wonder whether, with my absorption in it and the assurance of its soundness that its very success would have tended to give, I would ever have been able to achieve enough freedom from it to stand off and see it in perspective — above all, to discover the errors in it and get rid of them. Might not this very triumph of my spirit have brought my spiritual growth to a standstill? Might not my success have become my grave?

When I crashed upon the rocks of actuality, I was left stunned and bleeding. for a while — even for a long while; it was years before I began to get over it. But when I finally pulled myself together, it was to look out upon the world and life with new eyes. And I began to get my feet under me as I never had had them under me before.

And that was the time of real crisis — the time when it was being decided whether or not I should get up and go on. Perhaps, in the end, there is no failure if a man can make a profit out of it, if he can learn by his experience and go on to do better.

Yet there was much in myself with which I had to break before I could face in a new direction. I foreknew that friends who had been so devoted to me would think me faithless and turn away if I gave up my Franciscan life, especially my friends in the Church. For to some extent I had incarnated their avowed ideals. And, to their minds, to turn away from their ideals was to prove renegade, perhaps to forsake everything high, certainly the highest known to them.

That their Christianity might be disease, and that my sloughing it off might be a precursor to convalescence and a sign of hope and of new life, that perhaps would occur to very few. Many would call me traitor.

To all such people I had to prepare myself to answer that I had never at any time committed myself to support any doctrine, idea, movement, institution, or way of life. I had dedicated myself only to my God, to do his will as it was revealed to me, to follow the Light that was in me. If the Light failed, I could not go on. If the Light changed, I must change with it.

Anything that doesn’t change is dead. If any man keeps the same values and philosophy for 20 years, he either hasn’t lived deeply, or he has lacked the courage to learn the lessons of his own experience. In my own case, through all the years of my life thus far I had struggled without relenting to make my outer life match my inner vision and conviction. This, I believe, had given an inner consistency to, and bound together in an organic whole, whatever changes experience and circumstances forced upon me.

A man who would climb a mountain does not, as a rule, climb it straight up. He climbs it by zigzag switchbacks, each of which, after an upward ascent of a certain length, breaks into a sharp turn. Yet each of these, for all the repeated changes of direction, brings him nearer to the summit and his goal.

I had believed that God had spoken to me, and like Jesus, as best I had been able, I had “taken him at his word.” Doing this had landed Jesus on the cross. And therewith he died. His death cut him off before he had had a chance to show what he had learned by living.

Nietzsche believed he was honest and courageous enough to acknowledge that at points he had been in error, and by the lessons of his experience to modify his course and his teaching for the future.

My taking my God at his word only landed me in a dead end. I did not die. I lived — and I was still young enough to learn. The only important question before me was whether or not I had the courage and dedication to go on being honest.

In the days of his youth every man, if he has any vision and venture in him, writes, as did Blake, his “Songs of Innocence.” And in my Franciscan venture I had written mine, not in words but in life, in actions. But now experience had bitten into me, bitten into me deep. My youthful enthusiasm had broken up on the unyielding realities of human nature and of human existence. Now must I think. Now must I evaluate. Now must I learn. Now must I face a larger world, the life of man as a society and not just as a collection of individuals. I must see him against his background, know his past as well as his present.

And not least, I must be realistic. I must have the courage to face men not only for what they may become but for what they actually are now. The day might then dawn when I should be ready to write my “Songs of Experience.” And, though not pitched in a key quite so high, they might in the end prove more really beautiful and more alluring than anything I had sung in the days of my youth.

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Editor’s Note: Simpson was wrestling with more than the problem of coming to a more nearly true view of man and his society during this period; he also dealt with an excruciating and enervating conflict in his personal life. He had married in October 1922, and from this marriage a son had come in February 1929. The marriage finally ended in divorce, but for much of the time it lasted he was torn between his love for his wife and son and his responsibilities to them, on the one hand, and his need to follow the dictates of his inner voice, on the other hand. It often seemed that the two were irreconcilable.

