Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Eureka [Section 09]” (reprint), The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe­ (1850), 2:204-214


­ [page 204:]

If the propositions of this Discourse are tenable, the “state of progressive collapse” is precisely that state in which alone we are warranted in considering All Things; and, with due humility, let me here confess that, for my part, I am at a loss to conceive how any other understanding of the existing condition of affairs, could ever have made its way into the human brain. “The tendency to collapse” and “the attraction of gravitation” are convertible phrases. In using either, we speak of the rëaction of the First Act. Never was necessity less obvious than that of supposing Matter imbued with an ineradicable quality forming part of its material nature — a quality, or instinct, forever inseparable from it, and by dint of which inalienable principle every atom is perpetually impelled to seek its fellow-atom. Never was necessity less obvious than that of entertaining this unphilosophical idea. Going boldly behind the vulgar thought, we have to conceive, metaphysically, that the gravitating principle appertains to Matter temporarily — only while diffused — only while existing as Many instead of as One — appertains to it by virtue of its state of irradiation alone — appertains, in a word, altogether to its condition, and not in the slightest degree to itself. In this view, when the irradiation shall have returned into its source — when the rëaction shall be completed — the gravitating principle will no longer exist. And, in fact, astronomers, without at any time reaching the idea here suggested, seem to have been approximating it, in the assertion that “if there were but one body in the universe, it would be impossible to understand how the principle, Gravity, could obtain:” that is to say, from a consideration of Matter as they find it, they reach a conclusion at which I deductively arrive. That so pregnant a suggestion as the one quoted should have been permitted to remain so long unfruitful, is, nevertheless, a mystery which I find it difficult to fathom.

It is, perhaps, in no little degree, however, our propensity for the continuous — for the analogical — in the present case more particularly for the symmetrical — which has been leading us astray. And, in fact, the sense of the symmetrical is an instinct which may be depended upon with an almost blindfold reliance. It is the poetical essence of the Universe — of the Universe which, in the supremeness of its symmetry, is but the most sublime of ­[page 205:] poems. Now, symmetry and consistency are convertible terms: — thus Poetry and Truth are one. A thing is consistent in the ratio of its truth — true in the ratio of its consistency. A perfect consistency, I repeat, can be nothing but an absolute truth. We may take it for granted, then, that Man cannot long or widely err, if he suffer himself to be guided by his poetical, which I have maintained to be his truthful, in being his symmetrical, instinct. He must have a care, however, lest, in pursuing too heedlessly the superficial symmetry of forms and motions, he leave out of sight the really essential symmetry of the principles which determine and control them.

That the stellar bodies would finally be merged in one — that, at last, all would be drawn into the substance of one stupendous central orb already existing — is an idea which, for some time past, seems, vaguely and indeterminately, to have held possession of the fancy of mankind. It is an idea, in fact, which belongs to the class of the excessively obvious. It springs, instantly, from a superficial observation of the cyclic and seemingly gyrating or vorticial movements of those individual portions of the Universe which come most immediately and most closely under our observation. There is not, perhaps, a human being, of ordinary education and of average reflective capacity, to whom, at some period, the fancy in question has not occurred, as if spontaneously, or intuitively, and wearing all the character of a very profound and very original conception. This conception, however, so commonly entertained, has never, within my knowledge, arisen out of any abstract considerations. Being, on the contrary, always suggested, as I say, by the vorticial movements about centres, a reason for it, also — a cause for the ingathering of all the orbs into one, imagined to be already existing, was naturally sought in the same direction — among these cyclic movements themselves.

Thus it happened that, on announcement of the gradual and perfectly regular decrease observed in the orbit of Encke’s comet, at every successive revolution about our Sun, astronomers were nearly unanimous in the opinion that the cause in question was found — that a principle was discovered sufficient to account, physically, for that final, universal agglomeration which, I repeat, the analogical, symmetrical, or poetical instinct of man had pre-determined ­[page 206:] to understand as something more than a simple hypothesis.

