There is first the intuition of the Soul; that haunting vision of might and joy that has been hovering over us through the ages. We have sought that joy through the natural world; through long lives of thirsty desire, and ever, as our hands seemed to be closing upon the treasure, it has vanished away, leaving our hearts desolate, longing for the immortal. We have sought the Soul through long ages of human life, following it in hope and fear, in desire and hate, in pleasure and sorrow, and again we have thought to surprise the eternal secret, and capture that alluring joy of the immortals. But we are seeking still, and ever within our hearts is that immortal longing, haunting, importunate, which leaves us never, and will not be stilled, but whispers to us in the silence, with a fascinating sweetness that makes dull all the voices of the world.
That restless thirst of joy is the longing for the Soul, for our immortal selves, the heirs of the everlasting; and we shall hear those haunting whispers till they break forth into the song of the Eternal.
In a lull of weariness and fever, when we cease for a while from our desires and dreams, will come clear vision of the Soul, a taste of immortal valor, of imperious power, of triumphant joy. And thenceforth, for ever, we shall know that the Soul is; even when the clouds and darkness are heavy upon us, and our vision is gone, we shall endure to the end, remembering that there is the Soul.
With that memory comes a sense of life, strong, exultant, that desires not the cloying, weakening sweetness of sensuous life; for it thirsts no more, after the first taste of the immortal waters; or thirsts for these alone. Nor will the soul cast forward any more hopes or fears into the future, either for this world, or the next, or any future life; for with the sense of the immortal treasure close at hand what shall a man need to hope for, or what shall he fear? Therefore the soul of man will stand upright, thirsting not for the feasts of the world, hoping no more, neither fearing any more.
Then shall follow peace. The heart’s pains shall be stilled; softly, slowly shall the quiet of immortal might descend upon the soul from the greater Soul, and we shall understand how the gods can work for ever, yet not grow weary. There shall be peace from all imaginings, hopes shall no longer beckon us away from where our treasure is; for with possession comes the payment of hope. Fear shall no longer lash us with the unpitying scourge that drives us to all cruelty and injustice, for where fear is, there is cruelty; where cruelty is, there is fear. We shall desire no more, for the fullness of life leaves nothing to be desired; nor shall we hate any more, for seeing ourselves in all things, how can we hate ourselves? The soul cannot hate its own exultant life. So shall come peace, the quiet of the heart, and glad heart’s-ease.
And from heart’s-ease shall follow peace through all the powers, that have so long been shaken by the fever of the world. And there shall come a recovery from all earthly pain, and the vigor of life restored to health like the young-eyed gods. Every power of man is now ready for the great work; but before he can undertake it, he must cease from the idols of the world, and their false worship. He must no longer follow the hot dusty ways of the men of desire, that they are driven along by fear and thirst for the banquets of the world. Nor will he desire these ways or endure them, for he knows the quiet pathway of the Eternal, where there is peace.
Ceasing from false idols, he begins to follow his Genius; and genius will set the immortal imprint on all he does. For its way is a divine way, a yoke that is easy, and a burden that is light. And the secret of genius, of the Genius in every man, is easily told. In the heart of every man, after he has caught the vision, and knows that the Soul is; after he has reached peace, heart’s-ease, and quietude of all his powers; after he has ceased from idols, and drawn back from the hot pathways of desire; in his clean heart there shall yet dwell one desire, one longing, one imperious and haunting wish; and it shall seem to him that nothing in life could be sweeter than to carry that wish out; he shall have for it all enthusiasm, and the willingness of a freeman’s service. And that secret desire of the heart is his life’s work, the one thing he can do supremely well; the private revelation whispered to him alone, that not even the gods can overhear; not even the sages can foretell.
And his life’s work a man will perform with such ready joy, with such enthusiasm and winning power, that all men shall be fascinated, and won by it; and will offer him all they possess for some share of it. Whether it be some new and excellent way of dealing with the natural world, or with the souls of men, there is this secret for everyone. For a statue is only a stone transformed by the power of the Soul, and the greatest picture is a thin layer of pigments stretched over canvas threads; but the Soul’s touch makes these mean things divine. And so is it with all its works. Taking the common words that fall from all men’s lips, the common dreams that dwell in all men’s hearts, the Genius weaves them into a song that shall last for ages, and outwear the hills, ringing in men’s hearts and awakening their longing for the song everlasting. So too the twanging of wires may be transformed by the Soul into a magical enchantment, that shall make men forget all the heart’s pains, if only the Genius be in it.
And there is nothing in all this mortal world that may not be likewise transformed; even common things and mean are awaiting their poet, their artist, their musician. For all men are inwardly creative and full of genius; and some day each shall bring his gift to life.
And if there be this divine way for the rocks and ores of the natural world, so that they shall breathe with living beauty, what divinity may not come into our meeting with human souls. They indeed can be enkindled with immortal fire, set ringing with a diviner music, lit with colors that never sunrise nor the flowers nor the hills in their purple garments dreamed of; become resonant with a music that shall dull the long chant of the seraphim.
Here is the great work for every man: to express that secret vision which the gods whisper to him alone; in his dealings with the natural world; in his ways with the souls about him. And for each man, the guide is, the seecret desire of his clean heart. That is what he came into the world to do; that is what he will do better than all living, past or to come. That is what all men will be ready to reward him for doing, as emperors have vied with each other in heaping reward on painters of things beautiful.
Yet a man who follows his path shall need steadfast endurance, and firm faith; nor shall the way be too smooth or easy for his feet; for he has a bad past behind him, and a world yet unclean round about him. So shall he keep steadfastness in his heart.
Faith too must go with him, a glow of fire, a surplus power to which all tasks are easy; for what is most admirable in the world has been done almost without effort, with a divine ease; yet great effort has gone to the preparation for it.
Last comes intentness; the bending of a steady will upon the task; for a statue is dreamed by the soul, yet it is carved by firm hands and steady blows, and only the greatest artists can draw a perfect line. And in like manner only a valiant soul can deal fairly with another, even with a little child.