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The Stairway

( Originally Published 1916 )

IN the house of life is a great stairway that runs from the cellar to the roof.

And I saw a hog enter the cellar and go up the stairs. As he went up he squealed and grunted, and looked for refuse to devour, but ever as he ascended his squeals turned to laughter and his grunts to sighs, and he sought bread and not filth to eat. His form also changed, so that when he had come to the upper floors he was a man, and when he reached the roof he was an angel and flew away.

And I saw also a poisonous snake, and an unclean goat, and a cruel wolf, and a surly bear, and a fierce lion, and a snarling dog, and a sneaking rat, and a wild horse, and a stupid donkey, and all manner of inhuman beasts go up, one by one, along the stairs, and at every rising step each one lost some animality and gained some humanity, and each one as he came to the top became an angel, as a chrysalis breaks into a butterfly, and flew into the sky.

And I asked : "What is this stairway of Metamorphosis that begins with the brute and ends with the superman?"

And the interpreter answered and said : "The name of this stair, by which men climb to God, is WOMAN." The most significant thing that enters the life of man or woman is the sex feeling.

"The sex passion makes or breaks the soul.

"For ages men considered the sex lure as a device of the devil to destroy mankind. They seemed to have grounds for their belief. Thousands wallow in the bog of uncleanness, self-loathing, despair, and crime, because this powerful instinct in them is perverted. The life of the pervert is like a sixty-horsepower motor driven by a drunken chauffeur.

"Dante, with his Beatrice, showed us a better way. So also Tennyson and all the nobler poets.

"The art of nobleness consists in changing what is coarse into that which is fine, making what is common to be beautiful and strange; this can only be done by the spirit in man.

"When eating becomes communion, when washing becomes baptism, and when man-woman love becomes marriage, then they are sacraments, and life becomes sacramental and is raised from animality to high and divine level.

"Where there is nothing any more that is sacrament to man, then life sinks to the stage in which it was in the days of Augustus in Rome, which Matthew Arnold described:

"On that hard pagan world disgust
And secret loathing fell ;
Deep weariness and sated lust
Made human life a hell."

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