Terror and Slaughter Return

We’ve featured this poem before, but it’s been more than ten years. Another look is warranted, given how much more dire times have become than they were just a decade ago.

Rudyard Kipling was a prophet whose clear vision peered ahead into the devastated twilight of Western Civilization. “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” is a remarkable poem. Written almost a century ago, it speaks to today’s deracinated remnants of Christian culture as we approach End Game:

The Gods of the Copybook Headings
by Rudyard Kipling

As I pass through my incarnations
                in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations
                to the Gods of the Market-Place.
Peering through reverent fingers
                I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings,
                I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us.
                They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us,
                as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift,
                Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas
                while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed.
                They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne
                like the Gods of the Market-Place;
But they always caught up with our progress,
                and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield,
                or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on
                they were utterly out of touch.
They denied that the moon was Stilton;
                they denied she was even Dutch.
They denied that Wishes were Horses;
                they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market
                Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming,
                they promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons,
                that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us
                and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said:
                ”Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones
                we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour
                and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children
                and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said:
                ”The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch
                we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter
                to pay for collective Paul;
But though we had plenty of money,
                there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said:
                ”If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled,
                and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled
                and began to believe it was true,
That All is not Gold that Glitters,
                and Two and Two make Four —
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings
                limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future,
                it was at the birth of Man —
There are only four things certain
                since Social Progress began —
That the Dog returns to his Vomit
                and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger
                goes wobbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished,
                and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing
                and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us,
                as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings
                with terror and slaughter return!

Barawatha: Epic of Epics

Our German translator JLH has employed his considerable poetic skills to pen this magnum opus about America’s Man for All Seasons — or for thirty-two of them, anyway, four per year for eight long years. Those are years we’ll never get back, but c’est la vie…

Epic of epics

By JLH, with respects to the great myth-maker, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

On the banks of old Potomac,
By the wide and flowing waters,
Lived for eight years Barawatha,
In the Whitest of all Houses,
In the fabled land of DeeSee,
In the land of wealth and madness.

Far had come our Barawatha,
From the lands of Kenyawahwah,
To the isles of Ho-No-Luau,
To the lands of Indo-Eastern
Where the minaret was calling,
Forming for him thoughts of music.

Then the trekking journey homeward,
From the lands of very Eastern,
Eastward to the lands of Western,
Stopping in the land of Luau,
Then on to the western province,
To the very western province
In the Land of Money-Talking,
In the Land of Let’s-Pretending,
In the Land of Mickey-Mousing,
Where for two short years he studied
The many mysteries of the Occident.

Now grown out of young and cuddly,
Into tall and lithe and handsome,
Soon to travel once more westward.
Like an arrow toward the coastline,
To the town of Robber Barons,
To the town of Spinach Popeye,
To the venerable institution,
Nestled in the worst of districts,
Covered in respect and ivy,
For another two years’ learning.

Leaving then that town of Commerce,
For the town of Slaughterhouses,
And the town of Drive-By Slaughter.
Learning, thinking, organizing,
Planning for a further future.

One last leap in education,
To a further northern Ivy,
In the land of cod and baked beans,
And of cabbage and of corned beef,
In the land of Cabots, Lodges,
And of many an upstart Irishman.

Here to study the queen of sciences —
Understand Left-Leaning Lawfare.
How to bring about the rescue
Of the nation from its bondage
To the thought of long-dead fellows
Who had never heard of Facebook
And refused to pay their taxes.

Back then to the town of stockyards,
Railroad trains and Smith and Wesson,
Back to organizing, teaching.
Thinking now of where the Law lives,
How it changes and who does it.

Cleverly and lightly then he
Trod the stepping stones to power.
Missed the first one, balanced quickly,
Reached another higher level.
Soon was sitting with his compères
In the senatorial chamber.
Grousing, grumbling and complaining,
At the state of the economy,
At the travails of the needy,
At the entire world of nations
Seeing us as their despoilers.
How did all this come to happen,
Under less than able leaders?
Now is time to change direction,
Make a difference, make some progress,
Down with capital exploitation!
Up with programs, programs, programs!

Now he saw, our Barawatha,
Saw his purpose, saw his future,
In the epic war yet coming
To decide with final judgment
What befits this nation’s hubris,
In its arrogance and profit,
In its overweening self-love.

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Ash Wednesday 2017: A Difficult Balance

Today begins the long march of Christians through the penitential season of Lent. Gone is the bacchanalia of Mardi Gras feasting. Here come the days of fast and abstinence.

