Monday, May 23, 2011

Some Thoughts on Rapture and Civic Duty in General, with Help from John Greenleaf Whittier

Well, nobody disappeared Saturday so I think that we can safely continue building equity on the mortgage.

But the non-event gave me pause for a moment to consider the essential silliness that permeates much of American public life. Not just the Rapture-sort of silliness, but the degree to which we tend to put frivolous nonsense ahead of serious business and value image over substance.And, yes, I know that for most of human history it has always been thus. The foolishness of people, especially people in groups, has been fertile soil for the cynic, the comedian, and the raconteur since the first Neanderthal got up before the night fire to entertain his or her companions with the clusterfuck that happened the last time the tribe packed up and moved or the goatrope that the most recent hunt turned into.

But as supposed citizens of a democracy we are not just any people; we are supposed to be not just people but heirarchs, not just the ruled but the ruler. We're supposed to sit in judgement on ourselves, to rise above our genital and gustatory uxoriousness to become men and women of sufficient wisdom and perception as to set a pathway for our children to follow us, one that avoids foolish excess and foolish penuriousness alike, one that provides the greatest good for the greatest number.And we have not and do not, in my opinion, and are doing worse now than we have done for several generations. Just look at the Presidential candidate field for the Republican Party if you want to see how far we have fallen from the Party of Lincoln. Hell, these greedy, pig-ignorant fuckers would make Bob Taft look like Solon and Barry Goldwater seem wiser than Solomon.

With that in mind, here's Mr. J.G. Whittier to tell us a little cautionary tale from the early days of our Republic, circa 1780:

Abraham Davenport & The Dark Day

In the old days (a custom laid aside
With breeches and cocked hats) the people sent
Their wisest men to make the public laws.
And so, from a brown homestead, where the Sound
Drinks the small tribute of the Mianus,
Waved over by the woods of Rippowams,
And hallowed by pure lives and tranquil deaths,
Stamford sent up to the councils of the State
Wisdom and grace in Abraham Davenport.

'Twas on a May-day of the far old year
Seventeen hundred eighty, that there fell
Over the bloom and sweet life of the Spring
Over the fresh earth and the heaven of noon,
A horror of great darkness, like the night
In day of which the Norland sagas tell,
The Twilight of the Gods. The low-hung sky
Was black with ominous clouds, save where its rim
Was fringed with a dull glow, like that which climbs
The crater's sides from the red hell below.
Birds ceased to sing, and all the barnyard fowls
Roosted; the cattle at the pasture bars
Lowed, and looked homeward; bats on leathern wings
Flitted abroad; the sounds of labor died;
Men prayed, and women wept; all ears grew sharp
To hear the doom-blast of the trumpet shatter
The black sky, that the dreadful face of Christ
Might look from the rent clouds, not as He looked
A loving guest at Bethany, but stern
As Justice and inexorable Law.

Meanwhile in the old State House, dim as ghosts,
Sat the lawgivers of Connecticut,
Trembling beneath their legislative robes.
"It is the Lord's Great Day! Let us adjourn,"
Some said; and then, as if with one accord,
All eyes were turned to Abraham Davenport.
He rose, slow cleaving with his steady voice
The intolerable hush. "This well may be
The Day of Judgment which the world awaits;
But be it so or not, I only know
My present duty, and my Lord's command
To occupy till He come. So at the post
Where He hast set me in His providence,
I choose, for one, to meet Him face to face,
No faithless servant frightened from my task,
But ready when the Lord of the harvest calls;
And therefore, with all reverence, I would say,
Let God do His work, we will see to ours.
Bring in the candles." And they brought them in.

Then by the flaring lights the Speaker read,
Albeit with husky voice and shaking hands,
An act to amend an act to regulate
The shad and alewive fisheries, Whereupon
Wisely and well spake Abraham Davenport,
Straight to the question, with no figures of speech
Save the ten Arab signs, yet not without
The shrewd dry humor natural to the man:
His awe-struck colleagues listening all the while,
Between the pauses of his argument,
To hear the thunder of the wrath of God
Break from the hollow trumpet of the cloud.

And there he stands in memory to this day,
Erect, self-poised, a rugged face, half seen
Against the background of unnatural dark,
A witness to the ages as they pass,
That simple duty hath no place for fear."Let God do His work, we will see to ours.
Bring in the candles."

Not a bad idea, don't you think? Why didn't we think of that?

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