At the same time that he was attempting to resolve this personal dilemma and coming to grips with the contradictions between the Franciscan way and his own inner imperatives, he was also groping toward a more profound change: the abandonment of the whole Oriental/Semitic world view which had underlain his approach to life thus far. He was feeling the stirrings of his blood:

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… I was a son of the West, by blood if nothing else. And in the long run blood tells. And eventually, though I might bring much with me from my sojourn in the fields of Eastern thought, I would declare myself with the West, and the Vikings, and the Scotch, and the English, and that whole Teutonic stock and tradition from which they are sprung. But first I must be melted down, and become lost, and a chaos, before I should again find myself and my true way. That process, however, was already well started.

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Editor’s Note: Gradually order began to grow from the chaos, despite his continuing personal conflict. Friedrich Nietzsche was the most important source of the new order:

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From the beginning my reactions to Nietzsche were somewhat mixed. Despite my immediate and exultant response to much of his Zarathustra, which I read first, it was a long while before I knew whether he was going to help me get onto solid ground and draw an azure sky over my head, or whether he would leave me a confirmed skeptic and agnostic. Nevertheless, I felt almost at once that here was a man I was not going to stop reading till I had read all he had written.

I must have known he was dangerous. By reputation he was the most devastating critic of Christianity. As such he could hardly fail to prove a battering-ram against the very foundations of my whole world. But the fact that I exposed myself to his attack, and invited it, must have been evidence that I was not completely down. For one’s last refuge one always fights. There must have been some secret instinct that whatever his onslaughts could demolish, his sapping undermine, I should be well rid of; that somewhere deep within me there was a citadel where I was invulnerable, or at least that Nietzsche had found such within him, and that I could find the like of it if I but gave up my hold on everything that was, at bottom, subterfuge and self-deception.

If I risked my peace, the security in the face of the universe that I had found in old beliefs, it must have been in the faith that I could find a deeper and surer peace. If I risked having my life knocked to pieces, it must have been in the hope that at last I should be able to establish it on a rock beyond the reach of any attack of man or circumstance.

Yet I read Nietzsche at times with resistance. More than once I threw him down exclaiming, “If it be this I’m coming to, I’ve had enough.” His assertion that the sexes are polar opposites and that woman’s part is primarily to bear children, his rejection of the doctrine of equality among men and of all the leveling social philosophies built upon it, his recognition of the utter inscrutability of the universe and of the consequent necessity that a man walk by a certainty that he knows, and can know, only within himself — all this, for example, was new to me and touched spots where I was tender. But by this time the new idea was lodged in my mind, and wherever I went it confronted me and waged war with the ideas and ideals and emotions I had cherished. Commonly, in the end, I had to admit he had the better of the argument. And I went on with my reading.

Fortunately, I did not dabble in him. Nietzsche is the last man with whom to trifle. As he said of himself, he is dynamite. The man who trifles with him he may well destroy. He may tarry only long enough to get Nietzsche’s negative side, not long enough for Nietzsche to open to him a new earth, as he can, and for him to get rooted in it. It is my firm conviction that one should either study Nietzsche thoroughly or else stay away from him altogether. In my own case I did not rest till I had read twice his complete works, some 15 or 16 volumes, and made a very large volume of notes. This study, moreover, was spread out over nearly four years and was made in retirement. I gave myself ample time for digestion.

One thing that held me to him from the beginning was my perception that here was a man of passionate sincerity, and of a love for quality of life among men that was not more passionate than it was profound. If Jesus could say, “I am come that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly,” Nietzsche could with justice say even more: “I am come that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more exaltedly.” Life was no life, not worthy of the name, not worth the having, unless it had integrity, elevation, beauty, meaning.

And if he saw all this clearly as an end, he saw no less clearly the necessary means to this end, and willed these means, and to them sacrificed first of all himself. His primary concern was for life, his primary hatred was for sickness, unhealthy values that jaundiced men’s vision, turned truth on its head, and handed society over to creeping death. And he had an eye like an eagle. Wherever, soaring over European life from his Alpine aerie, he detected disease, he pounced upon it. Wherever it covered itself wjth sham, hypocrisy, or decent disguise, he ripped it off without mercy. Why? Only that there might be more life among men and that that life might be more exalted ….