This cause — this sufficient reason for the final ingathering — was declared to exist in an exceedingly rare but still material medium pervading space; which medium, by retarding, in some degree, the progress of the comet, perpetually weakened its tangential force; thus giving a predominance to the centripetal; which, of course, drew the comet nearer and nearer at each revolution, and would eventually precipitate it upon the Sun.

All this was strictly logical — admitting the medium or ether; but this ether was assumed, most illogically, on the ground that no other mode than the one spoken of could be discovered, of accounting for the observed decrease in the orbit of the comet: — as if from the fact that we could discover no other mode of accounting for it, it followed, in any respect, that no other mode of accounting for it existed. It is clear that innumerable causes might operate, in combination, to diminish the orbit, without even a possibility of our ever becoming acquainted with one of them. In the meantime, it has never been fairly shown, perhaps, why the retardation occasioned by the skirts of the Sun’s atmosphere, through which the comet passes at perihelion, is not enough to account for the phænomenon. That Encke’s comet will be absorbed into the Sun, is probable; that all the comets of the system will be absorbed, is more than merely possible; but, in such case, the principle of absorption must be referred to eccentricity of orbit — to the close approximation to the Sun, of the comets at their perihelia; and is a principle not affecting, in any degree, the ponderous spheres, which are to be regarded as the true material constituents of the Universe. Touching comets in general, let me here suggest, in passing, that we cannot be far wrong in looking upon them as the lightning-flashes of the cosmical Heaven.

The idea of a retarding ether, and, through it, of a final agglomeration of all things, seemed at one time, however, to be confirmed by the observation of a positive decrease in the orbit of the solid Moon. By reference to eclipses recorded 2500 years ago, it was found that the velocity of the satellite’s revolution then was considerably less than it is now; that on the hypothesis that its motion in its orbit is uniformly in accordance with Kepler’s law, and ­[page 207:] was accurately determined then — 2500 years ago — it is now in advance of the position it should occupy, by nearly 9000 miles. The increase of velocity proved, of course, a diminution of orbit; and astronomers were fast yielding to a belief in an ether, as the sole mode of accounting for the phænomenon, when Lagrange came to the rescue. He showed that, owing to the configurations of the spheroids, the shorter axes of their ellipses are subject to variation in length; the longer axes being permanent; and that this variation is continuous and vibratory — so that every orbit is in a state of transition, either from circle to ellipse, or from ellipse to circle. In the case of the moon, where the shorter axis is decreasing, the orbit is passing from circle to ellipse, and, consequently, is decreasing too; but, after a long series of ages, the ultimate eccentricity will be attained; then the shorter axis will proceed to increase, until the orbit becomes a circle; when the process of shortening will again take place; — and so on forever. In the case of the Earth, the orbit is passing from ellipse to circle. The facts thus demonstrated do away, of course, with all necessity for supposing an ether, and with all apprehension of the system’s instability — on the ether’s account.

It will be remembered that I have myself assumed what we may term an ether. I have spoken of a subtle influence which we know to be ever in attendance on matter, although becoming manifest only through matter’s heterogeneity. To this influence — without daring to touch it at all in any effort at explaining its awful nature — I have referred the various phænomena of electricity, heat, light, magnetism; and more — of vitality, consciousness, and thought — in a word, of spirituality. It will be seen, at once, then, that the ether thus conceived is radically distinct from the ether of the astronomers; inasmuch as theirs is matter and mine not.

With the idea of material ether, seems, thus, to have departed altogether the thought of that universal agglomeration so long predetermined by the poetical fancy of mankind: — an agglomeration in which a sound Philosophy might have been warranted in putting faith, at least to a certain extent, if for no other reason than that by this poetical fancy it had been so predetermined. But so far as Astronomy — so far as mere Physics have yet spoken, ­[page 208:] the cycles of the Universe are perpetual — the Universe has no conceivable end. Had an end been demonstrated, however, from so purely collateral a cause as an ether, Man’s instinct of the Divine capacity to adapt, would have rebelled against the demonstration. We should have been forced to regard the Universe with some such sense of dissatisfaction as we experience in contemplating an unnecessarily complex work of human art. Creation would have affected us as an imperfect plot in a romance, where the dènoûment is awkwardly brought about by interposed incidents external and foreign to the main subject; instead of springing out of the bosom of the thesis — out of the heart of the ruling idea — instead of arising as a result of the primary proposition — as inseparable and inevitable part and parcel of the fundamental conception of the book.

