From Theosophical Path, December, 1917
The Cauldron of Ceridwen
by C. ap Arthur [Kenneth Morris ]
(With pen-and-ink drawings by R. Machell - not present in this online version)
SIR DAVID PROSSER was in his study at Parcyrun. The lamp, green-shaded, stood on his desk to the left of the fireplace; its light fell on a litter of manuscripts there, some in his own or his secretary's handwriting, some ancient. It left the room, with its book-lined walls, for the most part, to the half obscurity and tremulous shadows of the fire-light.
Sir David had turned from his work, and sat in a low, deep-seated chair before the fire: his outward vision occupied with the flame-flicker, but giving no news of it, nor of any externals, to his mind. Which, indeed, had a matter more insistent to brood over: surprise, acquiescence, protest, indifference, rebellion against fate - mostly, perhaps, a very ungracious acquiescence. - So it might come at any time . . . it might come at any time! Dr. Lloyd had been uneasy about these attacks, and had prevailed on him to summon the great man from London, whose verdict had been passed that day: it might come at any time, and there was nothing to be done. Hours, days or weeks, there was no telling; though weeks were hardly to be hoped for, he judged. Hoped for? - yes, for he had a master passion; could he count only on a fortnight, he might at least round off his life's work by settling the hash of Taliesin, and showing up that myth for the late forgery it was. Only yesterday he had seen some scribbler's screed on it in the Geninen; which he had not read, but it had the sickening look of a kind of mystical interpretation. Well, his book would be published, with or without that last chapter; and no one, he guessed, would write or talk much about Taliesin after that. But he must give this one evening to meditation; with this news fresh on him, even though it made writing the more imperative, he could give his mind to nothing. He had dismissed his secretary for the night: an irritating fellow, but better than the run of them. Secretaries were always a problem. To get a man with a sound education, learned in the Welsh, without pressing ambitions towards the ministry, and with a smooth equable temper, was no easy task. Temper they would be showing, sooner or later, every one of them; and he could not work with an irritable, whimsy man. This one, indeed, had shown none of his tantrums so far; but he was stupid and timid, and it was a pleasure to be quit of him for the evening. But pleasure - now!
What might lie beyond that which was coming to him, he did not trouble to think. It was the past with its stings and successes that held him; the future was merely a thing out of which he was to be cheated by death; of the inner life (which is immortal) his sense was atrophied. Not that it had always been so: some men are born dead; Sir David was of those who achieve deadness. Thirty years since, at the time of his return, laden with honors, from Oxford, his life had been tinged with ethereal hues. A fine scholar, he was then also a fine poet; and could use the tortuous meters of Welsh classical poetry to some purpose. Not upon the well-worn themes of the competitions, either; not for him Creadigaeth or Elusengarwch, after the manner of the scribes. He had possessed, you may say, two of the three essentials of bardhood, as the Triad gives them: an eye to see, and a heart to understand, Nature; time was to show whether he had the third, courage to follow her. - Those were the days when Iolo Morganwg was still wandering Wales from library to library of the great houses, hunting in faded manuscripts for a light he believed was hidden in the ancient times; a wisdom, look you, deeper than any in science or dogma; remnants of Druid knowledge concerning the Soul of Man, its origin, wanderings and destiny. This theosophy Iolo deemed he had found; and David Prosser, coming under his influence, meant to illumine the Principality and the world with it. Like many in Wales in those days, he saw visions and dreamed dreams. He would avenge his country for her insignificance in the world, proclaiming broadcast the riches she had saved from her ruin, and hoarded unused in her secret heart through the centuries of her penury.
But life is a thing of currents and undercurrents, and we know not what we may become. We sail upon a blue and glassy sea, and manage helm and canvas with a song: this is the voyage, we think, 'from Lima to Manillia'; we shall drift from island to island of delight, and disembark at last in the flamey havens of the sunset. But a little gust arises here; and there, some uncharted current sweeps us from our gentle courses. Our song passes into a strained silence; the isles we touch are deserted, or abodes of sordid trade; the blue brightness turns leaden dulness, and the sun goes down at last over a howling waste of winds and stinging spray. So and so sows his wild oats, we say; when often 'twas his rigid parents sowed them for him; or at least ensured that he should sow them, by souring the ground with their narrowness against growths of beauty, equability and peace. So in the life of David Prosser. "There's pious his father was before him," said Marged Owen in her prayers; the truth is, the child's poet soul had been ever in potential rebellion against a rule of life that yoked the Good with a substitute for the True and the antithesis of the Beautiful. In such cases unbalance results; if the nobler side of us has been given to regard righteousness coldly, what specious arguments will it not lend to the worse! The young David had had generous sentiments, noble leadings, but an intolerable thirst for freedom at all costs: he would express in perfect liberty the whole of his nature; too long had too much of it been fettered and starved. There was a passionate marriage, out of which all the poetry had passed in a year. At the end of two: "My life is spoiled," said David; “I married a Fool." The Fool had had her own complaints to make; and made them naggingly day and night. There were many incidents, of the kind that poetry will not survive; we need not go into them. The poet in him died presently; but not his ambition and fighting vein. He would not surrender and pass into negligibility; the fame of the scholar grew.
