Have waked, to read your several colours, sir,
Of the pale citron, the green lion, the crow,
The peacock’s tail, the plumed swan.
~ Ben Jonson, The Alchemist
The alchemical stages. For its centuries of tending fire toward miraculous transmutations, panaceas, alkahests, and (in the words of the 1771 Britannica) ‘other things equally ridiculous,’ the only sure glory of alchemy was the creation of a universal metaphor. It is mystical enlightenment, psychological synthesis, discipline of the body, anything you like. Writers and readers, too, coax base symbols (we hope) into golden life. We sit up late, blear-eyed, obsessed, as words take form and color: ‘the pale citron, the green lion, the crow, the peacock’s tail, the plumed swan.’