The Roadmender

Author: Michael Fairless

Chapter VI

"ANYTUS and Meletus can kill me, but they cannot hurt me," said Socrates; and Governor Sancho, with all the itch of newly-acquired authority, could not make the young weaver of steel-heads for lances sleep in prison. In the Vision of Er the souls passed straight forward under the throne of necessity, and out into the plains of forgetfulness, where they must severally drink of the river of unmindfulness whose waters cannot be held in any vessel. The throne, the plain, and the river are still here, but in the distance rise the great lone heavenward hills, and the wise among us no longer ask of the gods Lethe, but rather remembrance. Necessity can set me helpless on my back, but she cannot keep me there; nor can four walls limit my vision. I pass out from under her throne into the garden of God a free man, to my ultimate beatitude or my exceeding shame. All day long this world lies open to me; ay, and other worlds also, if I will but have it so; and when night comes I pass into the kingdom and power of the dark.

I lie through the long hours and watch my bridge, which is set with lights across the gloom; watch the traffic which is for me but so many passing lamps telling their tale by varying height and brightness. I hear under my window the sprint of over-tired horses, the rattle of uncertain wheels as the street-sellers hasten south; the jangle of cab bells as the theatre-goers take their homeward way; the gruff altercation of weary men, the unmelodious song and clamorous laugh of women whose merriment is wearier still. Then comes a time of stillness when the light in the sky waxes and wanes, when the cloud-drifts obscure the stars, and I gaze out into blackness set with watching eyes. No sound comes from without but the voice of the night-wind and the cry of the hour. The clock on the mantelpiece ticks imperatively, for a check has fallen on the familiarity which breeds a disregard of common things, and a reason has to be sought for each sound which claims a hearing. The pause is wonderful while it lasts, but it is not for long. The working world awakes, the poorer brethren take up the burden of service; the dawn lights the sky; remembrance cries an end to forgetting.

Sometimes in the country on a night in early summer you may shut the cottage door to step out into an immense darkness which palls heaven and earth. Going forward into the embrace of the great gloom, you are as a babe swaddled by the hands of night into helpless quiescence. Your feet tread an unseen path, your hands grasp at a void, or shrink from the contact they cannot realise; your eyes are holden; your voice would die in your throat did you seek to rend the veil of that impenetrable silence.

Shut in by the intangible dark, we are brought up against those worlds within worlds blotted out by our concrete daily life. The working of the great microcosm at which we peer dimly through the little window of science; the wonderful, breathing earth; the pulsing, throbbing sap; the growing fragrance shut in the calyx of to-morrow’s flower; the heart-beat of a sleeping world that we dream that we know; and around, above, and interpenetrating all, the world of dreams, of angels and of spirits.

It was this world which Jacob saw on the first night of his exile, and again when he wrestled in Peniel until the break of day. It was this world which Elisha saw with open eyes; which Job knew when darkness fell on him; which Ezekiel gazed into from his place among the captives; which Daniel beheld as he stood alone by the great river, the river Hiddekel.

For the moment we have left behind the realm of question and explanation, of power over matter and the exercise of bodily faculties; and passed into darkness alight with visions we cannot see, into silence alive with voices we cannot hear. Like helpless men we set our all on the one thing left us, and lift up our hearts, knowing that we are but a mere speck among a myriad worlds, yet greater than the sum of them; having our roots in the dark places of the earth, but our branches in the sweet airs of heaven.

It is the material counterpart of the ’Night of the Soul.’ We have left our house and set forth in the darkness which paralyses those faculties that make us men in the world of men. But surely the great mystics, with all their insight and heavenly love, fell short when they sought freedom in complete separateness from creation instead of in perfect unity with it. The Greeks knew better when they flung Ariadne’s crown among the stars, and wrote Demeter’s grief on a barren earth, and Persephone’s joy in the fruitful field. For the earth is gathered up in man; he is the whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. Standing in the image of God, and clothed in the garment of God, he lifts up priestly hands and presents the sacrifice of redeemed earth before the throne of the All-Father. "Dust and ashes and a house of devils," he cries; and there comes back for answer, "REX CONCUPISCET DECOREM TUAM."

The Angel of Death has broad wings of silence and mystery with which he shadows the valley where we need fear no evil, and where the voice which speaks to us is as the "voice of doves, tabering upon their breasts." It is a place of healing and preparation, of peace and refreshing after the sharply-defined outlines of a garish day. Walking there we learn to use those natural faculties of the soul which are hampered by the familiarity of bodily progress, to apprehend the truths which we have intellectually accepted. It is the place of secrets where the humility which embraces all attainable knowledge cries "I know not"; and while we proclaim from the house-tops that which we have learnt, the manner of our learning lies hid for each one of us in the sanctuary of our souls.

The Egyptians, in their ancient wisdom, act in the desert a great androsphinx, image of mystery and silence, staring from under level brows across the arid sands of the sea-way. The Greeks borrowed and debased the image, turning the inscrutable into a semi-woman who asked a foolish riddle, and hurled herself down in petulant pride when OEdipus answered aright. So we, marring the office of silence, question its mystery; thwart ourselves with riddles of our own suggesting; and turn away, leaving our offering but half consumed on the altar of the unknown god. It was not the theft of fire that brought the vengeance of heaven upon Prometheus, but the mocking sacrifice. Orpheus lost Eurydice because he must see her face before the appointed time. Persephone ate of the pomegranate and hungered in gloom for the day of light which should have been endless.

The universe is full of miracle and mystery; the darkness and silence are set for a sign we dare not despise. The pall of night lifts, leaving us engulphed in the light of immensity under a tossing heaven of stars. The dawn breaks, but it does not surprise us, for we have watched from the valley and seen the pale twilight. Through the wondrous Sabbath of faithful souls, the long day of rosemary and rue, the light brightens in the East; and we pass on towards it with quiet feet and opening eyes, bearing with us all of the redeemed earth that we have made our own, until we are fulfilled in the sunrise of the great Easter Day, and the peoples come from north and south and east and west to the City which lieth foursquare - the Beatific Vision of God.

Vere Ierusalem est illa civitas Cuius pax iugis et summa iucunditas; Ubi non praevenit rem desiderium, Nec desiderio minus est praemium.


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Chicago: Michael Fairless, "Chapter VI," The Roadmender, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Roadmender Original Sources, accessed March 20, 2019,

MLA: Fairless, Michael. "Chapter VI." The Roadmender, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Roadmender, Original Sources. 20 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Fairless, M, 'Chapter VI' in The Roadmender, trans. . cited in , The Roadmender. Original Sources, retrieved 20 March 2019, from