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Would We Be Saved?

Mai Harinder Kaur

Oct 5, 2006
British Columbia, Canada
This is a poem that I have not been able to get out of my head. I first came across it in a book called Poems of War Resistance, Scott Bates, ed. in 1970.

It still haunts me. The less said the better. Just read the poem and look at the picture.

Nightmare, With Angels[/FONT]

By Stephen Vincent Benét[/FONT]

An angel came to me and stood by my bedside,[/FONT]
[/FONT]Remarking in a professorial-historical-economic and[/FONT]
[/FONT] irritated voice,[/FONT]
[/FONT]"If the Romans had only invented a decent explosion-[/FONT]
[/FONT] engine![/FONT]
[/FONT]Not even the best, not even a Ford V-8[/FONT]
[/FONT]But, say, a Model T or even an early Napier,[/FONT]
[/FONT]They’d have built good enough roads for it (they[/FONT]
[/FONT] knew how to build roads)[/FONT]
[/FONT]From Cape Wrath to Cape St. Vincent, Susa, Babylon[/FONT]
[/FONT] and Moscow,[/FONT]
[/FONT]And the motorized legions never would have fallen,[/FONT]
[/FONT]And peace, in the shape of a giant eagle, would brood[/FONT]
[/FONT] over the entire Western World!"[/FONT]
[/FONT]He changed his expression, looking now like[/FONT]
[/FONT] a combination of Gilbert Murray, Hilaire Belloc and[/FONT]
[/FONT] a dozen other scientists, writers, and prophets,[/FONT]
[/FONT]And continued, in angelic tones,[/FONT]
[/FONT]"If the Greeks had known how to Cooperate, if there'd[/FONT]
[/FONT] never been a Reformation,[/FONT]
[/FONT]If Sparta had not been Sparta, and the Church had been[/FONT]
[/FONT] the Church of the saints,[/FONT]
[/FONT]The Argive peace like a free-blooming olive-tree, the[/FONT]
[/FONT] peace of Christ (who loved peace) like a great,[/FONT]
[/FONT] beautiful vine enwrapping the spinning earth![/FONT]
[/FONT]Take it nearer home," he said.[/FONT]
[/FONT]"Take these Mayans and their star-clocks, their[/FONT]
[/FONT] carvings and their great cities.[/FONT]
[/FONT]Who sacked them out of their cities, drowned the cities[/FONT]
[/FONT] with a green jungle?[/FONT]
[/FONT]A plague? A change of climate? A queer migration?[/FONT]
[/FONT]Certainly they were skilful, certainly they created.[/FONT]
[/FONT]And, in Tenochtitlan, the dark obsidian knife and the[/FONT]
[/FONT] smoking heart on the stone but a fair city,[/FONT]
[/FONT]And the Incas had it worked out beautifully till Pizarro[/FONT]
[/FONT] smashed them[/FONT]
[/FONT]The collectivist state was there, and the ladies very[/FONT]
[/FONT] agreeable.[/FONT]
[/FONT]They lacked steel, alphabet and gunpowder and they had[/FONT]
[/FONT] to get married when the government said so.[/FONT]
[/FONT]They also lacked unemployment and overproduction.[/FONT]
[/FONT]For that matter," he said, "take the Cro-Magnons,[/FONT]
[/FONT]The fellows with the big skulls, the handsome folk, the[/FONT]
[/FONT] excellent scribers of mammoths,[/FONT]
[/FONT]Physical gods and yet with the sensitive brain (they[/FONT]
[/FONT] drew the running reindeer) .[/FONT]
[/FONT]What stopped them? What kept us all from being Apollos[/FONT]
[/FONT] and Aphrodites[/FONT]
[/FONT]Only with a new taste to the nectar,[/FONT]
[/FONT]The laughing gods, not the cruel, the gods of song, not of[/FONT]
[/FONT]Supposing Aurelius, Confucius, Napoleon, Plato, Gautama,[/FONT]
[/FONT] Alexander--[/FONT]
[/FONT]Just to take half a dozen--[/FONT]
[/FONT]Had ever realized and stabilized the full dream?[/FONT]
[/FONT]How long, O Lord God in the highest? How long, what now,[/FONT]
[/FONT] perturbed spirit? "[/FONT]
He turned blue at the wingtips and disappeared as another[/FONT]
[/FONT] angel approached me. -[/FONT]
[/FONT]This one was quietly but appropriately dressed in[/FONT]
[/FONT] cellophane, synthetic rubber and stainless steel,[/FONT]
[/FONT]But his mask was the blind mask of Ares, snouted for[/FONT]
[/FONT] gas-masks.[/FONT]
[/FONT]He was neither soldier, sailor, farmer, dictator nor[/FONT]
[/FONT] munitions-manufacturer.[/FONT]
[/FONT]Nor did he have much conversation, except to say,[/FONT]
[/FONT]"You will not be saved by General Motors or the pre-[/FONT]
[/FONT] fabricated house.[/FONT]
[/FONT]You will not be saved by dialectic materialism or the[/FONT]
[/FONT] Lambeth Conference.[/FONT]
[/FONT]You will not be saved by Vitamin D or the expanding[/FONT]
[/FONT] universe.[/FONT]
[/FONT]In fact, you will not be saved."[/FONT]
[/FONT]Then he showed his hand:[/FONT]
[/FONT]In his hand was a woven, wire basket, full of seeds, small[/FONT]
[/FONT] metallic and shining like the seeds of portulaca;[/FONT]
[/FONT]Where he sowed them, the green vine withered, and the smoke[/FONT]
[/FONT] and the armies sprang up.[/FONT]

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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