Tuesday, December 11, 2012

     That prison is ourselves that we have built,
     And, being so, its loneliness is just,
     And, being so, its loneliness endures.
     But, if another came,
                          What would we say?
     What can the blind say, given back their eyes?
     No, it must be as it has always been.
     We are all prisoners in that degree
     And will remain so, but I think I know
     This - God is not a jailor....

-Steven Vincent Benet, excerpt from John Brown's Body, Book 5

Lincoln really was a Hebraic saint, for the mid-century American modernists - a beau ideal for the Ugly American - not smart, not beautiful, not quick, but making a virtue of stubbornness and essential honesty. When did we lose our way? Was it when the Ugly American became a taunt and an accusation, rather than a quiet, self-effacing assertion of battered virtue? When the Quiet American replaced it in the hearts of the wise? When the educated and would-be elite spat scorn at the "middle-brow" staring back at them in the mirror?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

So much for hopes and dreams.  Turns out, they were "the ghosts in the burning city of our time..."

"This is for you who are to come, with Time,
And gaze upon our ruins with strange eyes."

Nightmares and Visitants really is a heartbreaking book.  He saw death on the march, saw the tens of millions that would suffer, would break, and die.  He's largely forgotten now, which is another sign of our decline and coming fall.

We will not be saved, because we don't deserve to be saved.  We have more wealth than any people to ever trod this earth, and less wisdom than ever.  We have more people in school, than ever, and they seem engaged in the destruction of understanding and knowledge. 

The country wants to be a child again.  A simple majority has chosen to vote themselves back into the womb.  But they've put the management of that vast national womb in the hands of a chaotic crowd of imbeciles, incompetents and, I fear, at least a few abortionists.
An angel came to me and stood by my bedside,
Remarking in a professorial-historical-economic and irritated voice,
"If the Romans had only invented a decent explosion-engine!
Not even the best, not even a Ford V-8
But, say, a Model T or even an early Napier,
They'd have built good enough roads for it (they knew how to build roads)
From Cape Wrath to Cape St. Vincent, Susa, Babylon and Moscow,
And the motorized legions never would have fallen,
And peace, in the shape of a giant eagle, would brood over the entire Western World! "
He changed his expression, looking now like a combination of Gilbert Murray, Hilaire Belloc and a dozen other scientists, writers, and prophets,
And continued, in angelic tones,
"If the Greeks had known how to cooperate, if there'd never been a Reformation,
If Sparta had not been Sparta, and the Church had been the Church of the saints,
The Argive peace like a free-blooming olive-tree, the peace of Christ (who loved peace) like a great, beautiful vine enwrapping the spinning earth!
Take it nearer home," he said.
'Take these Mayans and their star-clocks, their carvings and their great cities.
Who sacked them out of their cities, drowned the cities with a green jungle?
A plague? A change of climate? A queer migration?
Certainly they were skilful, certainly they created.
And, in Tenochtitlan, the dark obsidian knife and the smoking heart on the stone but a fair city,
And the Incas had it worked out beautifully till Pizarro smashed them.
The collectivist state was there, and the ladies very agreeable.
They lacked steel, alphabet and gunpowder and they had to get married when the government said so.
They also lacked unemployment and overproduction.
For that matter," he said, "take the Cro-Magnons,
The fellows with the big skulls, the handsome folk, the excellent scribers of mammoths,
Physical gods and yet with the sensitive brain (they drew the fine, running reindeer).
What stopped them? What kept us all from being Apollos and Aphrodites
Only with a new taste to the nectar,
The laughing gods, not the cruel, the gods of song, not of war?
Supposing Aurelius, Confucius, Napoleon, Plato, Gautama, Alexander—'
Just to take half a dozen—
Had ever realized and stabilized the full dream?
How long, O Lord God in the highest? How long, what now, perturbed spirit?"

He turned blue at the wingtips and disappeared as another angel approached me.
This one was quietly but appropriately dressed in cellophane, synthetic rubber and stainless steel,
But his mask was the blind mask of Arcs, snouted for gas-masks.
He was neither soldier, sailor, farmer, dictator nor munitions-manufacturer.
Nor did he have much conversation, except to say,
"You will not be saved by General Motors or the pre-fabricated house.
You will not be saved by dialectic materialism or the Lambeth Conference.
You will not be saved by Vitamin D or the expanding universe.
In fact, you will not be saved."
Then he showed his hand:
In his hand was a woven, wire basket, full of seeds, small metallic and shining like the seeds of portulaca;
Where he sowed them, the green vine withered, and the smoke and the armies sprang up.
"Nightmare, with Angels", Steven Vincent Benet 1935
We thought we were done with these things but we were wrong We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom. We thought the long train would run to the end of Time.
We thought the light would increase.
Now the long train stands derailed and the bandits loot it.
Now the boar and the asp have power in our time.
Now the night rolls back on the West and the night is solid.
Our fathers and ourselves sowed dragon's teeth.
Our children know and suffer the armed men.
excerpt from "Litany for Dictatorships", Steven Vincent Benet, 1935.