I had thought to put up a part of T.S. Eliot’s long conversion poem, Ash Wednesday.

But my sleep-deprived mind kept turning and returning to Richard Wilbur’s Love Calls Us to the Things of This World. It pulled me to notice “the things of this world” while I still can. So this is my offering instead, this exultation, one to carry with you as you also carry the ashes of mortality, the reminder: “Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return.” Or, as they said in my childhood, while marking my forehead with the ashes of last Palm Sunday’s fronds:

Meménto, homo, quia pulvis es, et in púlverem revertéris…

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

      The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
                                 Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

      Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

      Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
                                                                     The soul shrinks

      From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
And cries,
                        “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

      Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,
      “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
                                 keeping their difficult balance.”

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Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”

For anyone who’d like to follow along with the poet, here are the words. Back when the children were here, the Baron used to read this to us…

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.

It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero’s garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared.

We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows – eternal, ever since Wednesday – that we never heard Mrs. Prothero’s first cry from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbor’s polar cat. But soon the voice grew louder.

“Fire!” cried Mrs. Prothero, and she beat the dinner-gong.

And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in our arms, toward the house; and smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the dining-room, and the gong was bombilating, and Mrs. Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier in Pompeii.

This was better than all the cats in Wales standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into the house, laden with snowballs, and stopped at the open door of the smoke-filled room.

Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr. Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle of the room, saying, “A fine Christmas!” and smacking at the smoke with a slipper.

“Call the fire brigade,” cried Mrs. Prothero as she beat the gong. “There won’t be there,” said Mr. Prothero, “it’s Christmas.”

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He’s Standing Before the Lord of Song

Leonard Cohen R.I.P.

For decades I have been in the habit of listing our three greatest living lyricists. Well, it seems I must now collapse that list to two. Or find some new name to add to it.

Leonard Cohen died today at the age of 82. He joins the ranks of the immortals not for his tunes, but for his lyrics, which were always superb.

I’ve quoted from his songs here a number of times in the past (notably from “Dress Rehearsal Rag”). His greatest work was “Hallelujah”, but that is well-known to most people. So, in honor of his passing, I’ll paste the complete lyrics from one of his lesser-known songs, “Story of Isaac” from the 1969 album Songs From a Room:

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Barbarian and Ms Daisy

The Turkish poet Serkan Engin returns, this time with one of his poems. Its topic is the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides committed by his Turkish ancestors, and it has been accepted into the Armenian Poetry Project. The poet tells us this is the first poem written by a Turkish poet on the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides.

Update: Serkan Engin sends this link to his free e-booklet criticizing Islam, “ISIS is ISLAM, ISLAM is ISIS”.

Barbarian and Ms Daisy

yes, you are right Ms Daisy, they came
with the wild winds of Greed, brutally
slaughtered all the innocent letters
written on the wall of Grace, even also babies
by burning them alive, before most of them
could not have a toy in their short-length life
with an insufferable last sequence

yes, you are right Ms Daisy, they were
merciless hyena droves born from
Racism, biggest evil of all times,
the bloody verses of Quran
written on the hilt of
their curved swords
feeding their violence
by promising them heaven
as they killed more “heretics”

they were the servants of
remorseless epaulets
they were the slaves of
their own Greed and Savageness

yes, you are right Ms Daisy, they
raped little girls and young women ferociously
without caring their screeches
tearing the deeply embarrassed face of the sky
same horrific verses on their groins
and the permission of pimp epaulets
on their ignoble waists
without any mercy

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For Hillary: A Slice of Philip Larkin, Served Cold

No Dylan Thomas for you, Madame. Instead, a part of Philip Larkin’s poem, The Old Fools, a dish of karmic revenge served up by the many people under your now-uncertain feet, those trampled faces smiling up at you:


At death, you break up: the bits that were you
Start speeding away from each other for ever
With no one to see. It’s only oblivion, true:
We had it before, but then it was going to end,
And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour
To bring to bloom the million-petaled flower
Of being here. Next time you can’t pretend
There’ll be anything else. And these are the first signs:
Not knowing how, not hearing who, the power
Of choosing gone. Their looks show that they’re for it:
Ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines —
How can they ignore it?

Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms
Inside your head, and people in them, acting.
People you know, yet can’t quite name; each looms
Like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning,
Setting down a lamp, smiling from a stair, extracting
A known book from the shelves; or sometimes only
The rooms themselves, chairs and a fire burning,
The blown bush at the window, or the sun’s
Faint friendliness on the wall some lonely
Rain-ceased midsummer evening. That is where they live:
Not here and now, but where all happened once.
This is why they give

An air of baffled absence, trying to be there
Yet being here. For the rooms grow farther, leaving
Incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear
Of taken breath, and them crouching below
Extinction’s alp, the old fools, never perceiving
How near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet:
The peak that stays in view wherever we go
For them is rising ground. Can they never tell
What is dragging them back, and how it will end? Not at night?
Not when the strangers come? Never, throughout
The whole hideous, inverted childhood? Well,
We shall find out.

The Habits and Habitats of May

Spring Fundraiser 2016, Day Four
Well, thanks, y’all! Gratias plena! The pace of donations is picking up and we’re feeling much more encouraged and energized as a result.

It’s akin to the wonderful feeling I got when Tommy prevailed in court… there are not words sufficient to describe my sense of renewal. And all of you must know by now how seldom an Irishwoman is short on words.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

When you depend on the generosity of others, you must pay meticulous attention to your audience. In the beginning, we wrote for ourselves, as a way to maintain contact across the miles, so we answered only to one another.

Tip jarNow, with all of you, and the necessity to ask for money from you, the scope of our vision has long since changed: who we’re answerable to, and for what, and why. Thus each of these week-long events requires us to step back. We take the opportunity to look at our work and at our direction; we spend even more time than usual talking about both the content and the process of our child, this website.

Yes, really. Gates of Vienna has evolved into a something we cherish and nurture. The conversations we have about it are similar in process to the talks we used to have as our son was growing up. Imagine if parents got report cards four times a year! If real live kids got the attention we give this blog, the future of next generation would be less parlous than it seems now.

To put it in strategic terms, the Quarterlies function in a way to maintain our situational awareness and to remind one another why, after all this time, we’re still here doing this every day…

This is a question worth asking as long as you’re comfortable wandering in the cloud of confusion between the query itself and whatever answers show up. At the risk of being thought sentimental (not something I’m accused of very often), I can sum it up in one word: love. Love in all its permutations and emphases, but love nonetheless is the engine that drives Gates of Vienna.

Perhaps I can clarify this with one of my favorite poems. This is probably Richard Wilbur’s most famous and most studied work. In a deceptive simplicity he pulls together the components of — as he might say — a quotidian process: the way in which we come back to life each morning and so begin to pull the pieces of ourselves together, however scattered they may have been by sleep.

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
                        Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

     Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

     Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
                                                   The soul shrinks

     From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
And cries,
                  “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

     Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,
     “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
                         keeping their difficult balance.”

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If you read it slowly you’ll see not only the profoundly simple truth of his images, but the fun he is having juxtaposing those brilliant, quickly changing images on the page (and in the mind of his reader). For example, notice how he begins with the opening of his eyes, but then moves immediately not to what he sees, but to what he hears as a clothes line is sent squeaking down a pulley, its load of laundry flies into the morning. Not only sight and sound, but the unseen hands working the pulley and its accompanying joy… for many of us, that joy doesn’t arrive until we’re holding cup of coffee, ready to face the day’s offerings.

Opening Gates of Vienna each morning is much like that for me. I sit/lie on the chaise longue in the sunroom off the kitchen, listening to the Baron’s morning sounds as he makes coffee. I already have my own cup (espresso brewed in a Bialetti on the stove); with the comments page open I begin the ‘laundry’ of overnight comments while the steaming coffee revives my soul. It is most often in the morning, not quite awake, that those verboten words get past me, but then, I think y’all know that already.

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Primal Virtue

The title of Dymphna’s post, “Something Vicious and Dishonorable”, made me think of the opposite of Vice, which is Virtue. And Virtue always makes me think of the wisdom of Lao Tzu, as recorded in the The Tao Te Ching two and a half millennia ago. The word “virtue” appears no fewer than sixty-four times in Gia-Fu Feng’s translation of the book.

Below is the 51st chapter of The Tao Te Ching:

All things arise from Tao.
They are nourished by Virtue.
They are formed from matter.
They are shaped by environment.
Thus the ten thousand things all respect Tao and honor Virtue.
Respect of Tao and honor of Virtue are not demanded,
But they are in the nature of things.

Therefore all things arise from Tao.
By Virtue they are nourished,
Developed, cared for,
Sheltered, comforted,
Grown, and protected.
Creating without claiming,
Doing without taking credit,
Guiding without interfering,
This is Primal Virtue.

