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Fabulous Fairy Tales for children and adults. From our vast collection of old traditional fairy tales and fables.

The Psyche

IN the fresh morning dawn, in the rosy air gleams a great
Star, the brightest Star of the morning. His rays tremble on
the white wall, as if he wished to write down on it what he
can tell, what he has seen there and elsewhere during
thousands of years in our rolling world. Let us hear one of
his stories.

'A short time ago'- the Star's 'short time ago' is called
among men 'centuries ago'- 'my rays followed a young artist.
It was in the city of the Popes, in the world-city, Rome. Much
has been changed there in the course of time, but the changes
have not come so quickly as the change from youth to old age.
Then already the palace of the Caesars was a ruin, as it is
now; fig trees and laurels grew among the fallen marble
columns, and in the desolate bathing-halls, where the gilding
still clings to the wall; the Coliseum was a gigantic ruin;
the church bells sounded, the incense sent up its fragrant
cloud, and through the streets marched processions with
flaming tapers and glowing canopies. Holy Church was there,
and art was held as a high and holy thing. In Rome lived the
greatest painter in the world, Raphael; there also dwelt the
first of sculptors, Michael Angelo. Even the Pope paid homage
to these two, and honored them with a visit. Art was
recognized and honored, and was rewarded also. But, for all
that, everything great and splendid was not seen and known.

'In a narrow lane stood an old house. Once it had been a
temple; a young sculptor now dwelt there. He was young and
quite unknown. He certainly had friends, young artists, like
himself, young in spirit, young in hopes and thoughts; they
told him he was rich in talent, and an artist, but that he was
foolish for having no faith in his own power; for he always
broke what he had fashioned out of clay, and never completed
anything; and a work must be completed if it is to be seen and
to bring money.

''You are a dreamer,' they went on to say to him, 'and
that's your misfortune. But the reason of this is, that you
have never lived, you have never tasted life, you have never
enjoyed it in great wholesome draughts, as it ought to be
enjoyed. In youth one must mingle one's own personality with
life, that they may become one. Look at the great master
Raphael, whom the Pope honors and the world admires. He's no
despiser of wine and bread.'

''And he even appreciates the baker's daughter, the pretty
Fornarina,' added Angelo, one of the merriest of the young
friends.

'Yes, they said a good many things of the kind, according
to their age and their reason. They wanted to draw the young
artist out with them into the merry wild life, the mad life as
it might also be called; and at certain times he felt an
inclination for it. He had warm blood, a strong imagination,
and could take part in the merry chat, and laugh aloud with
the rest; but what they called 'Raphael's merry life'
disappeared before him like a vapor when he saw the divine
radiance that beamed forth from the pictures of the great
master; and when he stood in the Vatican, before the forms of
beauty which the masters had hewn out of marble thousands of
years since, his breast swelled, and he felt within himself
something high, something holy, something elevating, great and
good, and he wished that he could produce similar forms from
the blocks of marble. He wished to make a picture of that
which was within him, stirring upward from his heart to the
realms of the Infinite; but how, and in what form? The soft
clay was fashioned under his fingers into forms of beauty, but
the next day he broke what he had fashioned, according to his
wont.

'One day he walked past one of those rich palaces of which
Rome has many to show. He stopped before the great open
portal, and beheld a garden surrounded by cloistered walks.
The garden bloomed with a goodly show of the fairest roses.
Great white lilies with green juicy leaves shot upward from
the marble basin in which the clear water was splashing; and a
form glided past, the daughter of the princely house,
graceful, delicate, and wonderfully fair. Such a form of
female loveliness he had never before beheld- yet stay: he had
seen it, painted by Raphael, painted as a Psyche, in one of
the Roman palaces. Yes, there it had been painted; but here it
passed by him in living reality.

'The remembrance lived in his thoughts, in his heart. He
went home to his humble room, and modelled a Psyche of clay.
It was the rich young Roman girl, the noble maiden; and for
the first time he looked at his work with satisfaction. It had
a meaning for him, for it was she. And the friends who saw his
work shouted aloud for joy; they declared that this work was a
manifestation of his artistic power, of which they had long
been aware, and that now the world should be made aware of it
too.

'The clay figure was lifelike and beautiful, but it had
not the whiteness or the durability of marble. So they
declared that the Psyche must henceforth live in marble. He
already possessed a costly block of that stone. It had been
lying for years, the property of his parents, in the
courtyard. Fragments of glass, climbing weeds, and remains of
artichokes had gathered about it and sullied its purity; but
under the surface the block was as white as the mountain snow;
and from this block the Psyche was to arise.'

