On Exmoor there are wide stretches of ground where the heather grows in rounded masses of brown and purple, and the gorse shapes itself into green tussocks stiffened with a million of small spears. The moor swells up on the horizon line into mighty arcs, suggesting vast wheel-like circles whose lowest curve is rooted deep in earth. Whatever colours the sky may be dressed in, blue, grey, white, or cloudy black, there is always delight abroad. And the summit of that delight is expressed from early dawn till evening by the larks that hang like daylight stars in heaven. Underneath that perpetual falling rain of notes, I used to walk the green paths of the moor, among the decent sheep, at a time when human blood was flowing in streams from Flanders to Armenia. Then I pondered much on the mystery of the shedding of blood, seeking always to justify God through the symbol of man, and to justify man through the ends of God and not finding how.
It is a strange mystery, that of the blood. We stand upon the earth like alabaster vases full of a crimson treasure, sealed to the eye. At the lips we get a hint of its presence. We can see its colour between the fingers of the hand when held up to the light; we divine its wavelike motion as it rises and falls in a young maid’s face.
When the snow-white vase is broken and the treasure spilt, how does the sight of that bright stream affect all living things! Anyone who has seen the madness that seizes on cattle at the sight of blood will not readily forget it; what a fight they can put up against sticks, stones, yells, and barking dogs to get at and destroy the wounded one. Dwellers on lonely Australian farms tell how, when there has been a slaughtering of cattle, the herds will come down in the night-time like a dark tossing sea, till those within tremble at their roaring and the shaking of the ground. Bellowing they tear up the stained earth with their hoofs, till they pass moaning away into the night. So do the stags, when the hunt has got one of their number, come down to roar and trample in the night-time about the spot.
Everyone is more or less affected by the sight of blood. A hearty young policeman over six-foot has been known to fall his length along at the sight of a woman after her husband had dealt with her on a Saturday night. “To see red” on a battlefield is an expression at the back of which stands a considerable natural fact, though by no means all fighting men prove it for themselves. Since the shedding of blood has this overwhelming effect on all created things, what wonder if the sacrificial torrent lately poured out abroad affected the minds of many of us. For us the springs of life were troubled; even the very appearances of familiar things were altered. Terrible images peered suddenly from behind the known, the familiar. On the open moor, the green paths did not appear as green or as friendly as in other years; the spines of the gorse, were they not like pricking bayonets? The blue of the polygala flowers just such a blue was in many a dead lad’s eyes. The lark’s notes over all, were they not dropping tears of blood? Was that thunder in the heavens? Or was it the malediction of the gun?
Hard though the sacrifice of blood may be, there is another more terrible that hangs by it. The spear may pierce the side and the blood stream forth and the life with it. Well, it is soon over, soon done; the brave spirit is tranquil in passing. Above and beyond this sacrifice is that I of the wounded mind that cries, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Count them by hundreds of thousands, these wounded minds and remember, too, that the nobler the mind, the deeper the wound. What faith, what steadiness of spirit could these inherit out of such a conflagration of the passions—such a new form of chaos?
So thinking, it happened to me that the little creature within (who knows more than we do of the secrets of the universe) rose and showed me a dream. Now the fabulous dream is such an immemorial device that one hesitates to tell even a perfectly true one: all the apology that can be made for mine is that it has little seeming relation with the disturbed thinking out of which it grew. Since it was a true dream, since the mind to which it occurred finally drew from it a vital idea, it may as truly be written down.
It seemed I was walking over ground like the moor above, but rougher and greyer. The sort of half-light that generally obtains in dream made clear the straggling bushes and the sandy ground. For a long time I stumbled on then my foot touched something and warned me to stop. On the ground before me lay a vast something, in-distinguished in the grey light. Fear seized upon me and a cold awe, as I peered and peered about. Was not that a huge limb half embedded in the sand? Surely those were great shoulders—ah and a face! I walked by: there before me was the mask of a human countenance, human yet not human, incredibly majestic, eyes closed, chin raised, locks of hair seeming to grow downwards into the sand. The light was very dim, but I could see a quiver pass over the face, and the whole bulk of the frame and the ground under me seemed to shake. My fear increased, and I awoke.
At first I thought little of the dream, but the recollection of it continued to visit me. The solemn twilight, the sand, the ghostly stillness haunted me: still more the mighty countenance, the hair that rooted itself in the ground, the slight struggle that ran along the huge frame; the sand-grey colour over everything, except the shadowy hair. Then one day I thought, “So do the gods shape themselves and rise from the earth. The dream thought so, at any rate.” To myself I called the dream “The Bound God”; more and more it haunted me.
One day at an odd moment the thought came to me, that apprehension of the bound and suffering God is ages and ages old. How fearfully, how powerfully, it is expressed in the story of Prometheus—the rock and the chains, the beak of the vulture, the agony and the dripping blood! And again in the story of Christ, once more the defeat, the helplessness, the agony; once more the dripping blood. The blood of a God! What daring, what outrageousness in the thought!
In the dream there was no bloodshed, but the dream itself had arisen from the thought of it. The two were close knit in my mind. That huge and helpless sleeper became to me as the God in the soul of man that was struggling in its sleep, trying to free itself, trying to rise from the earth.
Here at last was a religion in which I could believe. And lo! It was a religion ages old. And not only ages old, but also our own, though now so clustered about with the growths of ancient years that much of its value for the hard-working mind is lost.
Yet how simple it is! And obvious! Even the outrageously rich, so gold-plated, so insensitive that they cannot feel, should see that the vital spirit that makes for order, beauty, harmony, is being continually suppressed. We get broken notes, lost glimpses, withered lives, defeated souls. Constantly the God is wounded, so that lie cannot rise; and yet he rises evermore, and evermore conquers, if not here, then there.
Often it happens in the lives of men that the defeat is too bitter; the salt field of blood is too grim, they cannot rise. For them God Himself is slain for all eternity, and they go out in bitter-ness. I have seen them, these noble ones. And I have seen a thousand exiles sit together in their misery, their backs turned upon God. Yet could they but have caught a glimpse of the mighty sufferer who struggles to rise, of the wounded God, perhaps their own anguish might have been quenched by a new impulse.
It was the robin, once all brown, that flew to the Cross and tried with its beak to pull the nail from the wounded hand of the Christ; in that way he came by the blood-stained breast which he has worn in honour ever since. Twice happy stain! And lucky bird to be the servant of a suffering God. To attempt such a deed, even though, like the robin’s, it were all in vain; to put out a hand to loose Prometheus from his rock, to free an angel from the clay—one would come back to life from the dead to be at such work.
O bound and tortured Gods, light carriers, light bringers, spit upon, dying, faint! O incomparable triumph of renewed sweetness in the soul! Yours shall be my service, yours my life.
Rhys, Grace Little. “The Bound God.” 1920. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 20 Mar 2015. 25 Apr 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/rhys/the_bound_god/>.
The votaries of fame may acquire a sort of insensibility to death and its consequences. But he alone whose peace is made with God, can walk with composure through the gloomy valley of the shadow of death, and fear no evil.
There is no distinction on the face of our experiences; one is vivid indeed, and one dull, and one pleasant, and another agonizing to remember; but which of them is what we call true, and which a dream, there is not one hair to prove.
Religion is not an affair of occupation and circumstance, but of principle and temper.
We are nothing; less than nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have been, and must wait upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have existence, and a name.
I am sometimes, I suspect, a better reporter of the ideas of other people than expounder of my own. I pursue the one too far into paradox or mysticism; the others I am not bound to follow farther than I like, or than seems fair and reasonable.