All light had waned from the ancient poems and stories, as from the ancient hills and moors. He sought the key to their interpretation no longer in life, which had become a poor wounded thing with him, but in learning: he searched for the Soul with a microscope; and, finding it not, knew that it did not exist. The Great Wonder is a property of the Divine; blind your eyes to the deity within you, and what radiance shall you see without? Where you caught a glimpse of the beauty and mystery of things, you shall perceive only delusions, that cannot stand the test of your crucible or dissecting knife. The dreams that had pleased and haunted him, he came to view with growing impatience; since he had no longer aught wherewith to handle them, except the sterilizing tools of philological research. He had parted with all sense of their poetic values, and scorned for childish foolery the pretensions of those who had not. His sole delight now - a savage one - was in exploding superstitions, pricking bubbles, smoking out mares' nests, blowing up castles in Spain. Mysticism? Gammon! - Let's have Philology! quoth Sir David. - A famous and snappy scholar, of opinions much respected, and, personality wholly unbeloved.
Except, of course, by Marged Owen, his housekeeper, who had been his mother's maid and his own nurse, and was still three parts mother to him in her heart. A placid, not unstately woman, with great shining gray eyes behind her spectacles, and "indeed, driving on her ten and threescore," as she reflected; she knew naught of his opinions, though she gloried in the thought of his renown; but loved him because he had been, and was still, her 'boy bach,' and because motherly love was her general attitude towards anything human she contacted. It was she who managed the house, shielded its master from the non-intellectual world; gave law to the gardener, that his realm might be maintained as it was in Mister Davie's youth; and preserved intact the reason of the sectetary pro tem. with her calm inexhaustible kindliness. Her Welsh Bible and hymnbook, and the changing skies and old-fashioned June-sweet flowers of the garden, kept her in an inner life: these, and a fighting loyalty to Sir David which was tempered, not modified, by a knowledge of some of his peculiarities. Which, be it said, were a secret, so far as she was concerned, between herself and her God; with whom she argued nightly on his behalf. "Indeed, Lord, 'tis true Zion do see little of him these days” - he had not been inside a chapel since his father's death, but no good to remind the Lord too precisely - but there's pious his father was before him, and there's religious he was brought up! 'Tis them books he is writing, I s'pose: they do hold his mind; grand bardism he is making to glorify Thee! In his heart, indeed, indeed, there is nothing out of its place; consider Thou what he has suffered!" - And so, in truth, he had; but there were few beside her gentle self that would have said that about his heart. Morgan Llewelyn Zion had more than once made pointed reference from the pulpit, especially in his prayers, to the "heathen in our midst"; and no one but Marged had failed to understand at whom the shafts were pointed. Had she so much as guessed, I imagine she would have seceded to Zoar, even though the three miles extra would have entailed the wagonette. - From her book, indeed, I would borrow a page or two of charity. She had never doubted that his fame was based on his bardhood; if she knew nothing of his poems, that would be, she s'posed, because they were in English, and therefore beyond her. (Pity you are not cleaving to the Welsh, whatever, machgen i!) In her eyes, then, the poet had never died; and I am content to believe that her eyes, so love-lit, so short-sighted in things of the intellect, were gifted in compensation with glimmerings of spiritual vision. I would say, then, that the poet had not died, but was only numbed with the torture of a long crucifixion; banished, if you like; reviled and tormented; nearly dead ; but still secretly feared by the scholar and critic its persecutor.
Sir David, sitting in his chair, fell to calling up pictures of the past: of his not too happy childhood and his school days; of Jesus College at Oxford; of his return thence, and of his father's death that followed so quickly; and of his own marriage. Then - ah well, he had long since freed himself of those follies! He chuckled sardonically, remembering how he had set aside the Tale of Taliesin, even then, to be a great part of his life's work. It was to be a poem in the cywydd metre: a vindication of the ancient light of his people, making real and definite the legendary figure of that great Bard-Initiate, who had stood the symbol of their aspirations and dreams. He remembered the days when conviction first flagged; when the lines would not ring true; when the supposed light that he had followed died - no, revealed itself for a worthless fantasy.
