Faith, Fear, and Fiction

My honourable Ernest,

By whatever trifles of insight my fastidious, observational nature has profited me over the years, I have come to regard the dealings of nearly all mankind as some composite exercise of no more than three essential virtues or vices, which may server either one’s honour or shame, summarising the human experience as a response to the prospective unknown, an artful compilation of but three elements, namely, of faith, fear, and fiction.  Of these, perhaps only the first strikes us quite evidently as being a virtue, while the latter two seem to be either vices or mere misfortunes, but I find myself convinced that these may follow, just as does faith, directly from the most universally recognised virtue: love, on account of which is it not but a show of prudence to fear on behalf of the beloved, or of grace to envision something better wherever there may be a deficiency?  And yet it seems that love, by which name we are apt, in modern parlance, to call nearly any form of deep affection or attachment, may serve just as well as a virtue or a vice—consider the ‘love’ of Romeo for Juliet, Dido for Aeneas, or perhaps even Adam for Eve.  For many, the handling of such cases is a simple matter of refining one’s definition of the word, ‘love’, whittling it down until it lacks all such splinters and no longer allows for these uncomfortable notions of self-destruction and depravity, but the fact that an ideological carpenter finds himself with so much sanding to be done demonstrates a complicated feature of human nature; there is a fine line, as it turns out, between love, the highest virtue, and hate, its utter opposite, which is the lowest vice.

We are left puzzling over just such a paradox when Milton depicts for us the role of love in losing paradise; I am referring mainly to the drama that unfolds in book nine of the Paradise Lost, the apex of which we might explore at line 896 and following.  Adam has yet to partake of the fruit, when he somehow finds time to unravel an entire speech to consider Eve’s demise and the human condition, doing so—quite miraculously it seems—without Eve hearing so much as a single word.  Our present focus lies in lines 904-8:

… Some cursed fraud

Of enemy hath beguil’d thee, yet unknown,

And mee with thee hath ruin’d, for with thee

Certain my resolution is to Die:

How can I live without thee?

It is difficult to regard Adam’s love for Eve as a virtue, when it seems so distinctly, in this fictitious depiction, to serve as his hamartia.  Adam has invented a fiction, a beautiful, quixotic dream, that perhaps even the fallen Eve is the same woman whom he so loved from the start, perhaps he may yet find all the former beauty and splendour of the divine paradise even among its ruins.  Along with this fiction, which by an uneasy inclination we are tempted to consider a display of grace, he fears, and prudently so, what the future may be apart from Eve.  Ultimately it seems that for better or for worse and by virtue of his connubial duty to Eve, he has no choice but to invest total faith in the judgment of his beloved.  He is like the charismatic man who follows his friends when they all decide to jump off a cliff—for whom we may hold a certain admiration, regarding him, perhaps, as a charming and credulous fool, but more pragmatically, we must also fear for his own safety and well-being.

Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of Milton’s drama is the way it ends.  Paradise is in fact Regained, and in some very bizarre sense, it seems the whole drama of all mankind is ultimately to be so reconciled.  On the other side of death, we know there is a resurrection, where by virtue of Adam’s vice, his absurd and inappropriate faith, he lives once more.  By God’s grace all that has been broken is redeemed to something better still than it once was; as if even the fall of man itself were in His plan.  In this way, it seems that something evil in itself may be used for a good end.  The crunching of an apple echoes throughout all eternity as an object of universal derision, but God has harmonised this disgraceful memory with sweeter tones than we could ever imagine, reworking the whole chorus of angels in heaven so that it may be all the more beautiful yet again.

 

Your servant,

TWM

The Shaded Dawn

The shaded Dawn that sulks and Mourns the morning

With woeful Doves that requiem their sleep

Together prelude still and soft adorning…

The quiet brook that flows where willows weep

Passing gently by and swift absconding

In passion’s hast but tranquil waters deep…

The flaming autumn of the day And brilliant gloaming

That contends against the ends of the Earth to temporise

The fall of Dusk to Dark and Distant groaning

When necromantic wonders And phantasms arise—

This dying image of evanescent glory

That whispers secret augury to the few and perspicacious

Who mark the hour’s end and coming demise,

And oh how it marks with dread and fear of glory,

This image, that end!  But onward soul, be resolved and pertinacious;

Heed not this wisdom, but disobey your nature.

While yet the sacred morning mourns her loss

And evening ever evades it’s coming cross,

Assume an ardour more surreal and sublime

That transcends the idiotic bounds of verse and rhyme,

A timeless incandescence more furious in feature

Than that of a thousand deaths and damnéd demons

Who deride the day with divination of distant dreaded doom.

Nay, Love with the very force and agony of all this gloom,

For ’tis well to mark the wisdom dawn may give

That whoever dies for Love shall ever live.

Mortal Night

On a dark, disturbing night, alone at gravesite,

In the park that holds the right to hold the grave sight

Of the bones that men have left behind in urns,

Which a gravely digging gravedigger inurns—

I there did sit, in grief recalling him,

In woeful requiem and sacred hymn,

At graveside gravely sighed in plaintive prostrate

This threnody, the rage of grief to placate:

“My good and noble sir, or sir who was,

Ambassador of Death, who sirs undoes,

Do tell me plainly of thy resting place,

Pronounce in simple speak with gentle grace,

The tails of antique shades, whom I infer

Take refuge in infernal sleep, as ’twere;

They rest retired bones of theirs in sleep

Where time’s anachronistic bones do keep.

