"...the Imagination (or love, or sympathy, or any other sentiment) induces knowledge, and knowledge of an 'object' which is proper to it..."
Henry Corbin (1903-1978) was a scholar, philosopher and theologian. He was a champion of the transformative power of the Imagination and of the transcendent reality of the individual in a world threatened by totalitarianisms of all kinds. One of the 20th century’s most prolific scholars of Islamic mysticism, Corbin was Professor of Islam & Islamic Philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Teheran. He was a major figure at the Eranos Conferences in Switzerland. He introduced the concept of the mundus imaginalis into contemporary thought. His work has provided a foundation for archetypal psychology as developed by James Hillman and influenced countless poets and artists worldwide. But Corbin’s central project was to provide a framework for understanding the unity of the religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His great work Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi is a classic initiatory text of visionary spirituality that transcends the tragic divisions among the three great monotheisms. Corbin’s life was devoted to the struggle to free the religious imagination from fundamentalisms of every kind. His work marks a watershed in our understanding of the religions of the West and makes a profound contribution to the study of the place of the imagination in human life.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Theology by the Lakeside - with the French original

At the age of 29 Henry Corbin traveled to Sweden where he visited Georges Dumezil and H. S. Nyberg. While in Dalecarlia on the shores of Lake Siljan he wrote this short meditation, which he called Theology by the Lakside.

[I hope that those of you whose French is better than mine will help improve this inadequate translation. An astute reader pointed out that there is no online version of the French original, so I have appended one here - TC Contact me with suggestions at tcheetham@gmail.com]:

Everything is only revelation; there can only be re-velation. But revelation comes from the Spirit, and there is no knowledge of the Spirit.

It will soon be dusk, but for now the clouds are still clear, the pines are not yet darkened, for the lake brightens them into transparency. And everything is green with a green that would be richer than if pulling all the organ stops in recital. It must be heard seated, very close to the Earth, arms crossed, eyes closed, pretending to sleep.

For it is not necessary to strut about like a conqueror and want to give a name to things, to everything; it is they who will tell you who they are, if you listen, yielding like a lover; for suddenly for you, in the untroubled peace of this forest of the North, the Earth has come to Thou, visible as an Angel that would perhaps be a woman, and in this apparition, this greatly green and thronging solitude, yes, the Angel too is robed in green, the green of dusk, of silence and of truth. Then there is within you all the sweetness present in surrender to an embrace that triumphs over you.

Earth, Angel, Woman, all of this is one thing that I adore and that is present in this forest. Dusk on the lake: my Annunciation. The mountain: a line. Listen! Something is happening! The anticipation is immense, the air is quivering under a fine and barely visible rain; the houses that stretch out along the ground, their wood red and rustic, their roofs of thatch, are there, there on the other side of the lake.

Something will begin this evening, something promised, in that I believe. Ah! This evening? When, then, this evening? If it were truly in a few hours, it would never be, because it would have to end, and then, begin again, and so would always end and never begin. Do you know what it means to wait, and do you know what it means to have faith?

The Mystery of Holy Communion where you will be ushered in, where all the beings will be present - yes, you can only say it in the future. Because at each moment where you read in truth as now what is there before you, where you hear the Angel, and the Earth and Woman, then you receive Everything, Everything, in your absolute poverty. But as soon as you have read and have received, as soon as you consider, as you want to understand, as you want to possess, to give a name and restrain, to explain and recover, ah! then there is only a cipher, and your judgment is pronounced.

For at every instant you are judged, and you must die. So you die, when your existence is decided and realized, for then it is over: what was is not - you want without renouncing, renounce without wanting.

No, you are the poor one, you are man; and he is God, and you cannot know God, or the Angel, or the Earth, or Woman. You must be encountered, taken, known, that they may speak, otherwise you are alone, and perhaps it is better thus, and will be always thus, always, that is, there would be no eternity for you. Because you were born in a sin that was sinned before you, and as Thou you have had fear, great fear, and you have cried, cried because the Earth is immense, cried because the Woman was too beautiful, cried because the Angel was invisible, and because as Thou you were Adam, and Adam would want to live.

Adam established Love, poetry, religion, for he wanted life, that is, he wanted-to be-God, and then to speak as he would want the three beings. To Question; Alas! and he alone responded. To listen; Alas! to give a concert to himself alone.

But then suddenly surging from this lake comes a cortege of beautiful beings. They sing the funeral chant of Adam; and because Adam is dead, it will be a chorale of blended voices with anguish in every instant: “Christ is born! Christ is Risen!”

Henry Corbin
Leksand en Dalecarlie
au bord du lac de Siljan
24 August 1932, 18:00

in Jambet, Christian. ed., 1981, Henry Corbin, Paris : Cahier de l'Herne, no. 39, 62-3.