Now, it happened one morning- the bright Star tells
nothing about this, but we know it occurred- that a noble
Roman company came into the narrow lane. The carriage stopped
at the top of the lane, and the company proceeded on foot
towards the house, to inspect the young sculptor's work, for
they had heard him spoken of by chance. And who were these
distinguished guests? Poor young man! or fortunate young man
he might be called. The noble young lady stood in the room and
smiled radiantly when her father said to her, 'It is your
living image.' That smile could not be copied, any more than
the look could be reproduced, the wonderful look which she
cast upon the young artist. It was a fiery look, that seemed
at once to elevate and to crush him.

'The Psyche must be executed in marble,' said the wealthy
patrician. And those were words of life for the dead clay and
the heavy block of marble, and words of life likewise for the
deeply-moved artist. 'When the work is finished I will
purchase it,' continued the rich noble.

A new era seemed to have arisen in the poor studio. Life
and cheerfulness gleamed there, and busy industry plied its
work. The beaming Morning Star beheld how the work progressed.
The clay itself seemed inspired since she had been there, and
moulded itself, in heightened beauty, to a likeness of the
well-known features.

'Now I know what life is,' cried the artist rejoicingly;
'it is Love! It is the lofty abandonment of self for the
dawning of the beautiful in the soul! What my friends call
life and enjoyment is a passing shadow; it is like bubbles
among seething dregs, not the pure heavenly wine that
consecrates us to life.'

The marble block was reared in its place. The chisel
struck great fragments from it; the measurements were taken,
points and lines were made, the mechanical part was executed,
till gradually the stone assumed a human female form, a shape
of beauty, and became converted into the Psyche, fair and
glorious- a divine being in human shape. The heavy stone
appeared as a gliding, dancing, airy Psyche, with the heavenly
innocent smile- the smile that had mirrored itself in the soul
of the young artist.

The Star of the roseate dawn beheld and understood what
was stirring within the young man, and could read the meaning
of the changing color of his cheek, of the light that flashed
from his eye, as he stood busily working, reproducing what had
been put into his soul from above.

'Thou art a master like those masters among the ancient
Greeks,' exclaimed his delighted friends; 'soon shall the
whole world admire thy Psyche.'

'My Psyche!' he repeated. 'Yes, mine. She must be mine. I,
too, am an artist, like those great men who are gone.
Providence has granted me the boon, and has made me the equal
of that lady of noble birth.'

And he knelt down and breathed a prayer of thankfulnesss
to Heaven, and then he forgot Heaven for her sake- for the
sake of her picture in stone- for her Psyche which stood there
as if formed of snow, blushing in the morning dawn.

He was to see her in reality, the living, graceful Psyche,
whose words sounded like music in his ears. He could now carry
the news into the rich palace that the marble Psyche was
finished. He betook himself thither, strode through the open
courtyard where the waters ran splashing from the dolphin's
jaws into the marble basins, where the snowy lilies and the
fresh roses bloomed in abundance. He stepped into the great
lofty hall, whose walls and ceilings shone with gilding and
bright colors and heraldic devices. Gayly-dressed serving-men,
adorned with trappings like sleigh horses, walked to and fro,
and some reclined at their ease upon the carved oak seats, as
if they were the masters of the house. He told them what had
brought him to the palace, and was conducted up the shining
marble staircase, covered with soft carpets and adorned with
many a statue. Then he went on through richly-furnished
chambers, over mosaic floors, amid gorgeous pictures. All this
pomp and luxury seemed to weary him; but soon he felt
relieved, for the princely old master of the house received
him most graciously,, almost heartily; and when he took his
leave he was requested to step into the Signora's apartment,
for she, too, wished to see him. The servants led him through
more luxurious halls and chambers into her room, where she
appeared the chief and leading ornament.

She spoke to him. No hymn of supplication, no holy chant,
could melt his soul like the sound of her voice. He took her
hand and lifted it to his lips. No rose was softer, but a fire
thrilled through him from this rose- a feeling of power came
upon him, and words poured from his tongue- he knew not what
he said. Does the crater of the volcano know that the glowing
lava is pouring from it? He confessed what he felt for her.
She stood before him astonished, offended, proud, with
contempt in her face, an expression of disgust, as if she had
suddenly touched a cold unclean reptile. Her cheeks reddened,
her lips grew white, and her eyes flashed fire, though they
were dark as the blackness of night.

'Madman!' she cried, 'away! begone!'