He thought of that passionate marriage; the first rapture that blurred the inward images, after heightening them to sunblazing vividity. He thought of the Fool, with a half sneer as of one whose heat of anger had long vanished: of the Fool, dead now these twenty years: her nagging, tongue, he told himself, had at least done much to relieve him of his illusions. Well, well, thanks to her for that; with all the triumphs he had won, he could afford to be magnanimous. And after all, when Gwen the Mill had gone mad, and killed her baby, the Fool had done much better than she might; considering that suspicion - or was it knowledge? - that he had seen in her eyes and heard, not in her words, but in the sharpened bitterness with which they were uttered. She kept off that subject; some might have blabbed their injuries abroad. But it was all past and done with a long time ago. Poor little Gwen! But there, for all that happened, she had but herself to thank, - herself, and the Fool his wife. He was not going to blame himself, at this time of day.
How could you call it a barren or wasted life, wherein he had won so much? A knighthood, and a string of letters after his name; honors from a dozen universities, at home and abroad, of such as be interested in Celtic research: surely all this betokened a life well-spent? - Evil on that well-spent! when now at any moment the account was to be closed, and there remained so much in him yet to spend. So many idiots to chasten with the lashings of his cold logic - as witness this man in the Geninen, with his rigmarole of mysticism about Taliesin. - Have at that fellow now, whatever! These memories grew none too amusing; he had better find relief from them in action; he had better keep his brain busy with cold work till the last. He drew the lamp to the edge of the desk, picked up the magazine, and began reading.
It brought back his youthful dreams to him like an ache. He, too, had fancied an universal symbolism in the old story. - The witch Ceridwen, it will be remembered, had a son who was the ugliest man in the world; and she, fearing he would obtain no honor at the court of Arthur, determined to brew for him the Three Drops of Science in her magical cauldron. - How he, Sir David, had brooded in those old days, upon that cauldron; extracting worlds of wonder out of its name, Pair Dadeni, the Cauldron of Rebirth! It was all so familiar to him; he might have written the article himself. - She set the cauldron to boil among the hills, bidding Gwion Bach watch the fire while she gathered the herbs of the mountain in their season. The water boiled over, and scalded Gwion; who, putting the hurt finger for relief to his mouth, tasted the Three Drops, was illuminated by them, and "instantly became aware that he must fear above all things Ceridwen." In all this a vast human significance was guessed: it referred to the initiation of the Bard, and the severe trials attendant thereto. "Then," said the writer, "woe unto him that is not -"
Ah God, that pain again! "The cold sweat broke from his forehead; he lay back, clutching the arms of the chair, and waited. It had never been like this before. In thunder-crashes of agony it shook and rent him; breaking his courage; shattering his conceptions of time, of space, of selfhood; dislocating all the molds of his mind. The pictures he had been calling up went whirling past him; that wherewith he commented on them had grown impartial and impersonal with pain. His honors brought him no comfort now; he blamed none but himself for his errors. He perceived the beauty of his early dreams, and had it not in him to mock at them. He appeared to himself as two men: an individuality torn asunder by the raging storm of his torment: the poet he had been once, thirsty after golden non-material Truth; the acrid scholar he had become, avid only after truths barren and desolating - truths!
- Prepared! - Woe unto him that is not prepared! In waves and receding waves the great pain ebbed, leaving him strangely clear of brain and light of body; he finished the sentence he had been reading; or it was as if he had heard the words spoken aloud. Woe unto him that is not prepared, he repeated; what did it mean? It was something that interested him no longer; it had to do with - He stood up, undecided, strange, with a feeling of having experienced some momentous but indefinable change. A curious half restless sense came over him; as of one playing chess with Fate or Providence, who waits, yet with detachment, for his opponent to play. It was not his move; he must bide the time, and see what would happen. Meantime he went to the window, and looked out; as though expecting the move to come beneath the open sky. The full moon was shining above the sycamores, and he could see the glisten of drops on the grass-blades, and the movement of the April leaves on the trees. - What was that? ... He listened, and a second time heard his name called, from outside, from the direction of the drive. "Gwen the Mill!" he whispered; forgetting she had died so many years ago: "Gwen the Mill, indeed now!" He went out into the hall, put on his overcoat, and took hat and stick. "I am going out for a stroll in the moonlight, Marged fach," said he, as Mrs. Owen appeared in the door of the housekeeper's room. "Take you care against your catching cold now, Mister Davie dear," she answered; and turned back, I suppose, for something she had forgotten. A moment later she was in the hall again, and he was gone. "Dear now," said she, looking anxiously at the hat-rack, "what hat did he take, whatever? And sure I am I did see him putting on his overcoat. My old eyes are failing me, I think."