The original text is as follows (for the time being, and I apologise for this, without diacritical marks due to technical difficulties)

Theologie au bord du lac

Henry Corbin

Tout n'est que révélation; il ne peut y avoir que ré-velation. Or la revelation vient de l'Esprit, et il n'y a point de connaissance de l'Esprit.

C'est le crepuscule bientot, mais maintenant les nuages sont encore clairs, les sapins ne sont pas encore sombres, car le lac les eclaire de transparence. Et tout est vert, d'un vert qui serait plus riche que tout un jeu d'orgue, au recit. II faut l'entendre assis, tres proche de la Terre, les bras bien clos, les yeux aussi, faire semblant de dormir.

Car il ne faut pas se promener comme un vainqueur, et vouloir donner un nom aux choses, a toutes les choses; c'est elles qui te diront qui elles sont, si tu ecoutes soumis comme un amant; car soudain pour toi, dans la paix sans trouble de cette foret du Nord, la Terre est venue a Toi, visible comme un Ange qui serait femme, peut-etre, et dans cette apparition, cette solitude tres verte et tres peuplee, oui, l'Ange aussi est vetu de vert, c'est-a-dire de crepuscule, de silence, de verite. Alors il y a en toi toute la douceur qui est presente en l'abandon a une etreinte qui triomphe de toi.

Terre, Ange, Femme, tout cela en une seule chose, que j'adore et qui est dans cette foret. Le crepuscule sur le lac, mon Annonciation. La montagne: une ligne. Ecoute! Il va se passer quelque chose, oui. L'attente est immense, l'air frissonne sous une bruine a peine visible; les maisons qui allongent au ras du sol leur bois rouge et rustique, leur toit de chaume, sont la, de l'autre cote du lac.

Quelque chose commencera ce soir, quelque chose de promis, en quoi je crois. Ah! Ce soir? Quand done ce soir? Si c'etait vraiment dans quelques heures, ce ne serait jamais, car il faudrait finir et puis recommencer, et cela finirait toujours sans jamais commencer. Sais-tu ce qu'est attendre, et sais-tu ce que c'est que croire?

Le Mystere de Sainte Cene ou tu seras introduit, ou tous les etres seront presents, oui, tu ne le peux dire qu'au futur. Car a chaque moment ou tu lis en verite comme maintenant ce qui est la devant toi, ou tu ecoutes l'Ange, et la Terre, et la Femme, alors tu recois Tout, Tout, dans ta pauvrete absolue. Mais des que tu as lu et que tu as recu, des que tu regardes, que tu veux comprendre, que tu veux posseder, donner un nom et retenir, expliquer et retrouver, ah! il n'y a plus qu'un chiffre et ton jugement est prononce.

Car a chaque instant tu es juge, et il te faut mourir. Alors tu meurs, lorsque ton existence decide et realise, car alors c'est fini: ce qui fut n'est pas, tu voulus sans renoncer, renonce sans vouloir.

Non, tu es le pauvre, tu es l'homme; et lui est Dieu, et tu ne peux connaitre Dieu, ni l'Ange, ni la Terre, ni la Femme. Il faut que tu sois rencontre, pris, saisi, qu'ils parlent, sinon tu es seul, et peut-etre est-ce bien ainsi, et sera-ce toujours ainsi, toujours, c'est-a-dire qu'il n'y aurait pas d'eternite pour toi. Car tu es ne dans un peche qui etait peche avant toi, et Toi tu as eu peur, tres peur, et tu as crie, crie parce que la Terre etait immense, crie parce que la Femme etait trop belle, crie parce que l'Ange etait invisible, et parce que Toi tu etais Adam, et qu'Adam voulait vivre.

Adam a erige l'Amour, le lyrisme, la religion, car il a voulu-vivre, c'est-a-dire qu'il a voulu-etre-Dieu, et puis parler comme il voulait aux trois etres. Interroger; helas! et lui seul se repondre. Ecouter; helas! se donner a soi-meme un concert.

Mais, alors, certainement va surgir soudain de ce lac un cortege d'etres tres beaux. Ils chanteront les funerailles d'Adam; et parce qu'Adam est mort, il sera dit en un choral ou plus de voix s'uniront qu'il n'y cut d'angoisse dans tous ses instants : « Christ est ne! Christ est ressuscite! »

Henry Corbin
Leksand en Dalecarlie
au bord du lac de Siljan
24 aout 1932, 18 heures.

Photo: Am Siljansee, by Reinhard Kerkeling


  1. I have tried to find the original online, but with no luck. Do you happen to have a link to it? Many thanks, Luisetta

  2. There is no online version at the moment - but perhaps I will post the French original. Thanks for your interest.