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STARLIGHT ON A HILL

I have seen God creating the cosmos, watching its growth, and finally destroying it.

Call me, if you will, a liar or a madman. Say I lack humour, say that my claim is sacrilegious and in the worst taste. Yet I have indeed seen God. I have seen him creating, watching, destroying.

I tell myself that I must have been affected not through the bodily eye. but through the eye of the mind, that the whole experience must have flooded up within me from the hidden springs of my own imagination. But whether the teeming and fantastic events that I have witnessed were revealed by external or by internal vision, revealed they surely were. I did not construct them. They thrust themselves upon me, compelling belief.

Others have no reason to share my conviction. Therefore simply as a story I set down the record of my hypercosmical experience, confidant that, if I can present it clearly, it must by its sheer strangeness and majesty compel at least attention, if not belief.

But can human language convey even a thousandth part of the wonders that I still so vividly remember? They unfolded themselves before me with all the forcefulness and detail of perceived reality. But how can I describe them? Here is the white page, and there "in my mind" the crowded and overburdened memory of aeons past and future, and of time systems wholly distinct from ours. By what magic can I so guide my pen that from its grey trail, and from the printed pages which its course will determine, some glimmer, some pale distorted reflection, of my experience may be projected into other minds?

The vision occurred about two hours after midnight. I cannot bring myself to describe the torturing personal contact that had befallen me earlier in the night. I will say only that it had filled me with an overwhelming, a blinding sense of the beauty and the precariousness of human personality, and indeed of one person, in whom, as it then seemed to me, all sweetness and all bitterness were together embodied. So complete was my preoccupation that I had lost sight, so to speak, of the universe. I could no longer rise above my own misery by reminding myself that personal calamity, even the complete ruin of many fair personal spirits, is demanded for, the wholeness and beauty of the cosmos.

When I had left the mean little villa and the presence of the being that had so moved me, I must have hurried along the empty streets in complete abstraction, with my mind nailed still to the immediate past; for suddenly I found myself sitting on the heathery top of the hill which overlooks the suburb and the sea. I found also that I was weeping. This was a novel experience.

Whether in self-pity or self-mockery, I performed the gesture that millions of my fellow mortals must have carried out in faith and hope. I looked up to heaven.

The stars glittered with a brilliance and profusion rare in England. The Milky Way, a vague and feathery stream, phosphorescent, pricked with diamonds, divided the heavens. I was infuriated, and then utterly cowed, by the insensitiveness and vastness of the cosmos. By what right, by what right could these mindless gulfs drown the personal loveliness that had become all in all to me?

Still gazing upward, I noticed something in the darkness between the stars. At first it seemed no more than the vague shifting illumination which the eye discovers in itself when robbed of external light. But now, to my amazement, to my bewilderment and horror, but also to my incredulous amusement, I recognized that an immense and dimly lucent face was regarding me from behind the stars, from behind the Milky Way.

The fearsome thing was spread over half the sky. And it was upside down. The eyes were low in the south. The chin mounted to the zenith and beyond. Down toward the northern horizon loomed titanic shoulders, and far below them a confusion of many arms.

Such a vision clearly meant madness. It was impossible that there should be anything of the nature of a human or half-human form behind the galaxy, peering through a veil of stars. The apparition, taken at its face value, violated the whole teaching of modern science.

I know not whether I was more distressed at my derangement, or shocked at the devastatingly bad taste of the hallucination which confronted me, or tickled by the thought of the discomfiture which our scientists would suffer were it after all proved a true perception.

Anxiety for my own sanity forced me to take firm, hold on myself. Derisively I reflected that this was too crude, too banal an illusion for a scientifically minded person like me. Maidservants or savages might be haunted by such a phantom; but I, with my sceptical intelligence, could surely dismiss it by ; merely ridiculing it. Still gazing skyward, I recalled to mind the empty vastness of transgalactic space. But the image remained in view, and grew clearer.

Panic threatened me; but with a desperate effort I thrust it back. In order to calm myself, I undertook a careful study of the apparition, which indeed was so novel that even the dread of insanity could not wholly quench my curiosity.

So as to see it in the normal position, I lay flat on the heather with my head thrown back. The celestial face was like no other face, or like all faces. It was human, yet not human, animal, yet not animal, divine, yet surely not divine. I was subtly reminded of the grotesque gods of Egypt and of India, and also of the mild enigmatic expression of certain African carvings. I found myself thinking both of beasts of rapine and of gentler beasts. I saw expressions not only of tiger, hawk and snake, but also of ox and deer, elephant and gentle ape. But in the visage which overhung me, these characters, though seemingly alien to one another, were so subtly blended that they presented not a composite form made up of features selected from all living things, but one archetypal unity, from which the terrestrial creatures might well have borrowed each its distinctive nature.

The longer I regarded it, the more the apparition mastered me. It compelled me into an amazed, reluctant admiration. To call it merely beautiful would be to malign it. It was ugly, damnably ugly, almost satanic. Its anthropomorphism, hideously mixed with sheer animality, violated the austere inhumanity of the night sky. Yet in its own unique manner it was mysteriously, piercingly beautiful. It gave me a strange sense that hitherto, all my life long, I had looked in the wrong direction for the most excellent of all kinds of beauty. It outraged me as some new mode in music or sculpture may at once outrage and revitalize the mind. Its significance tantalized and escaped me. The celestial eyes gazed at me, or gazed seemingly at me, from under the bright brow so darkly that they seemed to express equally a Buddhalike serenity, a brute's indifference, and a rapier alertness.

Presently the apparition was transformed. I discovered that it was no single constant face but a succession of face forms imperceptibly changing into one another. It was as though the flux of thought in this being so remodelled the whole structure of its visage that nothing was left the same but a subtle air of personal continuity and identity. As a cloud changes from shape to shape, so this phantom suffered a continuous metamorphosis in such a manner that I saw it now as a mythical beast, now as a fair young man with battle in his nostrils, now as a sphinx, now as a mother bowed over her child, now as the child crucified, now as a jesting fiend, now as a huge inhuman insect face with many-faceted eyes and pincer-mandibles, now for a fleeting moment as the white-bearded Jehovah.

Yet, mysteriously, I continued to feel through all, these transformations the presence of the one unique and superb personality which had at the.. outset confronted me.

The transformations became more rapid, more bewildering. The features disintegrated from one another. Instead of a face there were a thousand eyes intermingled with a thousand searching or constructing hands. I seemed to detect also, in the obscure depths of the vision, a thousand phallic shapes, flaccid, rampant.

Yet even through these many and fantastic changes I retained the sense that I was beholding no mere chaos of images but manifestations of the unique, the superb one.

"It is God, it is God," I said to myself. But I knew that if indeed there is a God he is no more visible than the theory of relativity. With ever lessening conviction, I reminded myself that I was mad. Even so it was impossible to believe that so novel, so overmastering an apparition was nothing whatever but a figment of insanity.

"It is indeed God," I affirmed to myself. "It is God stirring my mad mind to create true though fantastic symbols of himself." So at least I comforted myself.

By now I had lost sight of the stars. I had lost all perception of the planet to which I was clinging. Even my own body seemed to have melted and vanished. Yet inwardly my mind was clear, and indeed quickened to an unaccustomed agility. I remembered minutely the sequence of events that had led me to this vision. I remembered the whole trend of my life, with its many groping and unfulfilled activities. I remembered the contemporary world crisis in human affairs, the millions of unemployed, the recrudescence of barbarism in Europe and America, the forlorn struggle for a new world.

Under the innumerable and cryptic eyes of God I found myself searching in all these terrestrial aspects for some new significance. But I could not seize it.

Chapter 2

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