The Demon, the Angel, and Beauty

Clark Ashton Smith

Of the Demon who standeth or walketh always with me at my left hand, I asked: "Hast thou seen Beauty? Her that meseemeth was the mistress of my soul in Eternity? Her that is now beyond question set over me in Time; even though I behold her not, and, it may be, have never beheld, nor ever shall; her of whose aspect I am ignorant as noon is concerning any star: her of whom as witness and testimony, I have found only the hem of her shadow, or at most, her reflection in a dim and troubled water. Answer, if thou canst, and tell me, is she like pearls, or like stars? Does she resemble most the sunlight that is transparent and unbroken, or the sunlight divided into splendour and iris? Is she the heart of the day, or the soul of the night?"

To which the Demon answered, after, as I thought, a brief space of meditation:

"Concerning this Beauty, I can tell thee but little beyond that which thou knowest. Albeit, in those orbs to which the demons of my rank have admission, there be greater adumbrations of some transcendent Mystery than here, yet have I never seen that Mystery itself, and know not if it be male or female. Aeons ago, when I was young and incautious, when the world was new and bright, and there were more stars than now, I, too, was attracted by this Mystery, and sought after it in all accessible spheres. But failing to find the thing itself, I soon grew wear of embracing its shadows, and took to the pursuit of illusions less insubstantial. Now I am become grey and ashen without and red like old fire within, who was fiery and flame-coloured all through, back in the star-thronged aeons of which I speak: Heed me, for I am as wise, and wary and ancient as the far-travelled and comet-scarred sun; and I am become of the opinion that the thing Beauty itself does not exist, Doubtless the semblance thereof is but a web of shadow and delusion, woven by the crafty hand of God, that He may snare demons and men therewith, for His mirth, and the laughter of His archangels."

The Demon ceased, and took to watching me as usual-obliquely, and with one eye-an eye that is more red than Aldebaran, and inscrutable as the gulfs beyond the Hyades.

Then of the Angel, who walketh or standeth always with me at my right hand, I asked, "Hast thou seen Beauty? Or hast thou heard any assured rumour concerning Beauty?"

To which the Angel answered, after, as I thought, a moment of hesitation:

"As to this Beauty, I can tell thee but little beyond that which thou knowest, Albeit in all the heavens, this Mystery is a topic of the most frequent and sublime speculation among the archangels, and a perennial theme for the more inspired singers and harpists of the cherubim-yea, despite all this, we are greatly ignorant as to its true nature, and substance, and attributes. But sometimes there are mighty adumbrations which cover even the superior seraphim from above the wing-tips, and make unfamiliar twilight in heaven. And sometimes there is an echo which fills the empyrean, and hushes the archangelic harps in the midst of their praising of God. This is often, and these visitations of echo and shadow spread an awe over the assembled Thrones and Splendours and Dominations, which at other times accompanies only the emanence or appearance of God Himself. Thus are we assured as to the reality of this Beauty. And because it remains a mystery to us, to whom naught else is mysterious except God, we conjecture that it is the thing upon which God meditateth, self-obscured and centred, and because of which He hath held Himself immanifest to us for so many aeons: that this is the secret which God keepeth even from the seraphim."

[c. May 1913]

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Printed on: October 29, 2020