THE NUMINOUS IN POETRY, HYMN, AND LITURGY
F.xample of ' numinous ' poetry.
From Bhagarad-Gitd, Chapter XI (Barnett's translation slightly altered).
In the Ithagnvad-Gita, Krishna, the embodiment of Vishnu— Vishnu himself in human form—instructs Aryuna in tho deepest mysteries of his religion. Aryuna then desires to behold God himself in his own form, and his petition is granted. And now in Chapter XI there follows a theophany of teiriiic grandeur, which seeks to give a feeling of the unapproachablo essence of the Divine before which the creature trembles and falls, by embodying the human and 'natural' means of terror, majesty, and sublimity. Aryuna stands in his war-cliariot, about to enter the carnage of the battle against his brother Yudhishthira's enemies. Krishna is his charioteer. Aryuna tells him his request. 'Show to mo thy changeless Self, Sovran of the Rule.' Krishna-Vishnu answers him :
7. Behold now, O Wearer of the Hair-Knot, the whole universe, moving and unmoving, solely lodged in this my body, and all else that thou art lain to see.
8. But for that thou canst not see Me with this thine own eye,
I give thee a divine eye ; behold my sovran Rule.
9. Thus speaking, Ilari (i. e. Vishnu), the great Lord of the Rule, then showed to Pritlia's son his sovran form supreme,
10. of many mouths and eyes, of many divine ornaments, with uplifted weapons many and divine ;
11. wearing divine flower-chaplets and robes, with anointment of divine perfumes, compound of all maivels, th.i boundless god facing all ways.
1 See Hainack, Marcion, 1921, p 133.
12. If the light of a thousand suns should of a sudden rise in the heavens, it would be like to the light of that mighty being. . . .
14. Thereupon the Wealth-Winner (i.e. Aryuna), smitten with amazement, with hair standing on end, bowed his head, and with clasped hands spake to the God. . . .
17. ' I behold Thee bearing diadem, mace, and disc, massed in radiance, on all sides glistening, hardly discernible, shining round about as gleaming fire and sun, immeasurable. . . .
20. Tor this mid-space between heaven and earth and all the quarters of the sky are filled with Thee alone. Seeing tins Thy fearful and wonderful form, O great-hearted one, the threefold world quakes.
21. These hosts of Suras come unto Thee; some, affrighted, praise with clasped hands. With cries of " Hail! " the hosts of Great Saints and Adepts sing to Thee hymns of abounding praise.
22. All the Spirits and Divine Powers that live in heaven and earth, in clouds and winds, in air and water, Daemons, Manes, Asuras, Saints, and Adepts, all gaze on Thee in amazement.
23. Looking upon Thy mighty form of many mouths and eyes, of many arms and thighs and feet, of many bellies, and grim with many teeth, O mighty-armed one, the worlds and I quake.
24. For as I behold Thee touching the heavens, glittering, many-
hued, with yawning mouths, with wide eyes agleam, my inward soul trembles, and I find not constancy nor peace, 0 Vishnu.
25. Seeing Thy mouths grim with teeth, like to the fire of the last day, I recognize not the quarters of the heavens, and take no joy ; Lord of Gods, home of the universe, be gracious!
26. These sons of Dhritarashtra all, with the hosts of kings,
Bhishma, l)rona, and the Charioteer's son yonder, and likewise the chief of our warriors,
27. hasting enter into Thy mouths grim with fangs and terrible ;
some, caught between the teeth, appear with crushed heads. ES■ As many currents of rivers flow to meet the sea, so these warriors of the world of mankind pass into Thy blazing mouths.
29. As moths with exceeding speed pass into a lighted fire to perish, so pass the worlds with exceeding speed into Thy mouths to perish.
SO. Thou devourest and lickest up all the worlds around with (laming mouths ; filling the whole un'verse with radiance, grim glow Thy splendours, O Vishnu !
81. Relate to me who Thou art in this grim form. Homage to Ass, chief of gods ; be gracious! I would lain know Thee as First Being. . . .'
Thereupon Vishnu reassumes his friendly Krishna-form. Ar-yuna's petition to comprehend the incomprehensible is not granted him. It is forbidden to man, as Luther says, ' to soar into the height of Majesty ': lie must confine himsfdf to the Word of gracious Promise. Such a word is imparted. The tremendous chapter closes with the words which expositors take as the sum and opitomflu the whole Glta :
55. ' He who does what he does for Me alone ; who is given over to Me, who is devoted to Me, void of attachment, without hatred to any born being, O son uf 1'andu, comes to Me.'
A comparison of two poems may indicate the difference between a merely ' rational' glorification of the Godhead and one that also prompts to a feeling of the non-rational, the numinous, in its aspect of ' mysterium tremendum '. Geliert can sing of ' The Honour of God from Nature' powerfully anil finely enough—
Die Himmel rühmen des Ewigen Ehre, Ihr Schall pflanzt seinen Namen fort.
Here eventhing is bright, rational, and intimate up to the last verse :
Ich bin Dein Schiipfer, bin Weisheit und Güte, Ein Gott der Ordnung und Dein Heil. Ich bin's ! Mich liebe von ganzem Gemilte, Und nimm an meiner Gnade teil.
But, beautiful as this hymn is, we do not encounter there the ' honour of God ' in all its fullness. Some element is missing, and what this is we feel at once when we compare with this hymn that composed at an earlier date by E. L.^ige, 'To the Majesty of God
Vor Dir erbebt der Engel Chor, Sie Hddtgtn Aug' und Antlitz nieder, So schrecklich kommst Du ihnen vor Und davon schallen ihre Liedor. . . . O
Denn Dein ist Kraft und Ruhm,
Das Reich und Heiligtum,
Da mich Entsetzen mir entreisset.
Bei Dir ist Majestät
Die über alles geht.
Und heilig, heilig, heilig, lieisset.
That goes farther than Geliert. And yet even here there is still something lacking, something that we find in the Song of the Seraphim in Isaiah vi. Even Lange, despite his ' numb amazement sings ten long stanzas ; the angels sing a bare two lines. And he incessantly speaks to God in the second person singular ; whereas the angels speak before Yahweh in the third person.1
A liturgy unusually rich in numinous hymns and prayers is that of Yom Kippur, the great ' Day of Atonement bf the Jews. It is overshadowed by the ' Holy, Holy, Holy' of the Seraphim (Isa. vi), which recurs more than once, and it has prayers in it as wonderful as the ubelxn ten pachdeM :
' So then, let Thy fear, O Yahweh our God, come over all Thy creatures, and reverent dread (cmaielta) of Thee upon all that Thou hast made, that all Thy creatures may fear Thee and every being bow before Thee and that they may all become bonded together to do Thy will with all their heart, even as we know, O Yahweh our God, that Thine is the lordship, that might is in Thy hand and power in Thy right hand and Thy name exalted above all that Thou hast created.'
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