The Last RoadAug 15th, 2010 | By Andrew Preslar | Category: Blog Posts
This is not exactly a story, though it is partly autobiographical and partly allegorical, or perhaps just highly allusive. Mostly, it is a farrago, which I must have written after reading something by Belloc. Anyway, I found it, finished it, and here it is. The whole thing is called “The Last Road.”
The last road runs from there to here, straightly to this wending sphere,
a living coal to light the only way.
The last road runs from there to here, a new word ringing in my ear:
This is in my blood, this is the way unbent, this is the longing in the elves’ lament,
this is the substance of immortal man.
The lost road lingers in a song, but the singers have sailed on
to some far home, upon the hidden way.
That way is old, but older still, more ancient than the rocks and hills,
is the heart of mortal man.
I am older than the things I dream. I am older than the pain of things long lost,
and younger than the stain.
You will discern that beside this path Hester spoke with the priest while the Pearl was lost in a medieval dream. We were made to read this in school, where someone was made to teach it. There are horrible memories such as: “Who was worse?” There is no memory of Hawthorne’s fey imagination. * In my library, there is a thin black book with a poem like flickering light. The dedication is made up of Greek uncials. The only fairë bit is this line: And dance with the Kings from under the hills. A young man hears these words, uttered as an invitation, upon entering the forest at night. Though the road runs through the woods, it is not safe to wander there in the darkness. I know who dances in the forest. You know that Pearl can cross over and come back again. But your name is not Pearl.
There are lies, and then there are lies, and then there is something else. * There is a room with a fire and a high-backed chair. The chair is facing the door, as though you were ready to receive a guest. But not tonight. Tonight you step outside. Waterless clouds hurry through the heavens. The wind is strong and steady, but the night is neither black nor cold. Trees crowd upon your left; your right hand rests upon the house. Then you walk northwards with the wind, beyond the forest, beyond the place where you cannot sit and do not live.
Walk upwards in the night. Come to an open field, where there is a single rock, not raised like a finger, nor squatting like a toad. You sit upon this stone and it is a place familiar but from long ago. Here the world is all around you, speaking as it ever did. This is what the world says: We are far from strangers, though you cannot find me out. You are full of lies, so go on and say them out. I am full of lies, you can read them in my face. That is not a lie, and this is not the place, to speak what you are saying. You are still not telling lies, which is what you came to do. * In this way, you discover that the world cannot comprehend what is in your heart. For you did not come here to do anything at all. You are greater than the world. You are more formidable than her deepest song. You are another music. (And you are like the world, at night, your stranger and your confidant.) You are greater than the world; therefore, she is not your house. When I am ready to tell lies, I will say some words by the fire, which is where such things are spun.
The house is like green grass near white cliffs, but there is no porch and there is no Sea. The latch upon the door is broken. Sometimes, I awake in the chair, in the dark by the grate, to find a stranger standing upon the threshold. Come in, O visitation. We shall tell lies around the fire, to comfort ourselves because of the land. It is strange telling and weird listening, for the strangers speak of many things, including the dead and windless sea. * There are places where the sea is as still as the hidden hollows of the world that hold it like a cupped hand. The sea is set between veneers of earth, thus en-globed the ancient flame. That fire gives no fig for puddled legend. It has danced through the deeps of heaven, and dances there yet, beneath its cool and quaking crust. This is why the devils can tell lies about the thing that haunts us with varied immensity under many skies, with its deep, salt water and the dark, groaning fact of a smooth and silent floor.
In places, the sea is still and dead, and no one comes from there, which is why some of the tales are lies, and some of the folk are witches. They crouch and gibber by the fire, and when they are warmed (or would be warm, if their flesh was like yours and mine), I send them on their way with something, never flesh and never wine. Some visitors talk about the forest, but those who know that place, who caper there weirdly in the darkness, tell stories of the sea. I believe some of these lies, but I do not live in a log cabin. * You think that this is gloomy and foreboding. So it is, and so I have long intended to forsake the house. I will seek a Southern clime, and dwell in tents with the stars and perfumous night. There, a beloved company shall sit before a fire in the rich and open world, soft with sand, flecked by fruited trees near warm and gentle waves. Good bye, house. Good bye, thick and heavy English land. I am building a little boat, a tiny thing to set upon the water.
I will set off towards the West, towards the Atlantic Ocean, which I have seen but not traversed, and North America, which I have seen and traversed, and the Pacific Ocean, which I have never seen. The North Atlantic is an enormous, restless grave. Its waters are grey and the skies are grey and the things that lie upon its bed are the color of grey. The terror of the sea is concentrated here, which is more than I can bear. * Nevertheless, I will go West, through the shallows, down into the depths, and tread upon the bottom. Alone in the darkness, among the wreckage of ancient things, I meet a man like Joseph in the wild. He points me to a path that runs towards the South. I take this road, which is not like you would believe. After many miles, the road ascends a hill, levels upon an island, and passing through a garden, leads me to an ancient but homely house. It is late in the evening, and the first stars are appearing in the sky.
The house is dimly lit, and cool. Cunning torches with small, bright hearts are set along the quiet hall, which leads to an open doorway, which brings me to a large room in which there burns a fire. At the far end of the room are great doors, and beyond these a wide porch, which opens upon the West. Beside the fire is a high-backed chair, seated there an ageless king. * Now the fair folk of that place come and fill the room with soft lights and sweet music. We sit upon many-colored cushions, before the ever-burning fire. The doors remain open throughout this fey vigil, whereby we can see the starlight through the garden trees. And always there is the Sea, like another friend, present and listening. Did you ever know that the Sea can also listen? For there are songs and stories, food and wine and a goodly company.
Just before dawn there comes a gentle rain. The company walks quietly with the king, through the doors, onto the porch, to look upon the ebbing night. A sudden wind sweeps through the garden. Is this, therefore, the place where I will live? The king speaks for the first and only time: This is not your house. This too is the world. * I bow my head and am quiet for a long time, until someone places a strong arm around my shoulders. But when I look up, I see that it is a Man. The king and his folk are gone. The man walks me to the shore, through the rain, to a little boat. I step inside and close my eyes. When I awake, it is daylight. The boat has carried me around the Florida peninsula, into the Gulf of Mexico. I steady the rudder and the sail comes full. Just ahead is St. Joseph Island.
We are near the end, and I must be brief. Passing through the southwest, the god-like Pacific, and the Asian steppes and plains, I reach and cross the Volga, and turn South. Eventually, upon a long night, this way leads me across a river, through a garden, up a hill, and into a house. There I find an old man, who greets me, leaning upon a staff as he rises from his chair. I return the greeting, and we speak as follows:
The night is far spent. You have been a long time upon your way.
I have traveled a great distance, father. I do not know if I am young or old. I do not know where this place is, nor what I have come here to do.
It is well.
Please, tell me, is this the West?
This is the West.
What have I come here to do?
These last words may have been a command, or an invitation, or both. In any case, I turn around. Thus, I behold the Sun, a white disk rising above the golden rim of horizon. In the light of this sudden star I can see the road, though many things have fallen away. I look for a long time, while all is still and silent. Then, reluctantly, I ask:
Is this the road which has brought me here?
It is the road.
Then, this is also the world?
This is the life of the world.
Then, this is not my house?
This is your Father’s house.
That is the end, though it would be pertinent to consider what the devils believe about the fire; likewise, the myth of the vanishing sea.