This third and final book of 'That Still Abiding Fire' is again modelled on Dante's Divine Comedy, and again uses the terza rima form, but now showcases those who give themselves to art and aid of fellow human beings. Here the climb is from the misery and depravity of Book Two to the only heaven that human beings can know on this earth: those of altruistic love and artistic expression.
The first to appear is Alexander von Humboldt, the famous explorer and naturalist, who uses his practised sense of honesty and close observation to appreciate the wonders of the world around. Robert Herrick follows, whose eventual acceptance of a country living reconciles him to the dreams and ambitions of youth. Then comes Stendahl, with his keen appreciation of the feminine, which he would make into a theory of love, of a loved one who is both true and illusory. With Alexander Scriabin and Sergei Rachmaninoff we come to the most abstract of the arts, which is nonetheless continually fighting against the void. Musical composition is the rarest of gifts, and its practitioners often live of the edge of madness. William Orpen was a painter, a dazzlingly successful Edwardian society painter, but he was also Irish and possessed of a troubling social conscience, through which he felt a kinship with the millions sacrificed in the First World War.
Tamara Platonovna Karsavina, a noted Russian ballet dancer,joined the Ballets Russe when revolution swept over her country and destroyed much of what she held dear. Ivan Bunin was also a refugee from Russia, and wrote the most nostalgic depictions we have of old Russia. He became displaced once again when Germany invaded France, his new country of adoption, but never ceased writing.
Dr. Rosemary Walker is the one fictitious character here, but exemplifies the selflessness of foreign aid workers. Marcel Proust's search for time past and recovered comes next, and then Giacomo Leopardi, for whom the present was only pain and boredom. Sri Aurobindo solution was to turn away from the world of the senses, as Indian mystics commonly do, and discipline himself to feel some further deity of all-encompassing love. Rainer Maria Rilke, that most lonely of men, who made poetry out of that loneliness, rounds off the artists depicted.
The book starts with an Introduction and ends with an Envoie, both placing the figures in their larger setting and summarising the themes of the earlier books.
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