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Title: Tables of the Law; & The Adoration of the Magi
Author: Yeats, W. B. (William Butler), 1865-1939
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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_Five hundred and ten copies printed;
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'Will you permit me, Aherne,' I said, 'to ask you a question, which I
have wanted to ask you for years, and have not asked because we have
grown nearly strangers? Why did you refuse the berretta, and almost
at the last moment? When you and I lived together, you cared neither
for wine, women, nor money, and had thoughts for nothing but theology
and mysticism.' I had watched through dinner for a moment to put my
question, and ventured now, because he had thrown off a little of
the reserve and indifference which, ever since his last return from
Italy, had taken the place of our once close friendship. He had just
questioned me, too, about certain private and almost sacred things, and
my frankness had earned, I thought, a like frankness from him.

When I began to speak he was lifting to his lips a glass of that old
wine which he could choose so well and valued so little; and while
I spoke, he set it slowly and meditatively upon the table and held
it there, its deep red light dyeing his long delicate fingers. The
impression of his face and form, as they were then, is still vivid
with me, and is inseparable from another and fanciful impression:
the impression of a man holding a flame in his naked hand. He was to
me, at that moment, the supreme type of our race, which, when it has
risen above, or is sunken below, the formalisms of half-education and
the rationalisms of conventional affirmation and denial, turns away,
unless my hopes for the world and for the Church have made me blind,
from practicable desires and intuitions towards desires so unbounded
that no human vessel can contain them, intuitions so immaterial that
their sudden and far-off fire leaves heavy darkness about hand and
foot. He had the nature, which is half monk, half soldier of fortune,
and must needs turn action into dreaming, and dreaming into action;
and for such there is no order, no finality, no contentment in this
world. When he and I had been students in Paris, we had belonged to a
little group which devoted itself to speculations about alchemy and
mysticism. More orthodox in most of his beliefs than Michael Robartes,
he had surpassed him in a fanciful hatred of all life, and this hatred
had found expression in the curious paradox--half borrowed from some
fanatical monk, half invented by himself--that the beautiful arts were
sent into the world to overthrow nations, and finally life herself, by
sowing everywhere unlimited desires, like torches thrown into a burning
city. This idea was not at the time, I believe, more than a paradox,
a plume of the pride of youth; and it was only after his return to
Ireland that he endured the fermentation of belief which is coming upon
our people with the reawakening of their imaginative life.

Presently he stood up, saying: 'Come, and I will show you, for you at
any rate will understand,' and taking candles from the table, he lit
the way into the long paved passage that led to his private chapel. We
passed between the portraits of the Jesuits and priests--some of no
little fame--his family had given to the Church; and engravings and
photographs of pictures that had especially moved him; and the few
paintings his small fortune, eked out by an almost penurious abstinence
from the things most men desire, had enabled him to buy in his travels.
The pictures that I knew best, for they had hung there longest,
whether reproductions or originals, were of the Sienese School, which
he had studied for a long time, claiming that it alone of the schools
of the world pictured not the world but what is revealed to saints in
their dreams and visions. The Sienese alone among Italians, he would
say, could not or would not represent the pride of life, the pleasure
in swift movement or sustaining strength, or voluptuous flesh. They
were so little interested in these things that there often seemed to
be no human body at all under the robe of the saint, but they could
represent by a bowed head, or uplifted face, man's reverence before
Eternity as no others could, and they were at their happiest when
mankind had dwindled to a little group silhouetted upon a golden abyss,
as if they saw the world habitually from far off. When I had praised
some school that had dipped deeper into life, he would profess to
discover a more intense emotion than life knew in those dark outlines.
'Put even Francesca, who felt the supernatural as deeply,' he would
say, 'beside the work of Siena, and one finds a faint impurity in his
awe, a touch of ghostly terror, where love and humbleness had best
been all.' He had often told me of his hope that by filling his mind
with those holy pictures he would help himself to attain at last to
vision and ecstasy, and of his disappointment at never getting more
than dreams of a curious and broken beauty. But of late he had added
pictures of a different kind, French symbolistic pictures which he had
bought for a few pounds from little-known painters, English and French
pictures of the School of the English Pre-Raphaelites; and now he stood
for a moment and said, 'I have changed my taste. I am fascinated a
little against my will by these faces, where I find the pallor of souls
trembling between the excitement of the flesh and the excitement of the
spirit, and by landscapes that are created by heightening the obscurity
and disorder of nature. These landscapes do not stir the imagination
to the energies of sanctity but as to orgiac dancing and prophetic
frenzy.' I saw with some resentment new images where the old ones had
often made that long gray, dim, empty, echoing passage become to my
eyes a vestibule of Eternity.

