Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nightmare, With Angels

I made this picture to go with the poem.

Nightmare, With Angels

By Stephen Vincent Benét
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-
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
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 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
Supposing Aurelius, Confucius, Napoleon, Plato, Gautama,
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 Ares, snouted for
He was neither soldier, sailor, farmer, dictator nor
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
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.

Picture credits: I believe all pictures used in this are in the public domain except for the gas mask, which is one recommended for civilian use by the Israeli army

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