And she turned her back upon him. Her beautiful face wore
an expression like that of the stony countenance with the
snaky locks.

Like a stricken, fainting man, he tottered down the
staircase and out into the street. Like a man walking in his
sleep, he found his way back to his dwelling. Then he woke up
to madness and agony, and seized his hammer, swung it high in
the air, and rushed forward to shatter the beautiful marble
image. But, in his pain, he had not noticed that his friend
Angelo stood beside him; and Angelo held back his arm with a
strong grasp, crying,

'Are you mad? What are you about?'

They struggled together. Angelo was the stronger; and,
with a deep sigh of exhaustion, the young artist threw himself
into a chair.

'What has happened?' asked Angelo. 'Command yourself.
Speak!'

But what could he say? How could he explain? And as Angelo
could make no sense of his friend's incoherent words, he
forbore to question him further, and merely said,

'Your blood grows thick from your eternal dreaming. Be a
man, as all others are, and don't go on living in ideals, for
that is what drives men crazy. A jovial feast will make you
sleep quietly and happily. Believe me, the time will come when
you will be old, and your sinews will shrink, and then, on
some fine sunshiny day, when everything is laughing and
rejoicing, you will lie there a faded plant, that will grow no
more. I do not live in dreams, but in reality. Come with me.
Be a man!'

And he drew the artist away with him. At this moment he
was able to do so, for a fire ran in the blood of the young
sculptor; a change had taken place in his soul; he felt a
longing to tear from the old, the accustomed- to forget, if
possible, his own individuality; and therefore it was that he
followed Angelo.

In an out-of-the-way suburb of Rome lay a tavern much
visited by artists. It was built on the ruins of some ancient
baths. The great yellow citrons hung down among the dark
shining leaves, and covered a part of the old reddish-yellow
walls. The tavern consisted of a vaulted chamber, almost like
a cavern, in the ruins. A lamp burned there before the picture
of the Madonna. A great fire gleamed on the hearth, and
roasting and boiling was going on there; without, under the
citron trees and laurels, stood a few covered tables.

The two artists were received by their friends with shouts
of welcome. Little was eaten, but much was drunk, and the
spirits of the company rose. Songs were sung and ditties were
played on the guitar; presently the Salterello sounded, and
the merry dance began. Two young Roman girls, who sat as
models to the artists, took part in the dance and in the
festivity. Two charming Bacchantes were they; certainly not
Psyches- not delicate, beautiful roses, but fresh, hearty,
glowing carnations.

How hot it was on that day! Even after sundown it was hot.
There was fire in the blood, fire in every glance, fire
everywhere. The air gleamed with gold and roses, and life
seemed like gold and roses.

'At last you have joined us, for once,' said his friends.
'Now let yourself be carried by the waves within and around
you.'

'Never yet have I felt so well, so merry!' cried the young
artist. 'You are right- you are all of you right. I was a
fool- a dreamer. Man belongs to reality, and not to fancy.'

With songs and with sounding guitars the young people
returned that evening from the tavern, through the narrow
streets; the two glowing carnations, daughters of the
Campagna, went with them.

In Angelo's room, among a litter of colored sketches
(studies) and glowing pictures, the voices sounded mellower,
but not less merrily. On the ground lay many a sketch that
resembled the daughters of the Campagna, in their fresh,
hearty comeliness, but the two originals were far handsomer
than their portraits. All the burners of the six-armed lamp
flared and flamed; and the human flamed up from within, and
appeared in the glare as if it were divine.

'Apollo! Jupiter! I feel myself raised to our heaven- to
your glory! I feel as if the blossom of life were unfolding
itself in my veins at this moment!'

Yes, the blossom unfolded itself, and then burst and fell,
and an evil vapor arose from it, blinding the sight, leading
astray the fancy; the firework of the senses went out, and it
became dark.

He was again in his own room. There he sat down on his bed
and collected his thoughts.

'Fie on thee!' these were the words that sounded out of
his mouth from the depths of his heart. 'Wretched man, go,
begone!' And a deep painful sigh burst from his bosom.

'Away! begone!' These, her words, the words of the living
Psyche, echoed through his heart, escaped from his lips. He
buried his head in the pillows, his thoughts grew confused,
and he fell asleep.

In the morning dawn he started up, and collected his
thoughts anew. What had happened? Had all the past been a
dream? The visit to her, the feast at the tavern, the evening
with the purple carnations of the Campagna? No, it was all
real- a reality he had never before experienced.