Almost every detail of the chapel, which we entered by a narrow Gothic
door, whose threshold had been worn smooth by the secret worshippers
of the penal times, was vivid in my memory; for it was in this chapel
that I had first, and when but a boy, been moved by the mediævalism
which is now, I think, the governing influence in my life. The only
thing that seemed new was a square bronze box which stood upon the
altar before the six unlighted candles and the ebony crucifix, and was
like those made in ancient times of more precious substances to hold
the sacred books. Aherne made me sit down on an oak bench, and having
bowed very low before the crucifix, took the bronze box from the altar,
and sat down beside me with the box upon his knees.

'You will perhaps have forgotten,' he said, 'most of what you have
read about Joachim of Flora, for he is little more than a name to even
the well read. He was an abbot in Cortale in the twelfth century,
and is best known for his prophecy, in a book called _Expositio in
Apocalypsin_, that the Kingdom of the Father was passed, the Kingdom
of the Son passing, the Kingdom of the Spirit yet to come. The
Kingdom of the Spirit was to be a complete triumph of the Spirit, the
_spiritualis intelligentia_ he called it, over the dead letter. He had
many followers among the more extreme Franciscans, and these were
accused of possessing a secret book of his called the _Liber Inducens
in Evangelium Æternum_. Again and again groups of visionaries were
accused of possessing this terrible book, in which the freedom of the
Renaissance lay hidden, until at last Pope Alexander IV. had it found
and cast into the flames. I have here the greatest treasure the world
contains. I have a copy of that book; and see what great artists have
made the robes in which it is wrapped. The greater portion of the book
itself is illuminated in the Byzantine style, which so few care for
to-day, but which moves me because these tall, emaciated angels and
saints seem to have less relation to the world about us than to an
abstract pattern of flowing lines that suggest an imagination absorbed
in the contemplation of Eternity. Even if you do not care for so formal
an art, you cannot help seeing that work where there is so much gold,
and of that purple colour which has gold dissolved in it, was valued at
a great price in its day. But it was only at the Renaissance the labour
was spent upon it which has made it the priceless thing it is. The
wooden boards of the cover show by the astrological allegories painted
upon them, as by the style of painting itself, some craftsman of the
school of Francesco Cossi of Ferrara, but the gold clasps and hinges
are known to be the work of Benvenuto Cellini, who made likewise the
bronze box and covered it with gods and demons, whose eyes are closed,
to signify an absorption in the inner light.'

I took the book in my hands and began turning over the gilded,
many-coloured pages, holding it close to the candle to discover the
texture of the paper.

'Where did you get this amazing book?' I said. 'If genuine, and I
cannot judge by this light, you have discovered one of the most
precious things in the world.'

'It is certainly genuine,' he replied. 'When the original was
destroyed, one copy alone remained, and was in the hands of a
lute-player of Florence, and from him it passed to his son, and so
from generation to generation until it came to the lute-player who
was father to Benvenuto Cellini, and from Benvenuto Cellini to that
Cardinal of Ferrara who released him from prison, and from him to
a natural son, so from generation to generation, the story of its
wandering passing on with it, until it came into the possession of
the family of Aretino, and to Giulio Aretino, an artist and worker in
metals, and student of the kabalistic heresies of Pico della Mirandola.
He spent many nights with me at Rome, discussing philosophy; and at
last I won his confidence so perfectly that he showed me this, his
greatest treasure; and, finding how much I valued it, and feeling that
he himself was growing old and beyond the help of its teaching, he sold
it to me for no great sum, considering its great preciousness.'