Of course, it was some time before I began to realize all this. Even after nearly a year of reading Nietzsche, the negative effects were more evident than the positive. Early in July 1930 I had written in my journal:

“I wonder where I am going. Nietzsche raises problems which I sometimes doubt I can even understand, and which I feel pretty sure I lack the intellect to solve. Am I not then launching forth on a sea of inevitable uncertainty? And after Nietzsche, whom else must I face before going on? And where is the end of it?

“Well — I can’t go on as I was. My old faiths and ideas are undermined by too many doubts and objections. My way now is through, not back. I don’t know where I shall come out: maybe I shall have to withdraw and spend the rest of my life as a seeker and an agnostic or skeptic. I know not. But I do know that I cannot pretend that I see clearly when I don’t. And I must walk through life with my eyes wide open, accepting all the doubts and difficulties which clear-eyed looking may bring to me. I will not close my eyes in order to remain a leader — a blind leader at that — and of the blind!”

Thus, gradually, my whole life went down into the acid. I put a question mark against everything in which I had believed. Was there any God at all, let alone a God of Love, who was the foundation of the universe? Did the universe even have any moral order? Was it going anywhere? Did it make any sense? Was it with us or against us? How could we know?

Was the mystical experience the result of a new faculty of perception, and to be trusted as the best means yet developed by which a man might sense reality and make sure of his own path, or was it all illusion and a means of pleasant but ruinous self-deception?

What was there to give foundation to the teaching of Jesus and, in particular, to the ethics of non-violence and non-resistance? Was the belief in human equality and all the social doctrines to which it had led — democracy, socialism, and communism — at bottom but the effort of the undifferentiated mass to smother the significant individual, leading to a frightful leveling of life, to the triumph of quantity over quality?

The unsettling effect of Nietzsche, however, never left me without a substantial body of certainty. In any case, I did an amount of speaking the following winter and spring that would scarcely have been possible had I felt hopelessly lost.

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Editor’s Note: As his new world view gradually began to take shape, several insights came into sharper focus. They were not really new to him, but now he was able to express them with new understanding. One was that happiness, contrary to popular wisdom, is not a proper goal for man or his society:

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… My happiness — what did it matter? I had something to do: for its sake I would take happiness as it came, or go without it. The important thing was to get on with my work. Often it has been out of men’s agony that they have created great music and great poetry and done the deeds that slowly wove about their presence the aura of the great hero or the great saint. When ever did one of them stop to think about his happiness? Maybe their very happiness was in their suffering, if it was for some high end.

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Editor’s Note: Another insight grew from his recognition of the value of the race’s exceptional individuals. He rejected the democrats’ demand that everyone be “well adjusted, ” and he insisted that the freedom to be different, at least for the few, is essential:

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Indeed, for its very existence society depends upon the emergence of those highly differentiated ones who become head, eyes, and taste to it: men who have broken away from the crowd and are unlike it. The creator, the genius, the prophet, the outstanding leader has to have during his formative years room enough to follow his bent. To be sure, there will be the addled ones, the stillborn ones, of whom society disposes in one way or another. But if the others are to appear, the ones who become the saints and seers, the prophets and heroes, the creative ones whom men may remember for ages, there must be granted to the individual, as one who is both part of and yet apart from society, room in which to turn around, to get the feel of himself, an awareness of his power, a sense of his destiny.

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Editor’s Note: In January 1931 Simpson moved to New Haven, so that he could begin accepting, on a more regular basis, the invitations he had been receiving to speak to Yale University students. Although his ideas had changed, his Spartan manner of existence had not; through a friend at Yale he rented a room in the Sailors’ Home at two dollars a week, equipped it with a hotplate for preparing his meals, and arranged to do maintenance work around the Home at a dollar an hour to pay his living expenses.

