TGU beginning Alcott’s Orphic Sayings

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

[After yesterday’s session, I had read the first 25 sayings and noted to myself, “I can see why Emerson esteemed him yet most people were roused to a great impatience. He tries to hit too high a note and sustain it at length. All right, these are compressed statements, but compare them to Hemingway’s In Our Time! But when decoded and put into ordinary accessible English, I think they will show a noble soul trying his best to show others what he almost alone can see. But I can read them only in very small doses. Maybe it is too rich? Or maybe it is the language. I guess we’ll start on them tomorrow, and see how we do.]

3:45 a.m. Unless you have other ideas, let’s look at Bronson Alcott’s Orphic Sayings.


The first saying is subdivided into 12 additional paragraphs, the only one so subdivided. I don’t know why.


[Listen divinely to the sibyl within thee, saith the Spirit, and write thou her words. For now is thine intellect a worshipper of the Holy Ghost; now thy life is mystic—thy words marvels—and thine appeal to the total sense of man—a nature to the soul.]

You can see how tedious it would be, to read this semi-stilted language straight through. But the meaning is there. So – give us a hand.

He says something that ought to be familiar enough to you and to those who have been following our conversations! He says, listen to the inner voice, and write what you get, because you can live in the spirit and speak directly to the inner soul of others. The stilted language leaves it uncertain whether he meant “now you can do these things” or “then you will be able to do these things,” but for our purposes it doesn’t matter. Then he subdivides his sense of our life. By making these subdivisions of his initial point, he is trying to say, “This is what you find, when the doors of perception are cleansed,” but he did not have Aldous Huxley’s familiarity with the written word, nor did it occur to him that people might someday learn to cleanse those doors. So,


[Nature bares never her bones; clothed in her own chaste rhetoric of flesh and blood—of color and feature, she is elegant and fair to the sense. And thus, O Philosopher, Poet, Prophet, be thy words—thy Scriptures;—thy thought, like Pallas, shaped bold and comely from thy brain—like Venus, formed quick from thy side—mystic as Memnon—melodious as the lyre of Orpheus.]

He advises those who would heed him. He says, clothe your words and your thought like nature, elegantly and simply. You think, “Then why didn’t he heed his own advice?” but this misses the point: He thought he was doing that. What he expressed so tortuously was clarity itself to him. Because his thought was clear to himself, he assumed it was clear to others, as well. And perhaps, to those few who lived on so elevated a plane, it was.


[There is neither void in nature, nor death in spirit,—all is vital, nothing Godless. Both guilt in the soul and pain in the flesh, affirm the divine ubiquity in the all of being. Shadow apes substance, privation fullness; and nature in atom and whole, in planet and firmament, is charged with the present Deity.]

He says life is complete and alive and, in his words, filled with the presence of God. This, despite appearances.

“All is well.”

Exactly. It is the same reality he is perceiving, however difficult he is finding it to express.


[Nature is quick with spirit. In eternal systole and diastole, the living tides course gladly along, incarnating organ and vessel in their mystic flow. Let her pulsations for a moment pause on their errands, and creation’s self ebbs instantly into chaos and invisibility again. The visible world is the extremest wave of that spiritual flood, whose flux is life, whose reflux death, efflux thought, and conflux light. Organization is the confine of incarnation,—body the atomy of God.]

Nature is the expression of divine life, he says. We would put it, “The 3D reflects and participates in the nature of the non-3D.”

[4. FAITH.

[Sense beholds life never,—death always. For nature is but the fair corpse of spirit, and sense her tomb. Philosophy holds her torch while science dissects the seemly carcase. ’T is faith unseals the sepulchres, and gives the risen Godhead to the soul’s embrace. Blessed is he, who without sense believeth,—for already is he resurrect and immortal!]

You would phrase it: Science – facts – can only see the world of the Dead Present, never the Living Present, as we said long ago.

That is, the 1/30th of a second delay between any event and our senses’ registration of the event means that we can perceive the living moment only intuitively, never through the senses (hence, never through instrumentation, the extensions of our senses). It is Castaneda’s tonal and nagual.

Yes, close enough.


[Impious faith! witless philosophy! prisoning God in the head, to gauge his volume or sound his depths, by admeasurements of brain. Know, man of skulls! that the soul builds her statue perpetually from the dust, and, from within, the spiritual potter globes this golden bowl on which thy sacrilegious finger is laid. Be wise, fool! and divine cerebral qualities from spiritual laws, and predict organizations from character.]

Basically, he chides those who think wisdom is to be found in a materialist conception of reality. You have been known to do the same, in your own way.


[Believe, youth, despite all temptations, the oracle of deity in your own bosom. ’T is the breath of God’s revelations,—the respiration of the Holy Ghost in your breast. Be faithful, not infidel, to its intuitions,—quench never its spirit,—dwell ever in its omniscience. So shall your soul be filled with light, and God be an indwelling fact,—a presence in the depths of your being.]