'What is the doctrine?' I said. 'Some mediæval straw-splitting about
the nature of the Trinity, which is only useful to-day to show how many
things are unimportant to us, which once shook the world?'

'I could never make you understand,' he said, with a sigh, 'that
nothing is unimportant in belief, but even you will admit that this
book goes to the heart. Do you see the tables on which the commandments
were written in Latin?' I looked to the end of the room, opposite to
the altar, and saw that the two marble tablets were gone, and that
two large empty tablets of ivory, like large copies of the little
tablets we set over our desks, had taken their place. 'It has swept
the commandments of the Father away,' he went on, 'and displaced the
commandments of the Son by the commandments of the Holy Spirit. The
first book is called _Fractura Tabularum_. In the first chapter it
mentions the names of the great artists who made them graven things
and the likeness of many things, and adored them and served them; and
the second the names of the great wits who took the name of the Lord
their God in vain; and that long third chapter, set with the emblems
of sanctified faces, and having wings upon its borders, is the praise
of breakers of the seventh day and wasters of the six days, who yet
lived comely and pleasant days. Those two chapters tell of men and
women who railed upon their parents, remembering that their god was
older than the god of their parents; and that which has the sword of
Michael for an emblem commends the kings that wrought secret murder and
so won for their people a peace that was _amore somnoque gravata et
vestibus versicoloribus_, heavy with love and sleep and many-coloured
raiment; and that with the pale star at the closing has the lives of
the noble youths who loved the wives of others and were transformed
into memories, which have transformed many poorer hearts into sweet
flames; and that with the winged head is the history of the robbers who
lived upon the sea or in the desert, lives which it compares to the
twittering of the string of a bow, _nervi stridentis instar_; and those
two last, that are fire and gold, are devoted to the satirists who bore
false witness against their neighbours and yet illustrated eternal
wrath, and to those that have coveted more than other men the house of
God, and all things that are His, which no man has seen and handled,
except in madness and in dreams.

'The second book is called _Lex Secreta_, and describes the true
inspiration of action, the only Eternal Evangel; and ends with a
vision, which he saw among the mountains of La Sila, of his disciples
sitting throned in the blue deep of the air, and laughing aloud, with
a laughter that was like the rustling of the wings of Time: _C[oe]lis
in cæruleis ridentes sedebant discipuli mei super thronos: talis erat
risus, qualis temporis pennati susurrus_.'

'I know little of Joachim of Flora,' I said, 'except that Dante set him
in Paradise among the great doctors. If he held a heresy so singular, I
cannot understand how no rumours of it came to the ears of Dante; and
Dante made no peace with the enemies of the Church.'

'Joachim of Flora acknowledged openly the authority of the Church, and
even asked that all his published writings, and those to be published
by his desire after his death, should be submitted to the censorship of
the Pope. He considered that those whose work was to live and not to
reveal were children and that the Pope was their Father; but he taught
in secret that certain others, and in always increasing numbers, were
elected, not to live, but to reveal that hidden substance of God which
is colour and music and softness and a sweet odour; and that these
have no father but the Holy Spirit. Just as poets and painters and
musicians labour at their works, building them with lawless and lawful
things alike, so long as they embody the beauty that is beyond the
grave, these children of the Holy Spirit labour at their moments with
eyes upon the shining substance on which Time has heaped the refuse of
creation; for the world only exists to be a tale in the ears of coming
generations; and terror and content, birth and death, love and hatred,
and the fruit of the Tree, are but instruments for that supreme art
which is to win us from life and gather us into eternity like doves
into their dove-cots.

