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by Zettel 

Posted: 25 May 2017
Word Count: 356

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The world they say belongs to  the young
If so I wonder why. 
In my youth I'd yet to learn
how to laugh at life 
and when it's right to cry
In and out of love 
I had not learned to cherish
so loving passed me by

As the singer once opined
in the Circle game our dreams 
lose some grandeur coming true
But passion has no age
love incurs no debt
deny age a false dominion
live without regret
Wisdom's gift is timeless
Truth does not forget
Thinking back it seems to me
the unexamined gift of life
followed mostly well-worn paths
tangled in the truth of things
until at last my spirit took flight
on the wings of curiosity
desire and doubt lifted me
beyond the pull of gravity
knowing that to know is nothing
 you haven't learned to be. 

Eternity considered
as an endless stretch of time
leaves the questions we hold dear
unmet, unresolved
bound by procrastinated fear
Death may have no dominion
but no sacredness of life is here
Immortality is Evil's lie
of salvation on the cheap
where no one has to die

Today of all days
this delusion chills the heart
Innocence lies with lifeless eyes
at the altar of a hymn to hate
Evil means serve evil ends
to serve an evil state. 
There is madness in the air
next world nihilistic faith
prosyletises blank despair

Those the gods would destroy
they first make mad
Kill a son for me said wrathful God
kill a child for me Ishmael replied
Old men send their sons to die
Why are you killing us, why us
the broken children cry
Because we must it is Gods will
the blind-faithed men reply

In Man's image is God truly made
blind faith denies dissent
The wonder of this world belongs to all
the young the old 
the foolish and the wise
Wickedness is choice
not will imposed or sanctified by God
Here not beyond the grave
is the only paradise
touch it feel it cherish it
and stop in your God's name stop

before one more laughing child


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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 21:03 on 26 May 2017  Report this post
Sorry, playing catch-up again. A little pressed for time, but won't be long.


James Graham at 21:05 on 27 May 2017  Report this post
Today of all days

I assume this refers to 22 May, the Manchester atrocity. That terrible event must have been the prompt for this poem, but reading the poem for the first time I felt the reference comes rather late. I’ll return to this.

The poem seems to be in two parts, stanzas 1-3 and the rest. The first part seems to centre on your own life, especially youth and the process of becoming who you are. It ends with two very telling lines:
                to know is nothing
if you haven't learned to be

I’m familiar enough with your work to say that these are characteristic lines, which read like a piece of traditional wisdom. Their brevity is like that of a proverb. Excellent lines.

The rest of the poem centres on a powerful rejection of religious belief, especially life after death, and a lament for the children. There’s a great deal here that resonates with me, not only because it chimes with my own views but also because it’s so incisively expressed. I like the ferocity of
Immortality is Evil's lie
of salvation on the cheap

There’s a real insight in
next world nihilistic faith
prosyletises blank despair

And ‘In Man's image is God truly made’ is a thought I’ve often had myself. The Old Testament God seems made in the image of a certain kind of Man, not the poor peasant or artisan of those times, but one of their more tyrannical kings. These lines and several others are specifically an attack on the cruel and inhumane beliefs of the suicide bombers. ‘And if ye are slain or die, in the way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy from Allah are far better…[than earthly rewards]’  - the Quranic text which refers to defensive war against an aggressor not the murder of innocent children and teenagers, but is grossly distorted by extremists. (Not my area of expertise, but I think that’s the text.)

What all this amounts to is that for me stanzas 4-7 are very telling indeed, much more so than 1-3. I haven’t quoted any of your lines about the children, but they are equally good, both angry and moving. This preference for the second part may be subjective to some extent, but not entirely so I think. This is my suggestion: include in the title or subtitle a specific reference to Manchester, 22 May 2017, and begin the poem at stanza 4. It’s possible st 4 could be rearranged so that it begins
Life is not held sacred here

(Same thought as ‘no sacredness of life is here’ but a better opening line.) I wouldn’t say it’s essential to rearrange the stanza, though.

Just one more point on st4. ‘No one has to die’ – the terrorist believes that he will live for ever, but what about the children? Should it read ‘where no believer has to die’? This would apply to the doctrines of evangelical Christians too; they consign millions to Hell.

I will be happy to discuss all this with you.

Notwithstanding the authoritarian tendencies of Trump (and May) we can still speak freely. In Saudi Arabia this poem would earn you 1,000 lashes, perhaps the death penalty. On the evidence of the above comment, I would probably be going the same way.


Cliff Hanger at 22:33 on 27 May 2017  Report this post

I was going to comment that stanzas1-3 read like a preamble to the meat of the poem but I see James has done that with far more insight than I can muster.


Zettel at 01:20 on 31 May 2017  Report this post

Been away. Just back

You're right: but this was the thinking process.

I think most rational people; including those with Islamic or other religious beliefs, are first bewildered at how anyone's mind can become so obsessed with a belief that they feel able not only to blow themselves up but to take innocent men women and children with them. Because we find this literally inconceivable, immune to any rational analysis or recognizable sense of common humanity, we find it almost impossible to imagine what we can say, how on earth we could prevent the radicalization process that culminates in what looks to us, a form of madness.

What can we, could we say, to such people with, or in the process of developing such certainties; that might make them pause, think, reconsider.  It is clear I think that no form of theology, Islamic or Christian could do the job as the Islamic fundmentalist hates other 'brands' of Islam as much he/she hates unbelievers.  There is by definition, no common context of discourse within which shared thoughts, concepts, ideas can be appealed to in order to form a meaningful discussion, let alone debate.