Why This is Hell, Nor am I Out of It

We recently received a cash donation by snail-mail from someone who lives in the Chicago area. There was no return address or signature, so we were unable to send the donor a thank-you note.

A card that enclosed the cash was inscribed with this brief note:

If we’re wrong, and they’re right, we’ll be in the best of company in hell.

Thanks for all you do!

Although not entirely apropos, a literary quote was suggested by our donor’s note.

Today is William Shakespeare’s birthday, but the following excerpt is from Scene 3 of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s. Faustus has just conjured up Mephistophilis and is about to negotiate the sale of his soul to Lucifer:

Faustus:   Tell me what is that Lucifer thy lord?
Mephistophilis:   Arch-regent and commander of all spirits.
Faustus:   Was not that Lucifer an angel once?
Mephistophilis:   Yes, Faustus, and most dearly lov’d of God.
Faustus:   How comes it then that he is Prince of devils?
Mephistophilis:   O, by aspiring pride and insolence;
For which God threw him from the face of Heaven.
Faustus:   And what are you that you live with Lucifer?
Mephistophilis:   Unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer,
Conspir’d against our God with Lucifer,
And are for ever damn’d with Lucifer.
Faustus:   Where are you damn’d?
Mephistophilis:   In hell.
Faustus:   How comes it then that thou art out of hell?
Mephistophilis:   Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think’st thou that I who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?
O Faustus! leave these frivolous demands,
Which strike a terror to my fainting soul.

Many thanks to our new mystery donor. You know who you are, but I sure don’t!

The World Waits for the Sun

Ten years ago today I buried one of my best friends. His death hit me hard, probably because it was the first among my cohort of childhood friends. I’ve seen off a couple more since then, but the later bouts of grief have been easier to deal with — maybe I’m getting used to it.

Back in the early days of this blog, Saturday was often designated Poetry Day, and I’m reviving the tradition for this occasion. The essay below is a reminiscence about my friend and his funeral, followed by a poem I composed in my head on the drive back and then typed up when I got home. I was too shy in those days to blog on such topics, but I’ve mellowed in the decade since.

This is a departure from our usual fare. No jihad or “refugees” or Obama or Trump in this one. So, if you prefer those topics, you can skip this one — we’ll resume normal programming soon enough.

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I first met Pete when we were both about eight years old. He had just moved into our neighborhood, and since we were age-mates — our birthdays were only five days apart — Pete and I became friends. He and his family were Catholics, like most people in that part of Maryland. They lived up to the Catholic stereotype, eventually having eleven kids, with Pete being the oldest. I was a Protestant, but his people weren’t Protestant-haters like some Catholics, and there were no Catholic-haters in our house. So Pete and I could safely establish a friendship.

When he was ten years old, Pete contracted a rare form of childhood lung cancer. He eventually recovered, but it was touch and go for a while. Two-thirds of his left lung had to be removed, along with pieces of three ribs. The area where the ribs were missing was adjacent to his heart, which made him vulnerable. We played sandlot baseball and football in our neighborhood, and we kids were told to be careful when tackling Pete, so as not to strike him in the soft spot. A particularly serious concern was the possibility that he might be hit there with a pitched ball (we played hardball), but fortunately that never happened.

Our friendship was interrupted by the four years my family spent in England. When I came back to Maryland, both of us had grown up. During my vacations from William and Mary, and after I graduated, Pete and I spent a lot of time together, with groups of friends or riding around in his car. Those times were what I remembered most in later years.

We were very different, Pete and I. I had been an inveterate intellectual since about the age of twelve, and could only do things that required brains but no skill. Pete was the opposite — he was good with his hands, and had the knack for taking things apart and fixing them. He eventually went to the local community college to study electronics, and later got a job working as a technician for the phone company.

In the early ’70s he bought an ancient Karmann Ghia for a few bucks, put a new engine in it himself, fixed up the body, and painted it lime green. That was the car he and I rode around in. You could pick it out coming a mile off, the color was so gaudy.

My friend Wally Ballou and I introduced Pete to the Grateful Dead. We paid for his ticket, and in return he drove us up to the show in Philly in that funky old Karmann Ghia. The car had a wiring problem that sometimes made its headlights go out, and Pete would have to whack the front of the car at a certain point to make them come back on. That happened while we were on our way up I-95 that night, so Pete pulled over onto the shoulder to smack some sense into the car. Wally and I just sat there looking at the tractor trailers go by in the falling sleet. More than thirty years later I remembered that night when I wrote the poem. And now it’s been more than forty years.