'I shall go away in a little while and travel into many lands, that
I may know all accidents and destinies, and when I return will write
my secret law upon those ivory tablets, just as poets and romance
writers have written the principles of their art in prefaces; and when
I know what principle of life, discoverable at first by imagination
and instinct, I am to express, I will gather my pupils that they may
discover their law in the study of my law, as poets and painters
discover their own art of expression by the study of some Master. I
know nothing certain as yet but this--I am to become completely alive,
that is, completely passionate, for beauty is only another name for
perfect passion. I shall create a world where the whole lives of men
shall be articulated and simplified as if seventy years were but one
moment, or as they were the leaping of a fish or the opening of a

He was pacing up and down, and I listened to the fervour of his words
and watched the excitement of his gestures with not a little concern.
I had been accustomed to welcome the most singular speculations, and
had always found them as harmless as the Persian cat who half closes
her meditative eyes and stretches out her long claws before my fire.
But now I would battle in the interests of orthodoxy, even of the
commonplace: and yet could find nothing better to say than: 'It is
not necessary to judge everyone by the law, for we have also Christ's
commandment of love.'

He turned and said, looking at me with shining eyes: 'Jonathan Swift
made a soul for the gentlemen of this city by hating his neighbour as

'At any rate, you cannot deny that to teach so dangerous a doctrine is
to accept a terrible responsibility.'

'Leonardo da Vinci,' he replied, 'has this noble sentence: "The hope
and desire of returning home to one's former state is like the moth's
desire for the light; and the man who with constant longing awaits
each new month and new year, deeming that the things he longs for are
ever too late in coming, does not perceive that he is longing for his
own destruction." How, then, can the pathway which will lead us into
the heart of God be other than dangerous? why should you, who are no
materialist, cherish the continuity and order of the world as those do
who have only the world? You do not value the writers who will express
nothing unless their reason understands how it will make what is called
the right more easy; why, then, will you deny a like freedom to the
supreme art, the art which is the foundation of all arts? Yes, I shall
send out of this chapel saints, lovers, rebels and prophets: souls who
will surround themselves with peace, as with a nest made with grass;
and others over whom I shall weep. The dust shall fall for many years
over this little box; and then I shall open it; and the tumults, which
are, perhaps, the flames of the last day, shall come from under the

I did not reason with him that night, because his excitement was great
and I feared to make him angry; and when I called at his house a few
days later, he was gone and his house was locked up and empty. I have
deeply regretted my failure both to combat his heresy and to test the
genuineness of his strange book. Since my conversion I have indeed done
penance for an error which I was only able to measure after some years.


I was walking along one of the Dublin quays, on the side nearest the
river, about ten years after our conversation, stopping from time
to time to turn over the books upon an old bookstall, and thinking,
curiously enough, of the terrible destiny of Michael Robartes, and his
brotherhood; when I saw a tall and bent man walking slowly along the
other side of the quay. I recognized, with a start, in a lifeless mask
with dim eyes, the once resolute and delicate face of Owen Aherne. I
crossed the quay quickly, but had not gone many yards before he turned
away, as though he had seen me, and hurried down a side street; I
followed, but only to lose him among the intricate streets on the north
side of the river. During the next few weeks I inquired of everybody
who had once known him, but he had made himself known to nobody; and I
knocked, without result, at the door of his old house; and had nearly
persuaded myself that I was mistaken, when I saw him again in a narrow
street behind the Four Courts, and followed him to the door of his

I laid my hand on his arm; he turned quite without surprise; and
indeed it is possible that to him, whose inner life had soaked up
the outer life, a parting of years was a parting from forenoon to
afternoon. He stood holding the door half open, as though he would keep
me from entering; and would perhaps have parted from me without further
words had I not said: 'Owen Aherne, you trusted me once, will you not
trust me again, and tell me what has come of the ideas we discussed in
this house ten years ago?--but perhaps you have already forgotten them.'

'You have a right to hear,' he said, 'for since I have told you the
ideas, I should tell you the extreme danger they contain, or rather the
boundless wickedness they contain; but when you have heard this we must
part, and part for ever, because I am lost, and must be hidden!'

