"Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,-behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it-he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher, found it not."
--Percy Bysshe Shelley


The universe tastes, in truth, of darkness and has the scent of ashes. There is no innate meaning, no inherent hereafter, and all any man can truly know of is ending. Yet living in such a place with such things in mind is impossible: how can men live, love, write, and pray when all around them is the invetibility of meaninglessness? To combat the darkness, armor is donned, a shell is spawned, a veil is placed on brow-the Painted Veil.

The painted veil is constructed by society and bound to skull at birth. It is a strange amalgam of stuffs, mostly self deceptions and illusions, misconceptions and delusions that permit man to get through the day without falling to his knees and unleashing a deluge of tears. It is not truth, to be sure, but it is just enough to live.

And what of he who lifts the veil, who braves the chasm of darkness and despair in a hunt for truth and true beauty? What becomes of him, and what is he to find? It is a sad fate he faces, for it will not merely take Eliot's handful of dust to make him know fear: fear is to be found for him in clay, stardust, sparkling moon, ink, and pen. They are what we are, and they are what we may be. . .Yet does a man who becomes stardust and moon recall any pleasure or pain? Does he know he was a man? He does not, and he might as well have never been, and any truth or beauty he ever knew might as well have never been.

The comparison to the Preacher at the last is apt. It is a reference to the Book of Ecclesiastes of the Old Testament. The Preacher was an elderly king (perhaps Solomon) who had amassed great wealth and felt great joy, and, soon, he would die. As with the one who had lifted the painted veil, he strove for meaning and truth as the darkness loomed. He hunted for some kind of significance in his accomplishments as he faced death. "Vanities of vanities," the Preacher reflected, "all is vanity." The conclusion reached by the Preacher was to trust in God and His ineffable plan, to be righteous, to follow the commandments, and die when death comes: "Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." Alas, this solution comforts not the agnostic or the unbeliever, for it assumes both the existance of a plan and a god. What if, as cruelly chanted by the blackness between star light, such an assumption cannot be made?

Then there is no solace to be found, and therefore we must rend our garments, don sackcloth, eat ashes, and lament for creation until we become as dust.

Or we may gather rosebuds and tremble with joy at the beauty that makes us love the world so well.

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