The March of Man


Maksim Gorky

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First published in Cosmopolitan Magazine, July 1905.

This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

Last updated Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 14:30.

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eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

The March of Man

I

WHEN my spirits are low, and the mind grows weary; when Memory revives the shadows of the past, and their cold breath freezes my heart; when impassive Thought sheds her cold light upon the dismal chaos of the present and impotently hovers about the same spot, unable to soar higher up and forward — in these hours of languor I put before my mind’s eye the majestic figure of Man!

Man! Methinks a sun springs up within me: there, in the heavenly light, he is marching, ever forward, ever upward: splendid and sorrowful, inscrutable Man!

I see his proud brow, his bold, lustrous eyes aglow with light of fearless, world-conceiving Thought, of the mighty power that makes gods in hours of ennui, and dethrones them in hours of wakefulness.

Lost in the solitudes of the cosmic desert, alone on a lump of earth that is borne with measureless haste through the infinite depths of space, tortured by his Enigma, “Why do I exist?” he is yet marching boldly ahead, forward and upward, bent on mastering the secrets of heaven and earth.

And as he is marching, forsaken, defiant, he builds sober Science out of his trials; with his life-blood he fattens the ground he treads on — and it brings forth Poesy’s perennial flowers; his rebellious soul cries out in travail — in strains of heavenly music. Step by step, higher and higher doth he mount, shedding his heavenly light, making life richer and nobler: he is the guiding star of his earth.

And far ahead of life, far above the crowd, lies his path; there, alone with Nature’s Riddles, armed with Reason’s weapons, he is advancing. Now quick as the lightning-flash, now placid, or keen as the sharpest blade, are his thoughts.

A host of errors, his own creatures, press upon him, gripe his proud heart, tear his brain, bring the crimson of shame to his face, and invoke him — to destroy them.

Tramp, tramp, tramp: with whining Vanity clamoring, like the impudent beggar, for her tithe; with a host of attachments preying upon his heart, sucking up his warm life-blood; with legions of unholy passions within his breast struggling, shrieking, haggling, seeking to conquer his soul, to strangle his will.

Tramp, tramp, tramp: over thousands of Life’s petty troubles, through the every-day mire teeming with vermin.

March, march, march: like the sun he is surrounded by a crowd of satellites, children of his own spirit.

There is ever-hungry Love, always at his side; there is limping Friendship, straggling far behind; there is worn-out Hope, marching in front of him; there is mad Hatred, rattling the chains that Patience put on her arms. Then there is dark-eyed Faith, peering into his rebellious face, ever ready to enclose him in her restful embrace.

Arrayed with tatters of old Beliefs, foul with poison of Superstition, they enviously stalk behind Thought, grumbling and haggling and disputing her dominion. For they cannot overtake her, as the raven cannot overtake the eagle. And but seldom can they unite their voice with the voice of Thought in one mighty chorus.

Here also is Man’s eternal mate — silent Death: ever ready to bekiss his throbbing heart, his heart that panteth after life.

In his immortal retinue Man knows every one; and one more does he know — Madness.

A winged monster is she, mighty and swift like a tempest; and like a tempest is she raging around Thought, seeking to draw her into a frenzied whirl.

Yea, he knows all of them: weak, imperfect, monstrous creatures of his own spirit are they all.

And only Thought is Man’s friend, and to her is he cleaving, for it is her light that illumines his path, pierces the darkness of Life’s Riddles, of Nature’s Secrets, and of the dismal chaos in his own heart.

A free and true friend is she, and nothing escapes her gaze.

She knows Love’s vile and cunning tricks, her cringing mien, enticing ways, and the stamp of rank lust upon her face. On the face of Hope she reads impotence and timidity, and behind Hope she sees her twin-sister Deceit: bedizened, bedaubed Deceit, full of sweet words, ever ready to beguile Man and to console him — with a lie. In the warmish heart of Friendship, Thought feels the calculating prudence, the cruel, empty curiosity, the foul ulcers of envy, with the germs of calumny in them.

Sovereign Thought knows also the hidden power of black Hate. Yea, she knows that Hate, once unchained, would fain destroy all on earth; would not even spare the tender shoots of Justice.

In Faith, Thought reveals a longing to enslave Man’s feelings, a craving for unbounded domination. Thought exposes in Faith the hidden claws of Fanaticism, the impotence of her sluggish wings, and the blindness of her empty eyes.

Thought, sovereign Thought, by whose wondrous power Brute was changed into Man; by whose power Sciences, Philosophies, Gods, were created — immortal, free Thought abhors Death, and is at war with that fruitless and often malicious power.

For unto a ragman does Thought compare Death — unto an unscrupulous ragman, who searches the back yards for offal and refuse, and surreptitiously gathers into his foul bag the good and the quick.

Foul with decay, wrapped in horror unspeakable as with a mantle, impassive, formless, silent Death stands like a dark and terrible riddle before Man, and Thought is jealously studying her, madly defiant, sunlike, creative, and proudly conscious of her own immortality.

So is Man treading his path, through the dismal Darkness of Nature’s Riddles, ever advancing, mounting higher and ever higher!

II

Now, he is weary, he staggers, he moans with pain; his frightened heart seeks Faith, and loudly begs the tender caresses of Love.

And three monsters, three horrible weakness-born monsters, Loneliness, Despondency, Despair, hover over his soul, chanting a song of Man’s littleness, of Reason’s futility, of the impotence of Thought, of Man’s noble pride that is but in vain, of Man’s dissolution — the end of his labors.

And his torn heart trembles under the mocking and lying song, darts of Doubt enter his soul, and his eye is bedimmed with a tear.