I followed him through the paved passage, and saw that its corners were
choked, and the pictures gray, with dust and cobwebs; and that the
dust and cobwebs which covered the ruby and sapphire of the saints on
the window had made it very dim. He pointed to where the ivory tablets
glimmered faintly in the dimness, and I saw that they were covered with
small writing, and went up to them and began to read the writing. It
was in Latin, and was an elaborate casuistry, illustrated with many
examples, but whether from his own life or from the lives of others
I do not know. I had read but a few sentences when I imagined that a
faint perfume had begun to fill the room, and turning round asked Owen
Aherne if he were lighting the incense.

'No,' he replied, and pointed where the thurible lay rusty and empty on
one of the benches; as he spoke the faint perfume seemed to vanish, and
I was persuaded I had imagined it.

'Has the philosophy of the _Liber Inducens in Evangelium Æternum_ made
you very unhappy?' I said.

'At first I was full of happiness,' he replied, 'for I felt a divine
ecstasy, an immortal fire in every passion, in every hope, in every
desire, in every dream; and I saw, in the shadows under leaves, in
the hollow waters, in the eyes of men and women, its image, as in a
mirror; and it was as though I was about to touch the Heart of God.
Then all changed and I was full of misery, and I said to myself that
I was caught in the glittering folds of an enormous serpent, and was
falling with him through a fathomless abyss, and that henceforth the
glittering folds were my world; and in my misery it was revealed to me
that man can only come to that Heart through the sense of separation
from it which we call sin, and I understood that I could not sin,
because I had discovered the law of my being, and could only express or
fail to express my being, and I understood that God has made a simple
and an arbitrary law that we may sin and repent!'

He had sat down on one of the wooden benches and now became silent, his
bowed head and hanging arms and listless body having more of dejection
than any image I have met with in life or in any art. I went and stood
leaning against the altar, and watched him, not knowing what I should
say; and I noticed his black closely-buttoned coat, his short hair,
and shaven head, which preserved a memory of his priestly ambition,
and understood how Catholicism had seized him in the midst of the
vertigo he called philosophy; and I noticed his lightless eyes and his
earth-coloured complexion, and understood how she had failed to do more
than hold him on the margin: and I was full of an anguish of pity.

'It may be,' he went on, 'that the angels whose hearts are shadows of
the Divine Heart, and whose bodies are made of the Divine Intellect,
may come to where their longing is always by a thirst for the divine
ecstasy, the immortal fire, that is in passion, in hope, in desire, in
dreams; but we whose hearts perish every moment, and whose bodies melt
away like a sigh, must bow and obey!'

I went nearer to him and said: 'Prayer and repentance will make you
like other men.'

'No, no,' he said, 'I am not among those for whom Christ died, and this
is why I must be hidden. I have a leprosy that even eternity cannot
cure. I have seen the whole, and how can I come again to believe that a
part is the whole? I have lost my soul because I have looked out of the
eyes of the angels.'

Suddenly I saw, or imagined that I saw, the room darken, and faint
figures robed in purple, and lifting faint torches with arms that
gleamed like silver, bending, above Owen Aherne; and I saw, or imagined
that I saw, drops, as of burning gum, fall from the torches, and a
heavy purple smoke, as of incense, come pouring from the flames and
sweeping about us. Owen Aherne, more happy than I who have been half
initiated into the Order of the Alchemical Rose, and protected perhaps
by his great piety, had sunk again into dejection and listlessness,
and saw none of these things; but my knees shook under me, for the
purple-robed figures were less faint every moment, and now I could
hear the hissing of the gum in the torches. They did not appear to see
me, for their eyes were upon Owen Aherne; and now and again I could
hear them sigh as though with sorrow for his sorrow, and presently I
heard words which I could not understand except that they were words of
sorrow, and sweet as though immortal was talking to immortal. Then one
of them waved her torch, and all the torches waved, and for a moment it
was as though some great bird made of flames had fluttered its plumage,
and a voice cried as from far up in the air: 'He has charged even his
angels with folly, and they also bow and obey; but let your heart
mingle with our hearts, which are wrought of divine ecstasy, and your
body with our bodies, which are wrought of divine intellect.' And at
that cry I understood that the Order of the Alchemical Rose was not of
this earth, and that it was still seeking over this earth for whatever
souls it could gather within its glittering net; and when all the faces
turned towards me, and I saw the mild eyes and the unshaken eyelids, I
was full of terror, and thought they were about to fling their torches
upon me, so that all I held dear, all that bound me to spiritual and
social order, would be burnt up, and my soul left naked and shivering
among the winds that blow from beyond this world and from beyond the
stars; and then a faint voice cried, 'Why do you fly from our torches
that were made out of the trees under which Christ wept in the Garden
of Gethsemane? Why do you fly from our torches that were made out of
sweet wood, after it had perished from the world and come to us who
made it of old times with our breath?'

