Two Souls in Heaven

Remember the Life Lived on Earth

by Robert Herrick

He. Can you conceive of any heaven for which you would change this shameful world? Any heaven, I mean, of spirits, not merely an Italian palace of delights?

She. There is the heaven of the Pagans, the heaven of glorified earth, but——

He. Would you like to dine without tasting the fruit and the wine? What attainment would it be to walk in fields of asphodel, when all the colors of all the empyrean were equally dazzling, and perceived by the mind alone? For my part, I should prefer to hold one human violet.

She. The heaven of the Christian to-day?

He. That may be interpreted in two ways: the heaven where we know nothing but God, and the heaven where we remember our former life. Let us pass the first, for the second is the heaven passionately desired by those who have suffered here, who have lost their friends.

Suppose that we two had finished with the episode of death, and had come out beyond into that tranquillity of spirit where sorrows change to harmony. You and I would go together, or, perhaps, less fortunate, one should wait the other, but finally both would experience this transformation from body into spirit. Should you like it? Would it fill your heart with content—if you remembered the past? I think not. Suppose we should walk out some fresh morning, as we love to do now, and look at that earth we had been compelled to abandon. Where would be that fierce joy of inrushing life? for, I fancy, we should ever have a level of contentment and repose. Indeed, there would be no evening with its comforting calm, no especially still nights, no mornings: nothing is precious when nothing changes, and where all can be had for eternity.

We should talk, as of old, but the conversation of old men and women would be dramatic and passionate to ours. For everything must needs be known, and there could be no distinctions in feeling. Should you see your sister dying in agony at sea, you would smile tranquilly at her temporary and childish sorrow. All the affairs of this life would not strike you, pierce your heart, or move your pulse. They would repeat themselves in your eyes with a monotonous precision, and they would be done almost before the actors had begun. Indeed, if you should not be incapable of blasphemy, you would rebel at this blind game, played out with such fever.

We must not forget that our creative force would be spent: planning, building, executing, toiling patiently for some end that is mirrored only in our minds—how much of our joy comes from these!—would be laid aside. We should have shaken the world as much as we could: now, peace…. Again, I say, peace is felt only after a storm. Like Ulysses, we should look wistfully out from the isolation of heaven to the resounding waves of this unconquered world.

Of course, one may say that the mind might fashion cures for all this; that a greater architect would build a saner heaven. But, remember, that we must not change the personal sense; in heaven, however you plan it, no mortal must lose that "I" so painfully built from the human ages. If you destroy his sense of the past life, his treasures acquired in this earth, you break the rules of the game: you begin again and we have nothing to do with it.

She. You have not yet touched upon the cruellest condition of the life of the spirit.

He. Ah, dearest, I know that. You mean the love of the person. Indeed, so quick it hurts me that I doubt if you would be walking that morning in heaven with me alone. Perhaps, however, the memories of our common life on earth would make you single me out. Let us think so. We should walk on to some secluded spot, apart from the other spirits, and with our eyes cast down so that we might not see that earth we were remembering. You would look up at last with a touch of that defiance I love so now, as if a young goddess were tossing away divine cares to shine out again in smiles. Ah, how sad!

I should have some stir about the heart, some desire to kiss you, to embrace you, to possess you, as the inalienable joy of my life. My hand could not even touch you! Would our eyes look love? Could we have any individual longing for one-another, any affection kept apart to ourselves, not swallowed up in that general loving-kindness and universal beatification proper to spirits?

I know upon earth to-day some women, great souls, too, who are incapable of an individual love. They may be married, they may have children; they are good wives and good mothers; but their souls are too large for a single passion. Their world blesses them, worships them, makes saints of them, but no man has ever touched the bottom of their hearts. I suppose their husbands are happy in the general happiness, yet they must be sad some days, over this barren love. Hours come when they must long, even for the little heart of a coquette that has dedicated itself to one other and with that other would trustingly venture into hell.

Well, that universal love is the only kind such spirits as you and I should be, could know. Would that content you?

We should sit mournfully silent, two impotent hearts, and remember, remember. I should worship your exquisite body as I had known it on earth. I should see that head as it bends to-night; I should hear again your voice in those words you were singing when I passed your way that first time; and your eyes would burn with the fire of our relinquished love. It would all come faintly out of the past, deadened by a thin film of recollection; now it strikes with a fierce joy, almost like a physical blow, and wakes me to life, to desire.

She. Yes. We women say we love the spirit of the man we have chosen, but it is a spirit that acts and expresses itself in the body. To that body, with all its habits, so unconscious! its sure force and power, we are bound—more than the man is bound to the loveliness of the woman he adores. We—I, it is safer so, perhaps—understand what I see, what I feel, what I touch, what I have kissed and loved. That is mine and becomes mine more each day I live with it and possess it. That love of the concrete is our limitation, so we are told, but it is our joy.

He. So we should sit, without words, for we would shrink from speech as too sad, and we should know swiftly the thought of the other. And when the sense of our loss became quite intolerable, we should walk on silently, in a growing horror of the eternity ahead. At last one of us, moved by some acute remembrance of our deadened selves, would go to the Master of the Spirits and, standing before him in rebellion, would say: "Cast us out as unfit for this heaven, and if Thou canst not restore us into that past state at least give us Hell, where we may suffer a common pain, instead of this passive calm and contemplation."