What I mean by the symmetry of mere surface will now be more clearly understood. It is simply by the blandishment of this symmetry that we have been beguiled into the general idea of which Mädler’s hypothesis is but a part — the idea of the vorticial indrawing of the orbs. Dismissing this nakedly physical conception, the symmetry of principle sees the end of all things metaphysically involved in the thought of a beginning; seeks and finds in this origin of all things, therudiment of this end; and perceives the impiety of supposing this end likely to be brought about less simply — less directly — less obviously — less artistically — than through the rëaction of the originating Act.

Recurring, then, to a previous suggestion, let us understand the systems — let us understand each star, with its attendant planets — as but a Titanic atom existing in space with precisely the same inclination for Unity which characterized, in the beginning, the actual atoms after their irradiation throughout the Universal sphere. As these original atoms rushed towards each other in generally straight lines, so let us conceive as at least generally rectilinear, the paths of the system-atoms towards their respective centres of aggregation: — and in this direct drawing together of the systems into clusters, with a similar and simultaneous drawing together of the clusters themselves while undergoing consolidation, we have at length attained the great Now — the awful Present — the Existing Condition of the Universe.

Of the still more awful Future a not irrational analogy may ­[page 209:] guide us in framing an hypothesis. The equilibrium between the centripetal and centrifugal forces of each system, being necessarily destroyed on attainment of a certain proximity to the nucleus of the cluster to which it belongs, there must occur, at once, a chaotic or seemingly chaotic precipitation, of the moons upon the planets, of the planets upon the suns, and of the suns upon the nuclei; and the general result of this precipitation must be the gathering of the myriad now-existing stars of the firmament into an almost infinitely less number of almost infinitely superior spheres. In being immeasurably fewer, the worlds of that day will be immeasurably greater than our own. Then, indeed, amid unfathomable abysses, will be glaring unimaginable suns. But all this will be merely a climacic magnificence foreboding the great End. Of this End the new genesis described, can be but a very partial postponement. While undergoing consolidation, the clusters themselves, with a speed prodigiously accumulative, have been rushing towards their own general centre — and now, with a thousand-fold electric velocity, commensurate only with their material grandeur and with the spiritual passion of their appetite for oneness, the majestic remnants of the tribe of Stars flash, at length, into a common embrace. The inevitable catastrophe is at hand.

But this catastrophe — what is it? We have seen accomplished the ingathering of the orbs. Henceforward, are we not to understand one material globe of globes as constituting and comprehending the Universe? Such a fancy would be altogether at war with every assumption and consideration of this Discourse.

I have already alluded to that absolute reciprocity of adaptation which is the idiosyncrasy of the Divine Art — stamping it divine. Up to this point of our reflections, we have been regarding the electrical influence as a something by dint of whose repulsion alone Matter is enabled to exist in that state of diffusion demanded for the fulfilment of its purposes: — so far, in a word, we have been considering the influence in question as ordained for Matter’s sake — to subserve the objects of matter. With a perfectly legitimate reciprocity, we are now permitted to look at Matter, as created solely for the sake of this influence — solely to serve the objects of this spiritual Ether. Through the aid — by the means — through ­[page 210:] the agency, of Matter, and by dint of its heterogeneity — is this Ether manifested — is Spirit individualized. It is merely in the development of this Ether, through heterogeneity, that particular masses of Matter become animate — sensitive — and in the ratio of their heterogeneity; — some reaching a degree of sensitiveness involving what we call Thought, and thus attaining Conscious Intelligence.

In this view, we are enabled to perceive Matter as a Means — not as an End. Its purposes are thus seen to have been comprehended in its diffusion; and with the return into Unity these purposes cease. The absolutely consolidated globe of globes would be objectless: — therefore not for a moment could it continue to exist. Matter, created for an end, would unquestionably, on fulfilment of that end, be Matter no longer. Let us endeavor to understand that it would disappear, and that God would remain all in all.