It was not until the door of the house had closed behind my flight, and
the noise of the street was breaking on my ears, that I came back to
myself and to a little of my courage; and I have never dared to pass
the house of Owen Aherne from that day, even though I believe him to
have been driven into some distant country by the spirits whose name is
legion, and whose throne is in the indefinite abyss, and whom he obeys
and cannot see.



I was sitting reading late into the night a little after my last
meeting with Aherne, when I heard a light knocking on my front door. I
found upon the doorstep three very old men with stout sticks in their
hands, who said they had been told I should be up and about, and that
they were to tell me important things. I brought them into my study,
and when the peacock curtains had closed behind us, I set their chairs
for them close to the fire, for I saw that the frost was on their
great-coats of frieze and upon the long beards that flowed almost to
their waists. They took off their great-coats, and leaned over the
fire warming their hands, and I saw that their clothes had much of the
country of our time, but a little also, as it seemed to me, of the
town life of a more courtly time. When they had warmed themselves--and
they warmed themselves, I thought, less because of the cold of the
night than because of a pleasure in warmth for the sake of warmth--they
turned towards me, so that the light of the lamp fell full upon their
weather-beaten faces, and told the story I am about to tell. Now one
talked and now another, and they often interrupted one another, with
a desire like that of countrymen, when they tell a story, to leave
no detail untold. When they had finished they made me take notes of
whatever conversation they had quoted, so that I might have the exact
words, and got up to go. When I asked them where they were going, and
what they were doing, and by what names I should call them, they would
tell me nothing, except that they had been commanded to travel over
Ireland continually, and upon foot and at night, that they might live
close to the stones and the trees and at the hours when the immortals
are awake.

I have let some years go by before writing out this story, for I am
always in dread of the illusions which come of that inquietude of the
veil of the Temple, which M. Mallarmé considers a characteristic of our
times; and only write it now because I have grown to believe that there
is no dangerous idea which does not become less dangerous when written
out in sincere and careful English.

The three old men were three brothers, who had lived in one of the
western islands from their early manhood, and had cared all their
lives for nothing except for those classical writers and old Gaelic
writers who expounded an heroic and simple life; night after night in
winter, Gaelic story-tellers would chant old poems to them over the
poteen; and night after night in summer, when the Gaelic story-tellers
were at work in the fields or away at the fishing, they would read to
one another Virgil and Homer, for they would not enjoy in solitude, but
as the ancients enjoyed. At last a man, who told them he was Michael
Robartes, came to them in a fishing boat, like St. Brandan drawn by
some vision and called by some voice; and spoke of the coming again
of the gods and the ancient things; and their hearts, which had never
endured the body and pressure of our time, but only of distant times,
found nothing unlikely in anything he told them, but accepted all
simply and were happy. Years passed, and one day, when the oldest of
the old men, who travelled in his youth and thought sometimes of other
lands, looked out on the grey waters, on which the people see the dim
outline of the Islands of the Young--the Happy Islands where the Gaelic
heroes live the lives of Homer's Phæacians--a voice came out of the air
over the waters and told him of the death of Michael Robartes. They
were still mourning when the next oldest of the old men fell asleep
while reading out the Fifth Eclogue of Virgil, and a strange voice
spoke through him, and bid them set out for Paris, where a woman lay
dying, who would reveal to them the secret names of the gods, which can
be perfectly spoken only when the mind is steeped in certain colours
and certain sounds and certain odours; but at whose perfect speaking
the immortals cease to be cries and shadows, and walk and talk with one
like men and women.

