A man who can destroy illusions is both beast and flood

If it is rash to walk into a lion’s den unarmed, rash to navigate the Atlantic in a rowing boat, rash to stand on one foot on the top of St. Paul’s, it is still more rash to go home alone with a poet. A poet is Atlantic and lion in one. While one drowns us the other gnaws us. If we survive the teeth, we succumb to the waves. A man who can destroy illusions is both beast and flood. Illusions are to the soul what atmosphere is to the earth. Roll up that tender air and the plant dies, the colour fades. The earth we walk on is a parched cinder. It is marl we tread and fiery cobbles scorch our feet. By the truth we are undone. Life is a dream. ‘Tis waking that kills us. He who robs us of our dreams robs us of our life — (and so on for six pages if you will, but the style is tedious and may well be dropped).

Hair, pastry, tobacco — of what odds and ends are we compounded

Yet still for all her travels and adventures and profound thinkings and turnings this way and that, she was only in process of fabrication. What the future might bring, Heaven only knew. Change was incessant, and perhaps change would never cease. High battlements of thought; habits that seemed durable as stone went down like shadowsat the touch of another mind and left a naked sky and fresh stars twinkling in it. Here she went to the window, and in spite of the cold could not help unlatching it. She leant out into the damp night air. She heard a fox bark in the woods, and the clutter of a pheasant trailing through the branches. She heard the snow slither and flop from the roof to the ground. “By my life,” she exclaimed, “this is a thousand times better than Turkey. Rustum,” she cried, as if she were arguing with the gipsy (and in this new power of bearing an argument in mind and continuing it with someone who was not there to contradict showed again the development of her soul) “you were wrong. This is better than Turkey. Hair, pastry, tobacco — of what odds and ends are we compounded,” she said (thinking of Queen Mary’s prayer book). “What a phantasmagoria the mind is and meeting-place of dissemblables. At one moment we deplore our birth and state and spire to an ascetic exaltation; the next we are overcome by the smell of some old garden path and weep to hear the thrushes sing,” And so bewildered as usual by the multitude of things which call for explanation and imprint their message without leaving any hint as to their meaning upon the mind, she threw her cheroot out the window and went to bed.

The present participle is the Devil himself

In the Queen’s prayer book, along with the blood-stain, was also a lock of hair and a crumb of pastry; Orlando now added to these keepsakes a flake of tobacco, and so, reading and smoking, was moved by the humane jumble of them all — the hair, the pastry, the blood-stain, the tobacco — to such a mood of contemplation as gave her a reverent air suitable in the circumstances, though she had, it is said, no traffic with the usual God. Nothing, however, can be more arrogant, though nothing is commoner to assume that of Gods there is only one, and of religions none but the speaker’s. Orlando, it seemed, had a faith of her own. With all the religious ardour in the world, she now reflected upon her sins and the imperfections that had crept into her spiritual state. The letter S, she reflected, is the serpent in the Poet’s Eden. Do what she would there were still two many of these sinful reptiles in the first stanzas of “The Oak Tree.” But ‘S’ was nothing, in her opinion, compared with the terminating ‘ing.’ The present participle is the Devil himself, she thought (now that we are in the place for believing in Devils). To evade such temptations is the first duty of the poet, she concluded, for as the ear is the antechamber to the soul, poetry can adulterate and destroy more surely than lust or gunpowder. The poet’s then in the highest office of all, she continued. His words reach where others fall short. A silly song of Shakespeare’s has done more for the poor and the wicked than all the preachers and philanthropists in the world. No time, no devotion, can be too great, therefore, which makes the vehicle of our message less distorting. We must shape our words till they are the thinnest integument for our thoughts. Thoughts are divine. Thus it is obvious that she was back in the confines of her own religion which time had only strengthened in her absence, and was rapidly acquiring the intolerance of belief.

“I am growing up,” she thought, taking her taper at last. “I am losing some illusions,” she said, shutting Queen Mary’s book, “perhaps to acquire others,” and she descended among the tombs where the bones of her ancestors lay.

to resist and to yield; to yield and to resist

Then she had pursued, now she fled. Which is the greatest ecstasy? The man’s or the woman’s? And are they not perhaps the same? No, she thought, this is the most delicious (thanking the captain but refusing) to refuse, to see him frown. Well, she would, if he wished it, have the very thinnest, smallest shiver in the world. This was the most delicious, to yield and see him smile. “For nothing,” she thought, regaining her couch on deck, and continuing the argument, “is more heavenly than to resist and to yield; to yield and to resist. Surely it throws the spirit into such a rapture that nothing else can. . . .”

[From Virginia Woolf’s Orlando]

To the Lighthouse, page 14

. . . when, suddenly, in she came, stood for a moment silent (as if she had been pretending up there, and for a moment let herself be known), stood quite motionless for a moment against a picture of Queen Victoria wearing the blue ribbon of the Garter; when all at once he realized that it was this: it was this:–she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen.

With stars in her eyes and veils in her hair, with cyclamen and wild violets–what nonsense was he thinking? She was fifty at least; she had eight children. Stepping through fields of flowers and taking to her breast buds that had broken and lambs that had fallen; with the stars in her eyes and the wind in her hair– he took her bag.

“Good-bye, Elsie,” she said, and they walked up the street, she holding her parasol erect and walking as if she expected to meet someone round the corner, while for the first time in his life Charles Tansley felt an extraordinary pride; a man digging in a drain stopped digging and looked at her, let his arm fall down and looked at her; for the first time in his life Charles Tansley felt an extraordinary pride; felt the wind and the cyclamen and the violets for he was walking with a beautiful woman. He had hold of her bag.