That every work of Divine conception must cöexist and cöexpire with its particular design, seems to me especially obvious; and I make no doubt that, on perceiving the final globe of globes to be objectless, the majority of my readers will be satisfied with my “therefore it cannot continue to exist.” Nevertheless, as the startling thought of its instantaneous disappearance is one which the most powerful intellect cannot be expected readily to entertain on grounds so decidedly abstract, let us endeavor to look at the idea from some other and more ordinary point of view: — let us see how thoroughly and beautifully it is corroborated in an à posteriori consideration of Matter as we actually find it.

I have before said that “Attraction and Repulsion being undeniably the sole properties by which Matter is manifested to Mind, we are justified in assuming that Matter exists only as Attraction and Repulsion — in other words that Attraction and Repulsion are Matter; there being no conceivable case in which we may not employ the term [[‘]]Matter[[’]] and the terms ‘Attraction’ and ‘Repulsion’ taken together, as equivalent, and therefore convertible, expressions of Logic.”*

Now the very definition of Attraction implies particularity — ­[page 211:] the existence of parts, particles, or atoms; for we define it as the tendency of “each atom, &c., to every other atom,” &c., according to a certain law. Of course where there are no parts — where there is absolute Unity — where the tendency to oneness is satisfied — there can be no Attraction: — this has been fully shown, and all Philosophy admits it. When, on fulfilment of its purposes, then, Matter shall have returned into its original condition of One — a condition which presupposes the expulsion of the separative ether, whose province and whose capacity are limited to keeping the atoms apart until that great day when, this ether being no longer needed, the overwhelming pressure of the finally collective Attraction shall at length just sufficiently predominate* and expel it: — when, I say, Matter, finally, expelling the Ether, shall have returned into absolute Unity, it will then (to speak paradoxically for the moment) be Matter without Attraction and without Repulsion — in other words, Matter without Matter — in other words, again, Matter no more. In sinking into Unity, it will sink at once into that Nothingness which, to all Finite Perception, Unity must be — into that Material Nihility from which alone we can conceive it to have been evoked — to have been created by the Volition of God.

I repeat, then — Let us endeavor to comprehend that the final globe of globes will instantaneously disappear, and that God will remain all in all.

But are we here to pause? Not so. On the Universal agglomeration and dissolution, we can readily conceive that a new and perhaps totally different series of conditions may ensue — another creation and irradiation, returning into itself — another action and rëaction of the Divine Will. Guiding our imaginations by that omniprevalent law of laws, the law of periodicity, are we not, indeed, more than justified in entertaining a belief — let us say, rather, in indulging a hope — that the processes we have here ventured to contemplate will be renewed forever, and forever, and forever; a novel Universe swelling into existence, and then subsiding into nothingness, at every throb of the Heart Divine?

And now — this Heart Divine — what is it? It is our own. ­[page 212:]

Let not the merely seeming irreverence of this idea frighten our souls from that cool exercise of consciousness — from that deep tranquillity of self-inspection — through which alone we can hope to attain the presence of this, the most sublime of truths, and look it leisurely in the face.

The phænomena on which our conclusions must at this point depend, are merely spiritual shadows, but not the less thoroughly substantial.

We walk about, amid the destinies of our world-existence, encompassed by dim but ever present Memories of a Destiny more vast — very distant in the by-gone time, and infinitely awful.

We live out a Youth peculiarly haunted by such dreams; yet never mistaking them for dreams. As Memories we know them. During our Youth the distinction is too clear to deceive us even for a moment.

So long as this Youth endures, the feeling that we exist, is the most natural of all feelings. We understand it thoroughly. That there was a period at which we did not exist — or, that it might so have happened that we never had existed at all — are the considerations, indeed, which during this youth, we find difficulty in understanding. Why we should not exist, is, up to the epoch of Manhood, of all queries the most unanswerable. Existence — self-existence — existence from all Time and to all Eternity — seems, up to the epoch of Manhood, a normal and unquestionable condition: — seems, because it is.