In the purple air gleamed the bright Star, and its beams
fell upon him and upon the marble Psyche. He trembled as he
looked at that picture of immortality, and his glance seemed
impure to him. He threw the cloth over the statue, and then
touched it once more to unveil the form- but he was not able
to look again at his own work.

Gloomy, quiet, absorbed in his own thoughts, he sat there
through the long day; he heard nothing of what was going on
around him, and no man guessed what was passing in this human
soul.

And days and weeks went by, but the nights passed more
slowly than the days. The flashing Star beheld him one morning
as he rose, pale and trembling with fever, from his sad couch;
then he stepped towards the statue, threw back the covering,
took one long, sorrowful gaze at his work, and then, almost
sinking beneath the burden, he dragged the statue out into the
garden. In that place was an old dry well, now nothing but a
hole. Into this he cast the Psyche, threw earth in above her,
and covered up the spot with twigs and nettles.

'Away! begone!' Such was the short epitaph he spoke.

The Star beheld all this from the pink morning sky, and
its beam trembled upon two great tears upon the pale feverish
cheeks of the young man; and soon it was said that he was sick
unto death, and he lay stretched upon a bed of pain.

The convent Brother Ignatius visited him as a physician
and a friend, and brought him words of comfort, of religion,
and spoke to him of the peace and happiness of the church, of
the sinfulness of man, of rest and mercy to be found in
heaven.

And the words fell like warm sunbeams upon a teeming soil.
The soil smoked and sent up clouds of mist, fantastic
pictures, pictures in which there was reality; and from these
floating islands he looked across at human life. He found it
vanity and delusion- and vanity and delusion it had been to
him. They told him that art was a sorcerer, betraying us to
vanity and to earthly lusts; that we are false to ourselves,
unfaithful to our friends, unfaithful towards Heaven; and that
the serpent was always repeating within us, 'Eat, and thou
shalt become as God.'

And it appeared to him as if now, for the first time, he
knew himself, and had found the way that leads to truth and to
peace. In the church was the light and the brightness of God-
in the monk's cell he should find the rest through which the
tree of human life might grow on into eternity.

Brother Ignatius strengthened his longings, and the
determination became firm within him. A child of the world
became a servant of the church- the young artist renounced the
world, and retired into the cloister.

The brothers came forward affectionately to welcome him,
and his inauguration was as a Sunday feast. Heaven seemed to
him to dwell in the sunshine of the church, and to beam upon
him from the holy pictures and from the cross. And when, in
the evening, at the sunset hour, he stood in his little cell,
and, opening the window, looked out upon old Rome, upon the
desolated temples, and the great dead Coliseum- when he saw
all this in its spring garb, when the acacias bloomed, and the
ivy was fresh, and roses burst forth everywhere, and the
citron and orange were in the height of their beauty, and the
palm trees waved their branches- then he felt a deeper emotion
than had ever yet thrilled through him. The quiet open
Campagna spread itself forth towards the blue snow-covered
mountains, which seemed to be painted in the air; all the
outlines melting into each other, breathing peace and beauty,
floating, dreaming- and all appearing like a dream!

Yes, this world was a dream, and the dream lasts for
hours, and may return for hours; but convent life is a life of
years- long years, and many years.

From within comes much that renders men sinful and impure.
He fully realized the truth of this. What flames arose up in
him at times! What a source of evil, of that which we would
not, welled up continually! He mortified his body, but the
evil came from within.


One day, after the lapse of many years, he met Angelo, who
recognized him.

'Man!' exclaimed Angelo. 'Yes, it is thou! Art thou happy
now? Thou hast sinned against God, and cast away His boon from
thee- hast neglected thy mission in this world! Read the
parable of the intrusted talent! The MASTER, who spoke that
parable, spoke the truth! What hast thou gained? What hast
thou found? Dost thou not fashion for thyself a religion and a
dreamy life after thine own idea, as almost all do? Suppose
all this is a dream, a fair delusion!'

'Get thee away from me, Satan!' said the monk; and he
quitted Angelo.

'There is a devil, a personal devil! This day I have seen
him!' said the monk to himself. 'Once I extended a finger to
him, and he took my whole hand. But now,' he sighed, 'the evil
is within me, and it is in yonder man; but it does not bow him
down; he goes abroad with head erect, and enjoys his comfort;
and I grasped at comfort in the consolations of religion. If
it were nothing but a consolation? Supposing everything here
were, like the world I have quitted, only a beautiful fancy, a
delusion like the beauty of the evening clouds, like the misty
blue of the distant hills!- when you approach them, they are
very different! O eternity! Thou actest like the great calm
ocean, that beckons us, and fills us with expectation- and
when we embark upon thee, we sink, disappear, and cease to be.
Delusion! away with it! begone!'