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“Take Me In, Oh Pretty Woman…”

Donald Trump recited this at a recent campaign stop.

Thought y’all might want to see the original version first. It’s actually rather biblical in its implications, which I’m sure the song writers were aware.

Al Wilson is his name.”Northernsoul” is his game. The information on the video says this is rare footage…


Hey the white guy introducing Al Wilson has got his ownself some fine threads there in 1974. Been kinda down hill from there.

Below the jump is The Donald’s recitation. I hope his advisors get copyright permission so he can start singing it with a back-up band…

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The Fascination of the East

The following essay by JLH was prompted by our recent discussion of Carly Fiorina’s paean to Islam from September 2001.

The Fascination of the East
by JLH

Since the Baron turned up Carly Fiorina’s glorification of Islam as the culmination of a long speech that had otherwise to do with world business and Hewlett-Packard, I have reflected on where such an attitude comes from in the Western world. I have examined my own history of fascination with Islamic civilization, encompassing historical novels such as one with a hero who survived the life of a janissary and returned triumphantly home. And even earlier, I was enthralled by the romantic and appealing figure of Scheherazade in Arabian Nights, enticing one more night of life from the sultan by spinning yet another fabulous tale. I was in awe of her cleverness, never considering at that young age that the real story might lie in the fact that the sultan could simply command her death because he wanted to. And the tales she told were easily as magical and entertaining as the many tales that grew up around the Knights of the Round Table.

So I began to think about the fascination with the lands and cultures of Islam that has existed for a very long time in the West. How long, at least as far as I knew, it had been with us. And I thought back to one of my favorite 18th century skeptics — Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, who joined and then de-bunked the Masons. His friendship with the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn was no doubt a factor in his famous public feud with one of the Protestant Christian bigots of his time. He later wrote a play famous for its suggestion that the three great religions — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — could peacefully co-exist, as had a previous play by Voltaire. Great emphasis was put upon the chivalric relationship between Richard Lion-Heart and Saladin.

Lessing also spent time studying the great Persian civilization, and seemed to believe that the figure of “angels” was originally a Persian concept, absorbed by Judaism. His fascination with Persia was followed later by the man considered to be the greatest of all German writers — plays, novels, short stories, trend-setting epic and lyric poetry, nature studies — also a statesman, and ennobled by the Duke of Weimar so that he could circulate socially in the court. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote the West-östlicher Divan cycle of poems celebrating the East and the great Persian poet, Hafiz.

Germany and France were not alone in their fascination with the “East.” In 1859, Edward FitzGerald produced the sensationally successful Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

James Henry Leigh Hunt, a British 19th century writer-editor-poet — unsuccessful almost his entire life — wrote two poems that lived long after him. I include the first — which is not on the subject at hand — because it demonstrates the emotional appeal he could generate.

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I’m growing old, but add
Jenny kiss’d me.

Now you are ready for the second poem that was read and remembered by many, and served as an example of the perception of Islam:

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still, and said “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

Now, keeping in mind the nonsense we have heard from so many public figures, such as President Bush with “Islam is a religion of peace” (and keeping in mind the nonsense some of us — including me — have given voice to until and even after 9/11, because we really didn’t want to know), allow me to do the academic thing and repeat the poem with explanatory insertions:

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Father William Veers Left

JLH normally spends his time translating German texts for us. However, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision prompted him to take a break from the umlauts and eszetts to pen this poetic pastiche in the spirit of Charles Dodgson.

Father William Veers Left
by JLH

(with apologies to Lewis Carroll)

“You are Left, Your Honor,” the young man said,
“And your thinking is not very bright.
You ceaselessly stand the Law on its head.
Do you think what you’re doing is right?”

“In my youth,” said the Justice Supreme, “my son,
“I feared it might injure the Law.
But now that I’ve learned that there really is none,
I don’t care which way it might yaw.”

“You are Left,” said the youth, “as I mentioned just now,
And have grown quite mentally lazy,
Yet insist that the Law do a Triple Salchow
A thought that is palpably crazy.”

“In my youth,” the Justice Supreme then replied.
“I tried to keep on thinking.
But then I discovered this socialist bromide
Which I think everyone should be drinking.”

“You are Left,” said the youth, “and your mind is too weak
To delve deeper than The Washington Post.
Yet you give the Law and Constitution a tweak,
And instead of hiding, you boast.”

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