Most courteously, my friend, in verse or prose,

With dirgeful dirigibility of woes,

In mild tongue, with mild mood comported,

So say the surreptitious secrets o’ th’ morted

To mortal living ears who haven’t heard

Post-mortuary dreams in living words

Of dancing demos of deceased daemons comprised,

Of living men whose fatal ends fate’s devised.

O sing the solum songs of sorry souls

Who’ve slipped so silently to unhappy doles,

Consult the somber muse and sing the doomed

Inhabitance of Hades’s living room.

What terrors there torment fantastically?

What torments terrify tremendously?

O tell the horrid words unspeakable!

Convey the dreadful thoughts unthinkable!

And you, kind sir who was, where did you beach?

What deathless ground did Charon’s fairy reach?

Where is your final fate, my former friend?

Wherefore is past life’s gate thy dwelling’s end?

O how my most piteous, and inconsolable of living souls,

In horrid grief intolerable condoles

With cycloptic slayers and unseen seers

Whose prophetic visions madden my mind with fears

Of mysterious misery.

O hear me!

Will you not answer me, kind sir of old?

Will you not let me hear thy tellings told,

As shouting o’er the thunderous wind I crave

An insight into the inner earthly gave?

Answer me merciful man, whom I beseech

Mercifully mystery known of death to preach!”

Just so I wept o’er friend eternal parted,

And felt the woes of the living broken hearted;

I recalled the terror of an unknown final end

That awaits us all, as it thus has met my friend.

Just so I wept o’er silent sepulchre

And felt the woes to which long loss inures,

In monologic dialogue with death

Recounting sad those woes with waning breath.

As the violet eve departed, grave with guile,

I invoked, in vocative verse, that villain vile;

At the ceasing of the twilight’s purple hue

Post-luminary life did thus renew:

“How may a breathing mortal sleep at night

When by way of bereaving portal to seep he might?

To breath no more, what does it mean?

To tread the path to fate unseen?

To sleep the final sleep and never wake

When Hermes away to dreams thy soul doth take?

O Death, what do you mean, will no one say?

O ye who could, black Death hath stole away!

Sublime, tremendous, hideous, horrendous Death,

What lies on the other side the mortal cleft?

Benign, ingenuous, perfidious, and strenuous friend,

What dreams do haunt the souls below the bend?

Reveal your hidden deadly mysteries,

Kind tyrant, sir, be not my enemies;

Come forth and confess what you temporise to tell

Of the season after death, when life’s dusk is befell;

Do not delay a moment longer, Friend,

For soon, I fear, my quandary will come to end,

Without a word, but answer nonetheless,

Through passage fast from life to lifelessness!

I’ll die for fear of death, ‘lest fear’s forgot—

I’ll dream a haunting nightmare self-begot!”

And the roar of wicked wind was all there heard

In response to desperate cries and empty words.

As I lie in plaintive prostrate begging hell

For kind report, infernal words of well,

The difficult deliberation dampened

And insidious interrogation weakened

My vexed and weary soul.  And so it must,

On you, kind reader, take such a kind of toll, I trust.

You too must feel the weakening effects

Of the loquacious lyric literature of life-wrecks.

How can it be but life is all for naught

If living lasts a lesser length than ought?

A life that ends is worth as much to me

As one that from the start ne’er starts to be.

So how am I to live an ending life

When ending I do not live, but die in strife?

On this I lie awake in contemplation,

On the grave of death, I thought sans consolation

(Such thoughts as might induce their dreaded subject

By the life draining potency with which they affect)

For nighttime’s breadth I breathed such sorts of speech

‘Till morning’s blush th’ bewitching hour impeached.

The seven sisters set so long ago

That I’d forgot the night’s beginning woe.

Then russet, crimson day did walk abroad

And fend the field from that fiendish gaud—

Selene’s sly and sanguinary subject,

Who fleeted form the ferment reject.

The earth grew strangely still, and all was well;

The dead of night departed back to hell.

Joy is a Whisper

Joy is a whisper in the darkened night of day;

It comes not in the morn’ or when the life of earth be gay.

No, joy is found in the darkest of worldly depths:

In the sweet and lonely crow of a morning cock,

Who’s pleading song awakes the daytime’s breath

With mourning breath and sound that darkness mocks.

In the coldest, darkest hour of nighttime’s reign

Does he first beginning to sing his woeful tune–

That, not till all his unheard calls seem vain,

Awakes fiery Helios to heavenly renew.

 

‘Tis then that somber Selene surrenders her throne

Upon which sits a kingdom ever-changing.

With that the muses ‘cross the land do roam

And in happy folly do begin their singing.

Thus the song of mourning turns to the morning

Song of fools. Who drink their happiness away.

Oh what pleasure is found in the face of a fool smiling

Who fills his fleeting moment with things so gay;

All too soon to find this time of quickness

Has quickly passed him by with chariots’ swiftness.

 

The blissful kingdom now crumbles to utter ruin

As the global tip does flame in brilliant burn,

And as Aeneas’ eyes did once reflect in pain

The Trojan Tragedy by pagan devils spurned,

So the fool onward looks as he sees his kingdom’s  fate

Who’s shortest, worthless reign would not worthed more

Had a thousand times the time of day been t’ rate

Of the death of his foolish pleasure, now his soar.

As darkness once more covers the empty earth

The world waits in silence for the wise cock’s verse.

 

That Joy is a whisper in the darkened night of day;

It comes not in the morn’ or when the life of earth be gay.