He found, however, that he had grown more discriminating in his judgment of his neighbors than he had been in his Franciscan days; the rose-colored spectacles through which he had formerly viewed mankind were gone:

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Most of the men living in the Sailors’ Home I did not like. There were exceptions, but on the whole they were a lot of degenerate bums. My reaction to them was quick and sharp. Whatever might have been the case in years past, I felt I just did not love all men. I loved him who was a promise of the new kind of man that was to be, and that in any man which made him potentially significant. I loved him who hungered, who reached out, who yearned to become more than he was. But he who was content, who had become a wastrel, him I did not love — or if I did, it was that in him which might even yet hunger and drive him to seek and to struggle. I had definitely ceased to delude myself with the idea that all men are equal.

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Editor’s Note: Most of the Yale students to whom he spoke during the early months of 1931 were in the Divinity School, and so his talks often had Christian themes, but seen now in a new light:

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It was that winter, too, that I began to awaken to an inner and perhaps more important meaning of “resist not evil.” [3] The fall before, while at Manumit, [4] which was full of class-conscious radicals, I had found that their everlasting digging into the ill-smelling muck of social injustice went against me. Henceforth I was going to keep out of the way of their wails and diatribes. I was coming to realize that I wanted my life to be the positive expression of the exuberance that was in my own being. I wanted to be myself a force, not a reply to some other force.

I would beware of the impulses named with the words that begin with the prefix “re”: reaction, reform, resentment, revenge. I did not want to let my life activities take their departure from what I deemed to be the evils about me. I wanted to be positive. I would crowd out the weeds by sowing vigorous seed thickly …. It was in this vein that I had spoken at my first meeting at the Yale Divinity School shortly after my arrival in New Haven.

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Note 3 – “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew 5:39

Note 4 – The Manumit School in Pawling, NY, was a private school for boys and girls which had been started by two of Simpson’s Christian-socialist friends, Bill and Helen Fincke. In 1930 it was under the direction of Nellie Seeds, wife of the socialist/communist writer Scott Nearing.

Editor’s Note: During the year he continued to develop his new insights, gained primarily from his study of Nietzsche, and to fit these into the main body of his evolving intuitive knowledge:

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My faith in what spoke to me in my “stillest hour,” despite Nietzsche and modern science, still stood. Indeed, I was saying very emphatically … that any science which would be complete, and certainly any which would be profound enough to aspire successfully to take the place of religion, would have to include and face fearlessly and honestly those realms of human experience that we have called religious.

Specifically, we needed a psychology that would reckon with the actualities and possibilities of the mystical experience. If psychology was ever to become the surrogate of religion, it would have to offer mankind, in however new terms, something that approached the profoundest wisdom of the race thus far achieved. It was not enough to account for human experience on its commonplace levels or in its perversions. Psychology could not afford to ignore those greatest depths and heights of experience which alone could account for the lives of seers who had revolutionized men’s scales of value and thus gradually shaped the history of whole races and continents.

My reference to Nietzsche, above, would imply that he attacked mysticism. And he did, repeatedly. But the force of his words was gradually very much softened by my intuitive recognition that, for all his caustic remarks about mysticism and the mystics, he was a mystic himself. … It is unmistakable, from many passages.

The chapter in Zarathustra entitled “The Stillest Hour” stands out. Here, in the purest form of which I know in all of mystical literature, you have what Dr. James Leuba [5] called the “raw stuff” of mystical experience: ‘Then was there spoken unto me without voice:’ eight times repeated. No interpretation is imposed upon it. There is no attempt to gain authority for it by ascribing it to “God:’ or to some other supernatural source, as is the case with practically all other mystics. It is the naked content of what “came” to Zarathustra (really, to Nietzsche himself), of what he inwardly “heard,” his bare and actual experience — and nothing more. But it is mystical through and through.