In a poem I wrote after the 7/7 atrocity I tried to appeal to senses of sight, touch, hearing etc on the gorunds that whatever the fundamentalist has come to believe he/she can only have arrived at these believes through those senses which, by necessity, we all have in common. Share. Equally I tried to invoke the universal sense of importance with which family, parenthood, love appear to be held across cultures and religions. On some level our instinctive human experience is based upon the same sensory experiences; and perhaps on some shared sense that loving our children and wanting to protect them might be as instinctive as pure physical senses.

That poem was what it was. But when I came to this one I started from the same conceptual base; but reading about the life of Salman Abedi I was reminded of similar information supplied about Osama Bin Laden and indeed a number of other notorious suicide bombers and fundamentalists.  Trivial though it sounds; one has a sense of adolescents unable to form strong friendships and relationships, especially with women. Even thinking back to the doubts and uncertainties of one's own adolescence, one remembers how deeply one was affected by doubts and setbacks, especially in forming relationships. The sense of isolation and thence alienation common during these years carries enough echoes of its orginal undermining power and force, to make one wonder whether at such a vulnerable stage intentional fostering of this alienation by manipulative men (as it usually is) with a clear, implacable religio-political agenda, one could see how this might set off a train of increasing isolation and alienation; leading to a toxic self-absorption only too ready to embrace a 'philosophy' that justified that view of the world and constantly fed it.

So I guess, rather simplistically or trivially I began to consider the intentional depravity of this toxic distortion of a normal process of coming to understand who one is, relationships with others, and the distorted complexities of age and gender. Age especially: for we seem to both undervalue the potential wisdom and value of life experience; and to   accord it too much power as with Imams, Politicians, etc etc.

If there is anything in this then somewhere in Abedi's life, as was very strikingly true of Bin Laden, a sense of obsessive alienation and hostility grew and found justification in a form of extremism that renders itself immune to analysis and especially questioning. This involves a profound corruption of otherwise positive qualities of passion and commitment. This progressive alienation, drawn towards the seduction of power through violence is for example shared strikingly not just just by religious fanatics but also by the multiple killers of Columbine and Sandy Hook.

My first three stanzas tried to look at the internal conflicts of these most common, very ordinary feelings and emotions. They don't for one moment do justice to the deep issues above but even evil seeds need something to grow in; and that 'soil' I can't help feeling isn't found in abstruse theology, paranoid philosophy, or metaphysical arguments. Something profoundly wrong begins to happen with the ordinary, everyday lives of these people: and then they are driven by a kind of 'momentum of madness' to a willing self-destruction. That process; from the ordinary, the misplaced passion, wilful alienation to a degenerate distortion of faith seems to be a pattern common to very different mass killers.  I doubt there is a single moment, definitive event that marks the beginning of that downward spiral, though of course our actions in foreign pollicy in recent years has thrown petrol on the fire of vicarious indignation and second-hand outrage (though in truth both emotions are justified) that can create an irresistable downhill momentum.

But I agree there is too much here for a single poem and I have in fact written two poems that confusingly conflate into one.  So I'll try and re-write the second and revisit the first which tries to point to a prosaic misunderstanding about time and age and 'wisdom'.

Thanks for the comments. I'll try to come up with something that addresses them in some way.



James Graham at 19:36 on 01 June 2017  Report this post
Your speculation on the possible trajectory that leads a young man towards being a suicide bomber is as good as any I’ve come across. Inability to form relationships, isolation, self-doubt – all seized upon at just the right time by religio-political manipulators. I have a kind of parallel in my life: as a child and young teenager I accompanied my parents every Sunday to the Christian Brethren meeting, where preachers spoke of the Rapture, and of being ‘saved’, and the message was very clear that only the ‘saved’, the Elect, would be admitted to Heaven; the rest would be consigned to the dreadful lake of fire and brimstone. I used to worry a great deal, to the point of neurosis even, because I didn’t know whether I was ‘saved’ or not; as I see it now, I was actually growing more and more sceptical, until before the age of 20 I decided I didn’t believe any of it. However, I can imagine some other young man, much more disaffected than I ever was, buying into this package of beliefs. He wouldn’t be required to kill anyone, but I can also imagine a young Muslim, very alienated, hating his own life and the world in general, becoming convinced that there is a way for him to guarantee entry into Paradise; to be, so to speak, ‘saved’, to be one of the Elect. As far as his potential victims are concerned, they are infidels – non-Elect - and their lives don't matter. For me this goes some way towards an understanding of what motivates some men to carry out such acts.

You’re right to mention Western foreign policy. Not only the Blair-Bush war, but going all the way back to the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916. Various Muslim peoples had been promised post-war self-determination and freedom from colonialism, and then found their lands had been secretly carved up and shared out between Britain and France. Generations of Western intervention, military as well as political, create a climate in which  those manipulators can more easily turn their followers into mass murderers.

It will be interesting to see your reworking of this poem, as two separate poems or, more satisfactorily I think, as a single poem in two numbered or subtitled parts.


Zettel at 00:18 on 02 June 2017  Report this post
Thanks James.  Not for the first time our experience and what we draw from it has distinct parallels of agreement.

Part One and Part two is an intersting possibility: thank you for it.



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