And tearless, but sunk in bitter reflection, he sat upon
his hard couch, and then knelt down- before whom? Before the
stone cross fastened to the wall? No, it was only habit that
made him take this position.

The more deeply he looked into his own heart, the blacker
did the darkness seem. -'Nothing within, nothing without- this
life squanderied and cast away!' And this thought rolled and
grew like a snowball, until it seemed to crush him.

'I can confide my griefs to none. I may speak to none of
the gnawing worm within. My secret is my prisoner; if I let
the captive escape, I shall be his!'

And the godlike power that dwelt within him suffered and
strove.

'O Lord, my Lord!' he cried, in his despair, 'be merciful
and grant me faith. I threw away the gift thou hadst
vouchsafed to me, I left my mission unfulfilled. I lacked
strength, and strength thou didst not give me. Immortality-
the Psyche in my breast- away with it!- it shall be buried
like that Psyche, the best gleam of my life; never will it
arise out of its grave!'

The Star glowed in the roseate air, the Star that shall
surely be extinguished and pass away while the soul still
lives on; its trembling beam fell upon the white wall, but it
wrote nothing there upon being made perfect in God, nothing of
the hope of mercy, of the reliance on the divine love that
thrills through the heart of the believer.

'The Psyche within can never die. Shall it live in
consciousness? Can the incomprehensible happen? Yes, yes. My
being is incomprehensible. Thou art unfathomable, O Lord. Thy
whole world is incomprehensible- a wonder-work of power, of
glory and of love.'

His eyes gleamed, and then closed in death. The tolling of
the church bell was the last sound that echoed above him,
above the dead man; and they buried him, covering him with
earth that had been brought from Jerusalem, and in which was
mingled the dust of many of the pious dead.

When years had gone by his skeleton was dug up, as the
skeletons of the monks who had died before him had been; it
was clad in a brown frock, a rosary was put into the bony
hand, and the form was placed among the ranks of other
skeletons in the cloisters of the convent. And the sun shone
without, while within the censers were waved and the Mass was
celebrated.


And years rolled by.

The bones fell asunder and became mingled with others.
Skulls were piled up till they formed an outer wall around the
church; and there lay also his head in the burning sun, for
many dead were there, and no one knew their names, and his
name was forgotten also. And see, something was moving in the
sunshine, in the sightless cavernous eyes! What might that be?
A sparkling lizard moved about in the skull, gliding in and
out through the sightless holes. The lizard now represented
all the life left in that head, in which once great thoughts,
bright dreams, the love of art and of the glorious, had
arisen, whence hot tears had rolled down, where hope and
immortality had had their being. The lizard sprang away and
disappeared, and the skull itself crumbled to pieces and
became dust among dust.

Centuries passed away. The bright Star gleamed unaltered,
radiant and large, as it had gleamed for thousands of years,
and the air glowed red with tints fresh as roses, crimson like
blood.

There, where once had stood the narrow lane containing the
ruins of the temple, a nunnery was now built. A grave was
being dug in the convent garden for a young nun who had died,
and was to be laid in the earth this morning. The spade struck
against a hard substance; it was a stone, that shone dazzling
white. A block of marble soon appeared, a rounded shoulder was
laid bare; and now the spade was plied with a more careful
hand, and presently a female head was seen, and butterflies'
wings. Out of the grave in which the young nun was to be laid
they lifted, in the rosy morning, a wonderful statue of a
Psyche carved in white marble.

'How beautiful, how perfect it is!' cried the spectators.
'A relic of the best period of art.'

And who could the sculptor have been? No one knew; no one
remembered him, except the bright star that had gleamed for
thousands of years. The star had seen the course of that life
on earth, and knew of the man's trials, of his weakness- in
fact, that he had been but human. The man's life had passed
away, his dust had been scattered abroad as dust is destined
to be; but the result of his noblest striving, the glorious
work that gave token of the divine element within him- the
Psyche that never dies, that lives beyond posterity- the
brightness even of this earthly Psyche remained here after
him, and was seen and acknowledged and appreciated.

The bright Morning Star in the roseate air threw its
glancing ray downward upon the Psyche, and upon the radiant
countenances of the admiring spectators, who here beheld the
image of the soul portrayed in marble.

What is earthly will pass away and be forgotten, and the
Star in the vast firmament knows it. What is heavenly will
shine brightly through posterity; and when the ages of
posterity are past, the Psyche- the soul- will still live on!



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