“What is it that speaks?” I was asking myself in regard to what I heard in my own “stillest hour.” Any idea of a metaphysical God I was definitely rejecting. If I kept the word “God” at all, it must refer to something that I was sure of by experience. If I used it in connection with the Inner Voice, it must be qualified as “the God-in-you” or “the God-in-me” and be stripped, therefore, of all the omniscience, omnipotence, and other attributes of absoluteness that the word “God” ordinarily connotes. This would not necessarily make one any less mystical, but one must then be prepared to shoulder more responsibility.

From the point of view of psychology I wondered whether “that which spoke” might not be a synthesis of all my highest perceptive faculties, a synthesis of all the faculties by which I grasped the situation before me and reached a sense of the one thing I might best do in regard to it. Might it not be the word to my consciousness of my own life become (or singling out the means for becoming) an integrated whole?

I was not yet sure of the answer. It was a question I turned over in my mind continually, ever examining it anew in the light of fresh experience and further thought and reading. For me it was the most crucial question of all. On my answer to it hinged everything else.

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Note 5 – James Leuba, The Psychology of Religious Mysticism.

Editor’s Note: The city, with its noise and dirt and distractions, however, did not seem to him to be the best place to continue developing his thoughts, despite the advantages offered him by access to Yale University’s library. He wanted to live closer to Nature, and when he received an invitation that summer to spend a few months in the Ramapo Hills, near Suffern, NY, he accepted at once. There, with a few books and his journal, he found a much more congenial environment. Nietzsche remained his principal source of inspiration:

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One day as I was climbing up the hill from Suffern … it came over me that Nietzsche, primarily and on the whole, was magnificently positive. He assailed values long sacrosanct only when he believed them false and unworthy, and in order that they might be replaced by others more robust and healthy. His ultimate purpose always was to give men values by which their life might not only be ensured but kept ever moving higher.

“He is not trying,” I wrote in my journal, “to destroy the causeway that man has built across the swamps and through the jungles of human life. But he is dissatisfied with the foundations on which it has been built — on a kind of belief in God that degrades and injures life, and on a belief in a ‘beyond’ that robs the here and now of its glory and necessity. He takes the causeway down, stone by stone, examining each one carefully, and then into a new causeway he builds back every value that was real upon foundations that are solid.”

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Editor’s Note: Positive though his inner development was in 1931, his view of the prospects for the society around him grew increasingly troubled. In a letter to a friend late in the year he wrote:

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“I see ahead, outwardly, doom, war, the collapse of a civilization, awful suffering, night. But with my inner eye and from a high elevation I see how unspeakably beautiful Life is, in you and me and everybody, eternally awaiting our discovery of it, everything waiting upon the human discovery of it, and how everything about us, suffering and all, is as it must be now, how everything is in its place. I see that disease is not more necessary to a man who has for long years violated all the laws of life than is this decay of our civilization to our generation, nor one less useful in the service of life and health than the other. If Whitman can sing his ‘Carol to Death’ as it comes to the individual, we must be able to sing it as it comes to a nation, a race, a civilization. The writhing, squirming mass of worms working through the once fair flesh of a body in the grave, reducing it all to dust, is not more certainly preparing the way for new life than is the impending doom of our civilization.”

What was there to do about it? From one angle there was nothing. I believed there was no force, no combination of forces, that could “save the day:’ that could avert war or avoid doom. Too long we had sowed the wind. Now we should reap the whirlwind. Our house was going down. Nothing could stop it. For the man of creative possibilities it was important not to let himself become too much concerned about it. What cannot be stopped it is waste of life to resist. One must learn to close one’s eyes and to turn away.

Else will the cry of the world lure the creator into the marketplace before he is ready, and the ordure of the marketplace will pollute his breath, and the tension of its strife so tighten his throat that it will give forth only a battle cry, not a song: only a reply, an answer, a solution, never an organ-toned voice, never the eternal Word. And he will become only the bearer of a lantern, never lightning, his whole self lightning, splitting the night and showing up the path for humanity, it may be, for centuries ahead.

* * *

Source: National Vanguard magazine, January 1984, pages 15-20.

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