The Cave Of Lilith by George William Russell

Story type: Essay

Out of her cave came the ancient Lilith; Lilith the wise; Lilith the enchantress. There ran a little path outside her dwelling; it wound away among the mountains and glittering peaks, and before the door one of the Wise Ones walked to and fro. Out of her cave came Lilith, scornful of his solitude, exultant in her wisdom, flaunting her shining and magical beauty.

“Still alone, star gazer! Is thy wisdom of no avail? Thou hast yet to learn that I am more powerful, knowing the ways of error, than you who know the ways of truth.”

The Wise One heeded her not, but walked to and fro. His eyes were turned to the distant peaks, the abode of his brothers. The starlight fell about him; a sweet air came down the mountain path, fluttering his white robe; he did not cease from his steady musing. Lilith wavered in her cave like a mist rising between rocks. Her raiment was violet, with silvery gleams. Her face was dim, and over her head rayed a shadowy diadem, like that which a man imagines over the head of his beloved: and one looking closer at her face would have seen that this was the crown he reached out to; that the eyes burnt with his own longing; that the lips were parted to yield to the secret wishes of his heart.

“Tell me, for I would know, why do you wait so long? I, here in my cave between the valley and the height, blind the eyes of all who would pass. Those who by chance go forth to you, come back to me again, and but one in ten thousand passes on. My illusions are sweeter to them than truth. I offer every soul its own shadow. I pay them their own price. I have grown rich, though the simple shepards of old gave me birth. Men have made me; the mortals have made me immortal. I rose up like a vapor from their first dreams, and every sigh since then and every laugh remains with me. I am made up of hopes and fears. The subtle princes lay out their plans of conquest in my cave, and there the hero dreams, and there the lovers of all time write in flame their history. I am wise, holding all experience, to tempt, to blind, to terrify. None shall pass by. Why, therefore, dost thou wait?”

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The Wise One looked at her, and she shrank back a little, and a little her silver and violet faded, but out of her cave her voice still sounded:

“The stars and the starry crown are not yours alone to offer, and every promise you make I make also. I offer the good and the bad indifferently. The lover, the poet, the mystic, and all who would drink of the first fountain, I delude with my mirage. I was the Beatrice who led Dante upwards: the gloom was in me, and the glory was mine also, and he went not out of my cave. The stars and the shining of heaven were illusions of the infinite I wove about him. I captured his soul with the shadow of space; a nutshell would have contained the film. I smote on the dim heart-chords the manifold music of being. God is sweeter in the human than the human in God. Therefore he rested in me.”

She paused a little, and then went on: “There is that fantastic fellow who slipped by me. Could your wisdom not retain him? He returned to me full of anguish, and I wound my arms round him like a fair melancholy; and now his sadness is as sweet to him as hope was before his fall. Listen to his song!” She paused again. A voice came up from the depths chanting a sad knowledge:

What of all the will to do?
It has vanished long ago,
For a dream-shaft pierced it through
From the Unknown Archer’s bow.

What of all the soul to think?
Some one offered it a cup
Filled with a diviner drink,
And the flame has burned it up.

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What of all the hope to climb?
Only in the self we grope
To the misty end of time,
Truth has put an end to hope.

What of all the heart to love?
Sadder than for will or soul,
No light lured it on above:
Love has found itself the whole.

“Is it not pitiful? I pity only those who pity themselves. Yet he is mine more surely than ever. This is the end of human wisdom. How shall he now escape? What shall draw him up?”

“His will shall awaken,” said the Wise One. “I do not sorrow over him, for long is the darkness before the spirit is born. He learns in your caves not to see, not to hear, not to think, for very anguish flying your illusions.”

“Sorrow is a great bond,” Lilith said.

“It is a bond to the object of sorrow. He weeps what thou canst never give him, a life never breathed in thee. He shall come forth, and thou shalt not see him at the time of passing. When desire dies the swift and invisible will awakens. He shall go forth; and one by one the dwellers in your caves will awaken and pass onward. This small old path will be trodden by generation after generation. Thou, too, O shining Lilith, shalt follow, not as mistress, but as handmaiden.”

“I will weave spells,” Lilith cried. “They shall never pass me. I will drug them with the sweetest poison. They shall rest drowsily and content as of old. Were they not giants long ago, mighty men and heroes? I overcame them with young enchantment. Shall they pass by feeble and longing for bygone joys, for the sins of their exultant youth, while I have grown into a myriad wisdom?”

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The Wise One walked to and fro as before, and there was silence: and I saw that with steady will he pierced the tumultuous gloom of the cave, and a spirit awoke here and there from its dream. And I though I saw that Sad Singer become filled with a new longing for true being, and that the illusions of good and evil fell from him, and that he came at last to the knees of the Wise One to learn the supreme truth. In the misty midnight I hear these three voices–the Sad Singer, the Enchantress Lilith, and the Wise One. From the Sad Singer I learned that thought of itself leads nowhere, but blows the perfume from every flower, and cuts the flower from every tree, and hews down every tree from the valley, and in the end goes to and fro in waste places–gnawing itself in a last hunger. I learned from Lilith that we weave our own enchantment, and bind ourselves with out own imagination. To think of the true as beyond us or to love the symbol of being is to darken the path to wisdom, and to debar us from eternal beauty. From the Wise One I learned that the truest wisdom is to wait, to work, and to will in secret. Those who are voiceless today, tomorrow shall be eloquent, and the earth shall hear them and her children salute them. Of these three truths the hardest to learn is the silent will. Let us seek for the highest truth.

1894

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