But now comes the period at which a conventional World-Reason awakens us from the truth of our dream. Doubt, Surprise and Incomprehensibility arrive at the same moment. They say: — “You live, and the time was when you lived not. You have been created. An Intelligence exists greater than your own; and it is only through this Intelligence you live at all.” These things we struggle to comprehend and cannot: — cannot, because these things, being untrue, are thus, of necessity, incomprehensible.

No thinking being lives who, at some luminous point of his life of thought, has not felt himself lost amid the surges of futile efforts at understanding or believing that anything exists greater than his own soul. The utter impossibility of any one’s soul feeling ­[page 213:] itself inferior to another; the intense, overwhelming dissatisfaction and rebellion at the thought; — these, with the omniprevalent aspirations at perfection, are but the spiritual, coincident with the material, struggles towards the original Unity — are, to my mind at least, a species of proof far surpassing what Man terms demonstration, that no one soul is inferior to another — that nothing is, or can be, superior to any one soul — that each soul is, in part, its own God — its own Creator: — in a word, that God — the material and spiritual God — now exists solely in the diffused Matter and Spirit of the Universe; and that the regathering of this diffused Matter and Spirit will be but the re-constitution of the purely Spiritual and Individual God.

In this view, and in this view alone, we comprehend the riddles of Divine Injustice — of Inexorable Fate. In this view alone the existence of Evil becomes intelligible; but in this view it becomes more — it becomes endurable. Our souls no longer rebel at a Sorrow which we ourselves have imposed upon ourselves, in furtherance of our own purposes — with a view — if even with a futile view — to the extension of our own Joy.

I have spoken of Memories that haunt us during our youth. They sometimes pursue us even in [[into]] our Manhood: — assume gradually less and less indefinite shapes: — now and then speak to us with low voices, saying:

“There was an epoch in the Night of Time, when a still-existent Being existed — one of an absolutely infinite number of similar Beings that people the absolutely infinite domains of the absolutely infinite space.* It was not and is not in the power of this Being — any more than it is in your own — to extend, by actual increase, the joy of his Existence; but just as it is in your power to expand or to concentrate your pleasures (the absolute amount of happiness remaining always the same) so did and does a similar capability appertain to this Divine Being, who thus passes his Eternity in perpetual variation of Concentrated Self and almost Infinite Self-Diffusion. What you call the Universe is but his present expansive existence. He now feels his life through an infinity ­[page 214:] of imperfect pleasures — the partial and pain-intertangled pleasures of those inconceivably numerous things which you designate as his creatures, but which are really but infinite individualizations of Himself. All these creatures — all — those which [[whom]] you term animate, as well as those to whom [[which]] you deny life for no better reason than that you do not behold it in operation — all these creatures have, in a greater or less degree, a capacity for pleasure and for pain: — but the general sum of their sensations is precisely that amount of Happiness which appertains by right to the Divine Being when concentrated within Himself. These creatures are all, too, more or less conscious Intelligences; conscious, first, of a proper identity; conscious, secondly, and by faint indeterminate glimpses, of an identity with the Divine Being of whom we speak — of an identity with God. Of the two classes of consciousness, fancy that the former will grow weaker, the latter stronger, during the long succession of ages which must elapse before these myriads of individual Intelligences become blended — when the bright stars become blended — into One. Think that the sense of individual identity will be gradually merged in the general consciousness — that Man, for example, ceasing imperceptibly to feel himself Man, will at length attain that awfully triumphant epoch when he shall recognise his existence as that of Jehovah. In the meantime bear in mind that all is Life — Life — Life within Life — the less within the greater, and all within the Spirit Divine.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 210:]

­ *  Page 138.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 211:]

­ *  “Gravity, therefore, must be the strongest of forces.” — See page 140.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 213:]

­ *  See pages 185-186 — Paragraph commencing “I reply that the right,” and ending “proper and particular God.”



These “sections” are not a feature of the original printing. They have been added to this presentation merely for the convenience of breaking a large block of text into more reasonable segments. This is the final segment.


[S:1 - Works, 1850] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Essays - Eureka [Section 09] (reprint)