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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Dove and the Serpent
By Henry Mills Alden (1836–1919)
 
From ‘A Study of Death’

THE DOVE flies, and the Serpent creeps. Yet is the Dove fond, while the Serpent is the emblem of wisdom. Both were in Eden: the cooing, fluttering, wingèd spirit, loving to descend, companion-like, brooding, following; and the creeping thing which had glided into the sunshine of Paradise from the cold bosoms of those nurses of an older world—Pain, and Darkness, and Death—himself forgetting these in the warmth and green life of the Garden. And our first parents knew naught of these as yet unutterable mysteries, any more than they knew that their roses bloomed over a tomb: so that when all animate creatures came to Adam to be named, the meaning of this living allegory which passed before him was in great part hidden, and he saw no sharp line dividing the firmament below from the firmament above; rather he leaned toward the ground, as one does in a garden, seeing how quickly it was fashioned into the climbing trees, into the clean flowers, and into his own shapely frame. It was upon the ground he lay when that deep sleep fell upon him from which he woke to find his mate, lithe as the serpent, yet with the fluttering heart of the dove.  1
  As the Dove, though winged for flight, ever descended, so the Serpent, though unable wholly to leave the ground, tried ever to lift himself therefrom, as if to escape some ancient bond. The cool nights revived and nourished his memories of an older time, wherein lay his subtile wisdom, but day by day his aspiring crest grew brighter. The life of Eden became for him oblivion, the light of the sun obscuring and confounding his reminiscence, even as for Adam and Eve this life was Illusion, the visible disguising the invisible, and pleasure veiling pain.  2
  In Adam the culture of the ground maintained humility. He was held, moreover, in lowly content by the charm of the woman, who was to him like the earth grown human; and since she was the daughter of Sleep, her love seemed to him restful as the night. Her raven locks were like the mantle of darkness, and her voice had the laughter of streams that lapsed into unseen depths.  3
  But Eve had something of the Serpent’s unrest, as if she too had come from the Under-world, which she would fain forget, seeking liberation, urged by desire as deep as the abyss she had left behind her, and nourished from roots unfathomably hidden—the roots of the Tree of Life. She thus came to have conversation with the Serpent.  4
  In the lengthening days of Eden’s one Summer these two were more and more completely enfolded in the Illusion of Light. It was under this spell that, dwelling upon the enticement of fruit good to look at, and pleasant to the taste, the Serpent denied Death, and thought of Good as separate from Evil. “Ye shall not surely die, but shall be as the gods, knowing good and evil.” So far, in his aspiring day-dream, had the Serpent fared from his old familiar haunts—so far from his old-world wisdom!  5
  A surer omen would have come to Eve had she listened to the plaintive notes of the bewildered Dove that in his downward flutterings had begun to divine what the Serpent had come to forget, and to confess what he had come to deny.  6
  For already was beginning to be felt “the season’s difference,” and the grave mystery, without which Paradise itself could not have been, was about to be unveiled,—the background of the picture becoming its foreground. The fond hands plucking the rose had found the thorn. Evil was known as something by itself, apart from Good, and Eden was left behind, as one steps out of infancy.  7
  From that hour have the eyes of the children of men been turned from the accursed earth, looking into the blue above, straining their vision for a glimpse of white-robed angels.  8
  Yet it was the Serpent that was lifted up in the wilderness; and when He who “became sin for us” was being bruised in the heel by the old enemy, the Dove descended upon Him at His baptism. He united the wisdom of the Serpent with the harmlessness of the Dove. Thus in Him were bound together and reconciled the elements which in human thought had been put asunder. In Him, Evil is overcome of Good, as, in Him, Death is swallowed up of Life; and with His eyes we see that the robes of angels are white, because they have been washed in blood.  9
 
 
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