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THE RAINBOW OF PAIN
enable him to suffer. Above the torment is a rainbow, built of the vapour, pain-wrung, which the light of heaven, in passing, tinges with the hues of hope. Ixion was but man foiled by sense; he has endured enough suffering to teach him his error and his folly. "Why make the agony perpetual?" "To punish thee," Zeus may reply. But would not an earthly sovereign, were he able to read the hearts of the criminals brought before him, and could plainly see repentance there, give them
"Life to retraverse the past, light to retrieve the misdeed"?
Zeus made man with flaw or faultless; it was his work. Man has conceived Zeus as possessing his own virtues; he trusted, loved him because Zeus aspired to be equal in goodness to man. Ixion defies him, tells him he apes the man who made him. The iris, born of Ixion's tears, sweat, and blood, bursting to vapour above, arching his torment, glorifies his pain; and man, even from hell's triumph, may look up and rejoice. He rises from the wreck, past Zeus, to the Potency above him
"Thither I rise, whilst thou-Zeus, keep the godship and sink!"
The Zeus of the poem is not the Christian's God. Our God is the Potency over all, the God of Love, who yet in Infinite Love may punish rebellious men, who rejecting His love with soul
NO LOST GOOD
unsoftened by one warm tear of repentance, may suffer till God's shadow brings the healing influIxion repented, but Zeus continued to punish. He appealed to "the Potency over all," which is Browning's way of saying he appeals from the low conception of God to the higher as revealed in Christ. Eternal loss is Browning's idea of Hell. By just so much is our knowledge here, by just so much as that knowledge is neglected, perverted to evil, by that amount is our future punishment ensured. "No punishment like knowledge." The spurning of the steps offered to our feet, steps whereby we might have risen to higher things, "that," says the poet,
"I call Hell; why further punishment ? " 1
And what of Heaven?
Heaven, since there is Heaven's simulation-Earth." 2
"The gain of Earth," he says, " must be Heaven's gain too." Because the conquests of the soul remain with the soul for ever, for "there can never be one lost good," 4 it follows that all the good the soul has gained on earth stays with it in the future state and becomes perfected.
The soul is for each of us a world, it floats in an aura, illumined by the light-beams flashed
1 Ferishtah's Fancies: "A Camel-Driver."
2 The Inn Album.
3 By the Fireside.
4 Abt Vogler.
from a universe some find so dead and cold. These beams pass into the soul, add worth to worth, and send it conquering and to conquer through all eternity. Browning says he cannot see what purpose serves the soul that strives, or world it tries conclusions with, unless the fruit of victories stay stored up and guaranteed its own for ever in some way that shall make clear the gain of every life. After death we shall learn what our souls have conquered from our past life. We shall see this plainly, and the sooner we begin to see what we are storing up for the future the better. All worth lies in the seeing soul; all the world is inert, null and void, till man evokes the beautiful, and by his alchemy extracts from it light and warmth.
NO PERFECT HAPPINESS HERE
The desire of perfect happiness which exists in every human heart is an argument for a better and brighter world, where the reasonable and pure desire of happiness may be satisfied.
An ethical writer says "It follows that the desire of perfect happiness is in man by the normal growth of his nature and for the better. But it would be a vain desire, and objectless, if it were essentially incapable of satisfaction; and man would be a made and abiding piece of imperfection, if there were no good accessible to his intellectual nature sufficient to meet its proper exigence of perfect happiness. But no such perfect happiness is
LOVE GAINS HEAVEN
attainable in this world. Therefore there must be a world to come, in which he who was man, now a disembodied spirit, but still the same person, shall under due conditions find a perfect good, the adequate object of his natural desire. Else is the deepest craving of human nature in vain, and man himself is vanity of vanities."
And this future happiness comes as the reward of love. Love gains God, and gaining Him gains Heaven. Love is not to be realized here at all, but is to be completed in another life; this is the lesson of many of Browning's most beautiful poems, notably Cristina, Evelyn Hope, and The Last Ride Together.
"Such is life's trial, as old earth smiles and knows. If you loved only what were worth your love, Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you.
Make the low nature better by your throes! Give earth yourself, go up for gain above! "1
1 Song from James Lee.
THE MYSTERY OF PAIN, DEATH, AND SIN
IN Browning's philosophy of life we have seen that he holds that all the obstacles and troubles of our existence are intended by the Creator to make true men and women of us. We might perhaps dismiss this part of our subject as having been sufficiently explained. But the poet's works so constantly recur to the mystery of pain, death, and sin, and so uniformly emphasize his doctrine of evil, that justice would not be done to his teaching if we neglected to set forth his treatment of the principle of evil a little more fully. Briefly, then, it may be said that Browning never wearies of insisting that the existence of evil is necessary for the development of the soul, that evil has its uses in stimulating the growth of good, that our moral perfection can only be attained by fighting against evil; for life is a passage to a higher state of existence, and we can only mount thither by making our obstacles "stepping-stones on which we may rise to higher things." St. Augustine says-"Of our vices we