Henry Abbey

(11 July 1842 - 7 June 1911 / Kingston, NY)

Science and the Soul


I sought, in sleep, to find the mountain-lands
Where Science, in her hall of wonder, dwells.
When I had come to where the building stands,
I found refreshing streams, delightful dells,
Invigorating air, and saw, on high,
Turret and dome against the boundless sky.

Out of her busy palace then she stepped,
And kindly greeted me, as there I stood
Doubting my right, and whether I had slept.
'Welcome,' she said, 'and whatsoe'er of good
You find in me, you have full leave to take
For warp and woof of verses that you make.'

That these, her words, for more than me were meant,
I felt, and thanked her as seemed fitting then;
While, in her looks, I saw that she was sent
To lighten work and knit together men;
And that with patience such as hers could be,
The coral mason builds the isles at sea.

Servant of Use, upon that mountain wise
Was the plain title she was proud to own,
And, clearer than her penetrating eyes,
The light of Progress on her forehead shone.
Her smile the lips' sharp coldness half betrayed,
As if a wreath upon a sword were laid.

But now, about her palace everywhere,
She led my steps, and often by her side
A lion and a nimble greyhound were.
The swifter to a leash of wire she tied,
And made a messenger of good and ill;
The stronger with white breath performed her will.

She traced the lapse of awful seas of time
On fossil limestone and on glinting ore;
Described wild wonders of the Arctic clime,
And of all lands her willing slaves explore;
Opening large laboratories to my view,
She showed me much that she had skill to do.

Then, down a marble stairway, to her bower
Was led the gracious way. 'And here,' said she,
'I meditate beyond the midnight hour;
Invent for peace and war, for land and sea;
Read the round sky's star-lettered page, or grope
In the abysses of the microscope.'

But, while she spoke, there stood another near-
The fairest one that ever I beheld;
I fancied her the creature of some sphere
Whence all of mist and shadow are dispelled.
Her voice was low and gentle, and her grace
Vied with the beauty of her thoughtful face.

A clear, unwaning light around her shone-
A ray of splendor from a loving Source-
A light like sunshine, that, when it is gone,
Leaves darkness, but sheds glory on its course;
Yet, in my dream, her footstep made me start,
It was so like the beating of my heart.

I turned to Science, for small doubt had I
That she best knew her whom I deemed so fair,
And asked, 'Who is she, that so heedfully
Waits on you here, and is like sunny air?
In her all beauty dwells, while from her shine
Truth, hope, and love, with effluence divine.'

Then Science answered me, severe and cold:
'She is Time's brittle toy: the praise of men
Has dazed her wit, and made her vain and bold.
With subtle flattery of tongue and pen,
They title her the Soul; I count it blame,
And call her Life, but seek a better name.

'Alone, in her gray-celled abode, she dwells,
Of fateful circumstance the fettered thrall,
The psychic sum of forces of her cells,
Molecular and manifold in all;
But æons passed ere Nature could express
This carbon-rooted flower of consciousness.

'Life, from the common mother, everywhere
Springs into being under sun and dew;
And it may be that she who is so fair
From deep-sea ooze to this perfection grew,
Evolving slowly on, from type to type,
Until, at last, the earth for man was ripe.

'But like a low-born child, whose fancy's page
Illuminated glows, she fondly dreams
That hers is other, nobler parentage;
That, from a Source Supreme, her being streams;
But, when I ask for proof, she can not give
One word, to me, of knowledge positive.

'Wherefore, regretfully I turn away,
In no wise profited, to let her muse
On her delusion, now grown old and gray.
It is a vain mirage that she pursues-
Some image of herself, against the sky,
To which she yearns on golden wings to fly.'

What time I left that palace high and wide,
She followed me, whom I had thought so fair,
To guide me down the devious mountain-side,
Speaking with that of sorrow in her air
That made me grieve, and soon a tear I shed
To think that here she is so limited.

'Oh, I am life and more, I am the Soul,'
She said, 'and, in the human heart and brain,
Sit throned and prisoned while the brief years roll,
Lifted with hope that I shall live again;
That when I cross the flood, with me shall be
The swift-winged carrier-dove of memory.

'I shall have triumph over time and space,
For I am infinite and more than they.
In vain has Science searched my dwelling-place;
For, delve in nature's secrets as she may
For deeper knowledge, she can never know
Of what I am, nor whither I shall go.'

Submitted: Thursday, April 26, 2012

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