They left their island, at first much troubled at all they saw in the
world, and came to Paris, and there the youngest met a person in a
dream, who told him they were to wander about at hazard until those who
had been guiding their footsteps had brought them to a street and a
house, whose likeness was shown him in the dream. They wandered hither
and thither for many days, but one morning they came into some narrow
and shabby streets, on the south of the Seine, where women with pale
faces and untidy hair looked at them out of the windows; and just as
they were about to turn back because Wisdom could not have alighted
in so foolish a neighbourhood, they came to the street and the house
of the dream. The oldest of the old men, who still remembered some of
the modern languages he had known in his youth, went up to the door and
knocked, but when he had knocked, the next in age to him said it was
not a good house, and could not be the house they were looking for, and
urged him to ask for some one they knew was not there and go away. The
door was opened by an old over-dressed woman, who said, 'O, you are her
three kinsmen from Ireland. She has been expecting you all day.' The
old men looked at one another and followed her upstairs, passing doors
from which pale and untidy women thrust out their heads, and into a
room where a beautiful woman lay asleep in a bed, with another woman
sitting by her.

The old woman said: 'Yes they have come at last; now she will be able
to die in peace,' and went out.

'We have been deceived by devils,' said one of the old men, 'for the
immortals would not speak through a woman like this.'

'Yes,' said another, 'we have been deceived by devils, and we must go
away quickly.'

'Yes,' said the third, 'we have been deceived by devils, but let us
kneel down for a little, for we are by the deathbed of one that has
been beautiful.' They knelt down, and the woman who sat by the bed, and
seemed to be overcome with fear and awe, lowered her head. They watched
for a little the face upon the pillow and wondered at its look, as of
unquenchable desire, and at the porcelain-like refinement of the vessel
in which so malevolent a flame had burned.

Suddenly the second oldest of them crowed like a cock, and until the
room seemed to shake with the crowing. The woman in the bed still
slept on in her death-like sleep, but the woman who sat by her head
crossed herself and grew pale, and the youngest of the old men cried
out: 'A devil has gone into him, and we must begone or it will go into
us also.' Before they could rise from their knees a resonant chanting
voice came from the lips that had crowed and said: 'I am not a devil,
but I am Hermes the Shepherd of the Dead, and I run upon the errands
of the gods, and you have heard my sign, that has been my sign from
the old days. Bow down before her from whose lips the secret names
of the immortals, and of the things near their hearts, are about to
come, that the immortals may come again into the world. Bow down, and
understand that when they are about to overthrow the things that are
to-day and bring the things that were yesterday, they have no one to
help them, but one whom the things that are to-day have cast out. Bow
down and very low, for they have chosen for their priestess this woman
in whose heart all follies have gathered, and in whose body all desires
have awaked; this woman who has been driven out of Time, and has lain
upon the bosom of Eternity. After you have bowed down the old things
shall be again, and another Argo shall carry heroes over sea, and
another Achilles beleaguer another Troy.'

The voice ended with a sigh, and immediately the old man awoke out of
sleep, and said: 'Has a voice spoken through me, as it did when I fell
asleep over my Virgil, or have I only been asleep?'

The oldest of them said: 'A voice has spoken through you. Where has
your soul been while the voice was speaking through you?'