Out into the drive went Sir David, and on towards the gate. At the curve a woman's figure, shadowy in the uncertain light, flickered before his vision and was lost. "Gwen!" he called softly; “Gwenno fach, is it thou?" A wave of clear thinking came on him, and he remembered, and chid himself for falling a victim to illusions. 'Twas the shock of that attack, he supposed, had left his mind unclear. But he would investigate, and satisfy himself, lest recurring moments of weakness - He went on through the gate, and up the road on to the mountain. Hush! there was a call again - and there, on the right, standing on the bank above the road, in full moonlight, a beckoning figure.
While he looked it was gone. He was not sure that it was Gwen the Mill's; I do not think he thought of that; but he was in no doubt that it must be followed. He made up the slope and on to the wild moorland; the night was very bright; there was no difficulty about the going. Down and up; over heather and through fern; there was no difficulty; he knew which way to go.
On and on he went. The moon set; a great wind arose; he heard the keen shrill of it, but it caused him no inconvenience. There was a whisper out in the night; there was a mystery, a thrill; the wind and the moor and the sky were filled with haughty elemental importance; all were part of some vast ceremony in which he, too, played a part, though an uncomprehended one. Presently he saw leaping lights and shadows far off, and the glow of flame on smoke. He made his way towards it, and came soon to the rim of a hollow, in whose bottom a fire burned; round it figures were moving in silence. Gypsies, he supposed; he would go down and question them. He greeted them pleasantly enough; and they, it seemed, were not disinclined to be companionable. Gypsies? Well, no, they were not shipshwns; watching the fire they were, and the pot cooking on it. They had no Saxon - dim gair.* - It struck him vaguely that there was something very strange about them: nine of them there were: as he could see when the firelight shone on their faces, the strangeliest handsome men he remembered seeing. - Had they news of a woman wandering on the mountain - was she perhaps of their company? - Well, there was the Mistress; he might have seen her, indeed - What would she be doing, roaming the wilds in the night? - Whence did they come - from Llan-this or Cwm that? - the usual Welsh questions. Oh, they answered, the Mistress would be gathering herbs in their season for the brew in the pot; and as for themselves, they came from - but here he could make nothing of their answer. "But come you, sir," said one of them; “cold you will be; warm you yourself by the fire." He drew near, and in that shelter from the wind's keening, heard above all sounds in the world the hissing and boiling of the water in their kettle, and listened to it, and listened to it, and listened to it. He held his hands to the fire, listening, and forgot the nine watchers. Once again his life moved in minute procession before him. Now bright hopes, splendid aspirations, poetry; now the angry hissing and buzzing of acrid scholarship, and bitter criticism of the kind that eats into and
destroys all beauty and mystery and truth. All his life, all his life. . . . A sudden hubbub within the kettle; a cry from one of the nine: "Mind you your finger, sir!" He drew back his hand hastily; but not before a jet of the boiling fluid, hissing out, had scalded him. At the pain, the finger flew to his mouth. . . .
Ah, heaven, how glorious a thing was life! Why, the universe was all blazing poetry; the stars had voices, and called to him out of the far skies: god-voices, that cried aloud to him, Brother! As a note in the singing of Seraphim: as a gleam in the flame that is God: appeared to him the rejoicing world and his own being, tremendous with joy. Ah, heaven, the immensity of time! the vista of ages behind him! the lives on lives he had lived! the starry serenity of his liberated self! the majesty of his thought! the flaming beauty of existence! All the littleness of his past life vanished from his consciousness; it was a dark incident closed, a bitterness from which he had extracted all the meaning. He was no more Sir David Prosser; he was a "marvel whose origin" -
"And instantly he was aware of the peril he stood in, and that above all things he must fear Ceridwen.".....
He started up in terror; the cauldron had fallen; the fire was quenched; a black flood, seething and writhing, was rising about him in the hollow. He fled forward through the dark air; immitigable terror driving him on. The darkness of night threatened; out of the thick core of the midnight doom hurried in pursuit of him: loss whose magnitude was not to be fathomed by imagination: death vibrating inward to absoluteness. Below he was aware of the black flood rising and covering the moorland: he heard its hiss and roar as it flowed down over the hills, into the valleys, bearing poison and death. In an agony of fear he heard the rush of far wings: he knew of a terrible Pursuer behind, sweeping over the night-hid vales and mountains. On and on blindly through the darkness; from everywhere the night and the storm and the starless gloom cried out to him Too late! - Woe unto him that is not prepared! cried the midnight. . . . A rush of wings behind him in the air; a storm of great wings beating and nearing; the wind of swooping wings impelling him helpless to the earth; then silence, and the darkness died, giving place to no light. . . .
At half past ten Marged Owen went into her master's study, to see that he had returned from his stroll without harm taken, and to bring him his hot milk and biscuits. She found him dead in his chair.
*Not a word (of English).