And if Man’s Pride rebel not within him, dread of Death will drive him into the dungeon of Faith. Then Love, victoriously smiling, will draw him into her embrace, and under the mask of loud promises of happiness, she will hide her own chains of bondage, and the insatiable cravings of Lust.

Timid Hope, in league with Deceit, will sing of the joys of rest, of the blissfulness of peace, and with lullabies sweet sing asleep the somnolent spirit.

Then Man will drop into the mire of Lassitude, and into the arms of Sloth; and, in obedience to his short-sighted senses, he will then hasten to fill his mind and heart with the sweet poison of the cynical and false teaching which claims that no path is open to Man but one leading to the cattle-pen of Self-gratification.

But Thought is proud and Man is dear to her; and within his own breast she wages war for the freedom of his soul.

And like an enemy does she harass him, mercilessly she tortures him, ceaselessly gnaws at his brain, lays waste his breast and hardens his heart by her freezing blasts of longing for stern and naked Truth — for the wise, Thought-borne, though slow-growing, Truth, that like some beautiful fiery flower can now be discerned through the thick mist of Errors.

But if Man be poisoned by Deceit, if he firmly believe there is no happiness on earth but having one’s fill of pleasure and meat, and no pleasure but rest and the petty comforts of life — then Thought, a prisoner of triumphing Lust, will listlessly droop her wings and dream away, leaving Man in the power of his own Flesh.

Then, like a pestilent cloud, will Sloth descend upon Man, envelop him in a loathsome mist, blind his eyes, fatten his heart and dull his very brain; and, changed by his weakness into an unthinking and undignified brute, Man will lose his own self. But anon, Man’s noble Indignation inflames within him, Thought reawakes out of her slumbers, and, once more free, Man marches ahead, alone through the thorns of his Errors, alone among the fleeting sparks of his Doubts, alone amidst the ruins of his decayed Beliefs!

Majestic, proud and free, he fearlessly faces Truth, and thus he speaks to his Doubts:

“You are wrong when you claim that but limited are the powers of my soul. Nay, they are growing within me: I know it. I see and I feel it, for in the very growth of my suffering do I see the growth of my soul; and were it not so my suffering would not be growing apace!

“For with every step do my longings increase, my feelings grow keener, my insight deepen — and this, I know, is but the growth of my soul.

“It is only like a spark within me now, but what of that? Are not sparks mothers of conflagrations?

“And I am the coming conflagration in the darkness of the world.

“I am here to bring Light into the world, to disperse the Darkness of its profoundest Mysteries; I am here to put myself in accord with the Universe, and to create Harmony within my own breast; I am here to flood with a purifying Light the black chaos of mundane life that covers this long-suffering earth with a loathsome crust of misery and affliction, of malice and of iniquity. And I am here to sweep all this venomous mire into the grave of the past!

“I am here to loose the coils of Error and Superstition that compress Humanity into a bleeding mass of struggling and mutually devouring brutes; I am created by Thought to overthrow, to destroy, to trample underfoot all that is superannuated, all that is vile, narrow and malicious, and to erect a new Edifice on Thought’s immutable foundations of Freedom, of Beauty, and of Regard for Man!

“I am the implacable enemy of the shameful poverty of human aspirations. I wish every one to be — a Man!

“Absurd, shameful and abhorrent is this life where the days of the many are spent in ceaseless and hopeless thraldom, that the few may have their fill of bread and of the gifts of the spirit!

“Cursed be the sticky cobwebs of all prejudices, superstitions and habits that entangle the minds of Men; they are obstacles in the course of life, and I shall destroy them!

“My weapon is Thought; and my immutable trust in her freedom, in her immortality, and in the eternity of her creative powers is the inexhaustible source of my strength!

“In the utmost Darkness of Life, in the chaos of her shameful errors, Thought is my only true and unerring pillar of light; and as I see her fires burning ever brighter and brighter, her beams penetrating ever deeper and deeper into the abysses of Nature’s Mysteries, I follow in her wake, immortal, and rise ever higher and higher.

“Thought knows of no strongholds she could not reduce; she knows of no idols she could not dethrone, neither in heaven nor on earth. For she created them all, and it is her inalienable right to destroy whatever stands in the way of her growth.

“Well do I know that prejudices are but fragments of old Beliefs; that the clouds of Errors which float over the surface of life are only the ashes of old Beliefs consumed by the fires of Thought that created them once.

“Yea, I do know that the victors are not those who gather the spoils of victory, but those who perish on the field of battle.

“It is the creative power of Thought that gives life to Life, and that power is sufficient unto herself and is boundless!

“As I go a-burning, I wish to burn away with the brightest possible flame, that the Light might penetrate the deepest into the Darkness of Life. And to perish — is my only reward!

“Other rewards I need not: power, domination, is a shame and a bore; pelf is burdensome and foolish; and glory itself is but a superstition born of Men’s inability to know their own worth, and of their slavish habits of self-abasement.

“My Doubts, sparks of Thought are you all, nothing more! Through ceaseless self-examination, in the superabundance of her fecundity she gave birth to you all, and with her own life-blood is she nourishing you.

“And it will come to pass, some day a mighty and holy flame will be kindled in my breast, an immortal flame, Thought-born, Emotion-fed, and with that flame shall I burn out of my soul all that is base, cruel and malicious.

“Then shall I become as the gods that my spirit had been creating!

“All is in Man, all is for Man!”

Thus speaks Man.

And, with head proudly uplifted, majestic and free, he is slowly and firmly marching on, over the ashes of Superstitions, alone amidst the gray mist of Errors; alone, with the dark clouds of the Past behind him, and with legions of Riddles in front of him, awaiting his coming.

Numberless are the Riddles, like the stars in the bottomless sky, and endless is the Path of Man!

This is the march of rebellious Man; thus is he advancing in his path, mounting higher and ever higher!

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005