'I do not know where my soul has been, but I dreamed I was under the
roof of a manger, and I looked down and I saw an ox and an ass; and I
saw a red cock perching on the hay-rack; and a woman hugging a child;
and three old men, in armour, studded with rubies, kneeling with their
heads bowed very low in front of the woman and the child. While I was
looking the cock crowed and a man with wings on his heels swept up
through the air, and as he passed me, cried out: "Foolish old men, you
had once all the wisdom of the stars." I do not understand my dream or
what it would have us do, but you who have heard the voice out of the
wisdom of my sleep know what we have to do.'

Then the oldest of the old men told him they were to take the
parchments they had brought with them out of their pockets and spread
them on the ground. When they had spread them on the ground, they took
out of their pockets their pens, made of three feathers, which had
fallen from the wing of the old eagle that is believed to have talked
of wisdom with St. Patrick.

'He meant, I think,' said the youngest, as he put their ink-bottles
by the side of the rolls of parchment, 'that when people are good the
world likes them and takes possession of them, and so eternity comes
through people who are not good or who have been forgotten. Perhaps
Christianity was good and the world liked it, so now it is going away
and the immortals are beginning to awake.'

'What you say has no wisdom,' said the oldest, 'because if there are
many immortals, there cannot be only one immortal.'

Then the woman in the bed sat up and looked about her with wild eyes;
and the oldest of the old men said: 'Lady, we have come to write down
the secret names,' and at his words a look of great joy came into her
face. Presently she began to speak slowly, and yet eagerly, as though
she knew she had but a little while to live, and in the Gaelic of their
own country; and she spoke to them many secret powerful names, and of
the colours, and odours, and weapons, and instruments of music and
instruments of handicraft belonging to the owners of those names; but
most about the Sidhe of Ireland and of their love for the Cauldron, and
the Whetstone, and the Sword, and the Spear. Then she tossed feebly
for a while and moaned, and when she spoke again it was in so faint a
murmur that the woman who sat by the bed leaned down to listen, and
while she was listening the spirit went out of the body.

Then the oldest of the old men said in French to the woman who was
still bending over the bed: 'There must have been yet one name which
she had not given us, for she murmured a name while the spirit was
going out of the body,' and the woman said, 'She was but murmuring
over the name of a symbolist painter she was fond of. He used to go to
something he called the Black Mass, and it was he who taught her to see
visions and to hear voices. She met him for the first time a few months
ago, and we have had no peace from that day because of her talk about
visions and about voices. Why! it was only last night that I dreamed I
saw a man with a red beard and red hair, and dressed in red, standing
by my bedside. He held a rose in one hand, and tore it in pieces with
the other hand, and the petals drifted about the room, and became
beautiful people who began to dance slowly. When I woke up I was all in
a heat with terror.'

This is all the old men told me, and when I think of their speech and
of their silence, of their coming and of their going, I am almost
persuaded that had I gone out of the house after they had gone out
of it, I should have found no footsteps on the snow. They may, for
all I or any man can say, have been themselves immortals: immortal
demons, come to put an untrue story into my mind for some purpose I do
not understand. Whatever they were I have turned into a pathway which
will lead me from them and from the Order of the Alchemical Rose. I
no longer live an elaborate and haughty life, but seek to lose myself
among the prayers and the sorrows of the multitude. I pray best in poor
chapels, where the frieze coats brush by me as I kneel, and when I pray
against the demons I repeat a prayer which was made I know not how many
centuries ago to help some poor Gaelic man or woman who had suffered
with a suffering like mine.

    _Seacht b-páidreacha fó seacht
    Chuir Muire faoi n-a Mac,
    Chuir Brigbid faoi n-a brat,
    Chuir Dia faoi n-a neart,
    Eidir sinn 'san Sluagh Sidhe,
    Eidir sinn 'san Sluagh Gaoith._

    Seven paters seven times,
    Send Mary by her Son,
    Send Bridget by her mantle,
    Send God by His strength,
    Between us and the faery host,
    Between us and the demons of the air.

_Printed by_ A. H. BULLEN, _at the Shakespeare Head Press,

Transcriber's Note:

One printer's error or misspelling was found and fixed:

  Page 5. In the original book: orgaic dancing
  changed in this ebook to: orgiac dancing

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