The Unhappy Body, by Lord Dunsany
"Why do you not dance with us and rejoice with us?" they said to a certain
body. And then that body made the confession of its trouble. It said: "I
am united with a fierce and violent soul, that is altogether tyrannous and
will not let me rest, and he drags me away from the dances of my kin to
make me toil at his detestable work; and he will not let me do the little
things, that would give pleasure to the folk I love, but only cares to
please posterity when he has done with me and left me to the worms; and
all the while he makes absurd demands of affection from those that are
near to me, and is too proud even to notice any less than he demands, so
that those that should be kind to me all hate me." And the unhappy body
burst into tears.
And they said: "No sensible body cares for its soul. A soul is a little
thing, and should not rule a body. You should drink and smoke more till he
ceases to trouble you." But the body only wept, and said, "Mine is a
fearful soul. I have driven him away for a little while with drink. But he
will soon come back. Oh, he will soon come back!"
And the body went to bed hoping to rest, for it was drowsy with drink. But
just as sleep was near it, it looked up, and there was its soul sitting on
the windowsill, a misty blaze of light, and looking into the river.
"Come," said the tyrannous soul, "and look into the street."
"I have need of sleep," said the body.
"But the street is a beautiful thing," the soul said vehemently; "a
hundred of the people are dreaming there."
"I am ill through want of rest," the body said.
"That does not matter," the soul said to it. "There are millions like you
in the earth, and millions more to go there. The people's dreams are
wandering afield; they pass the seas and mountains of faëry, threading the
intricate passes led by their souls; they come to golden temples a-ring
with a thousand bells; they pass up steep streets lit by paper lanterns,
where the doors are green and small; they know their way to witches'
chambers and castles of enchantment; they know the spell that brings them
to the causeway along the ivory mountains—on one side looking downward
they behold the fields of their youth and on the other lie the radiant
plains of the future. Arise and write down what the people dream."
"What reward is there for me," said the body, "if I write down what you
"There is no reward," said the soul.
"Then I shall sleep," said the body.
And the soul began to hum an idle song sung by a young man in a fabulous
land as he passed a golden city (where fiery sentinels stood), and knew
that his wife was within it, though as yet but a little child, and knew by
prophecy that furious wars, not yet arisen in far and unknown mountains,
should roll above him with their dust and thirst before he ever came to
that city again—the young man sang it as he passed the gate, and was now
dead with his wife a thousand years.
"I cannot sleep for that abominable song," the body cried to the soul.
"Then do as you are commanded," the soul replied. And wearily the body
took a pen again. Then the soul spoke merrily as he looked through the
window. "There is a mountain lifting sheer above London, part crystal and
part myst. Thither the dreamers go when the sound of the traffic has
fallen. At first they scarcely dream because of the roar of it, but before
midnight it stops, and turns, and ebbs with all its wrecks. Then the
dreamers arise and scale the shimmering mountain, and at its summit find
the galleons of dream. Thence some sail East, some West, some into the
Past and some into the Future, for the galleons sail over the years as
well as over the spaces, but mostly they head for the Past and the olden
harbours, for thither the sighs of men are mostly turned, and the
dream-ships go before them, as the merchantmen before the continual
trade-winds go down the African coast. I see the galleons even now raise
anchor after anchor; the stars flash by them; they slip out of the night;
their prows go gleaming into the twilight of memory, and night soon lies
far off, a black cloud hanging low, and faintly spangled with stars, like
the harbour and shore of some low-lying land seen afar with its harbour
Dream after dream that soul related as he sat there by the window. He told
of tropical forests seen by unhappy men who could not escape from London,
and never would—forests made suddenly wondrous by the song of some
passing bird flying to unknown eyries and singing an unknown song. He saw
the old men lightly dancing to the tune of elfin pipes—beautiful dances
with fantastic maidens—all night on moonlit imaginary mountains; he heard
far off the music of glittering Springs; he saw the fairness of blossoms
of apple and may thirty years fallen; he heard old voices—old tears came
glistening back; Romance sat cloaked and crowned upon southern hills, and
the soul knew him.
One by one he told the dreams of all that slept in that street. Sometimes
he stopped to revile the body because it worked badly and slowly. Its
chill fingers wrote as fast as they could, but the soul cared not for
that. And so the night wore on till the soul heard tinkling in Oriental
skies far footfalls of the morning.
"See now," said the soul, "the dawn that the dreamers dread. The sails of
light are paling on those unwreckable galleons; the mariners that steer
them slip back into fable and myth; that other sea the traffic is turning
now at its ebb, and is about to hide its pallid wrecks, and to come
swinging back, with its tumult, at the flow. Already the sunlight flashes
in the gulfs behind the east of the world; the gods have seen it from
their palace of twilight that the built above the sunrise; they warm their
hands at its glow as it streams through their gleaming arches, before it
reaches the world; all the gods are there that have ever been, and all the
gods that shall be; they sit there in the morning, chanting and praising
"I am numb and very cold for want of sleep," said the body.
"You shall have centuries of sleep," said the soul, "but you must not
sleep now, for I have seen deep meadows with purple flowers flaming tall
and strange above the brilliant grass, and herds of pure white unicorns
that gambol there for joy, and a river running by with a glittering
galleon on it, all of gold, that goes from an unknown inland to an unknown
isle of the sea to take a song from the King of Over-the-Hills to the
Queen of Far-Away.
"I will sing that song to you, and you shall write it down."
"I have toiled for you for years," the body said. "Give me now but one
night's rest, for I am exceeding weary."
"Oh, go and rest. I am tired of you. I am off," said the soul.
And he arose and went, we know not whither. But the body they laid in the
earth. And the next night at midnight the wraiths of the dead came
drifting from their tombs to felicitate that body.
"You are free here, you know," they said to their new companion.
"Now I can rest," said the body.