Trust the inner voice. Remember, these were not common thoughts in the New England that Alcott grew up in and lived out his long life in. A few people – Transcendentalist by nature, whether part of his group or not – understood the world this way. Most did not, and what he was saying seemed only nonsense to them.


[Great is the man whom his age despises. For transcendent excellence is purchased through the obloquy of contemporaries; and shame is the gate to the temple of renown. The heroism honored of God, and the gratitude of mankind, achieves its marvels in the shades of life, remote from the babble of crowds.]

Generalizing perhaps a bit widely from his own experience, he was saying, You can be of the herd or can be an outlier, and only the outlier can remain true. As we say, a bit broad. Still – as usual with Alcott – at bottom, fundamentally sound.


[Praise and blame as little belong to the righteous as to God. Virtue transcends desert—as the sun by day, as heat during frosts. Its light and warmth are its essence, cheering alike the wilderness, the fields, and fire-sides of men,—the cope of heaven, and the bowels of the earth.

Two things here. (a) Don’t judge. (b) “virtue” – trueness, call it – transcends circumstance.

Your interpretation of this one feels not quite right, to me. But I don’t know what to suggest.

The difficulty stems from the fact that he didn’t quite express his thought; he came within distant sight of it and figured, “Close enough.”

Meaning, you can’t figure it out either?

Meaning, he didn’t really know what he meant by “virtue” in this instance.

Emerson criticized himself for getting by with “a sleepy generalization” when compared to Thoreau’s vigorous and specific examples, but Emerson is transparency itself, next to Alcott!

But perhaps it is not worthwhile to criticize him for doing his best, only because he was not someone or something else.

All right.


[Be great even in your leisures; making, accepting, opportunities, and doing lovingly your work at the first or eleventh hour, even as God has need of you. Transcend all occasions; exhausted, overborne, by none. Wisdom waits with a long patience; nor working, nor idling with men and times; but living and being in eternity with God. Great designs demand ages for consummation, and Gods are coadjutors in their accomplishment. Patience is king of opportunity and times.]

Live your life to the internal rhythm, not to an external rhythm.

Not always easy to do, but I recognize that he is relaying the message, not saying that practical life is already ideal life.


[Solitude is Wisdom’s school. Attend then the lessons of your own soul; become a pupil of the wise God within you, for by his tuitions alone shall you grow into the knowledge and stature of the deities. The seraphs descend from heaven, in the solitudes of meditation, in the stillness of prayer.]

This one, at least, should be clear.


[All sin is original,—there is none other; and so all atonement for sin. God’s method is neither mediatorial nor vicarious; and the soul is nor saved nor judged by proxy,—she saves or dooms herself. Piety is unconscious, vascular, vital,—like breathing it is, and is because it is. None can respire for another, none sin or atone for another’s sin. Redemption is a personal, private act.]

This point may seem self-evident to the 21st century. We can assure you, the 19th found it shocking and even self-evidently untrue. Alcott’s greatness, like Emerson’s was to be able to see this when so few of their contemporaries could.

The difficulty for the 21st century is a different one: To you, the language of sin and redemption has gone dead. Still, the meaning for you is there, and can be found. Find it.


[Blessedness consists in perfect willingness. It is above all conflict. It is serenity, triumph, beatitude. It transcends choice. It is one with the divine Will, and a partaker of his nature and tendency. There is struggle and choice only with the wilful. The saints are elect in perfect obedience, and enact God’s decrees.]

Again, beyond the theological language is his perception that aligning the 3D will with the non-3D nature is the way to “serenity, triumph, beatitude.” He can’t express it easily, but the sense is there.

Now look at this as it holds together. He says, live by listening to the inner voice, and the following things reveal themselves.

Yes, I see it. So, I get the sense that we should continue, and I get that future sayings will be addressed at a somewhat less breathless pace.

It was desirable to consider this first saying all at once, rather than as if it were meant to be seen in 13 parts, so we couldn’t think of a better way to approach it. As you say, the following ones will be approached differently. That doesn’t mean we will take only one per day, though sometimes we might. Our treatment will follow the material.


You will want to insert a bit of explanation before the session. You have already written it, merely appropriate it.


And there’s your hour.

And our thanks as always.


Frank DeMarco, author

Papa’s Trial: Hemingway in the Afterlife, a novel


One thought on “TGU beginning Alcott’s Orphic Sayings

  1. For this:
    [8. DESERT.

    [Praise and blame as little belong to the righteous as to God. Virtue transcends desert—as the sun by day, as heat during frosts. Its light and warmth are its essence, cheering alike the wilderness, the fields, and fire-sides of men,—the cope of heaven, and the bowels of the earth.]

    What if we consider this as definition rather than description: “Virtue is that which transcends desert…”

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