CANTO VI: LOSING FAITH
Heaven was dark. The Sky: inked utter black.
And all the usual Light which once would fall
in spectral baths: nocturnalized, and dyed
to grief (as if Eternity loomed sad
to mourn believing—mourn the Angels, strewn
like rags and still unburied on the fields
of blemished Heaven).
Still, in spite of shade
and all the beating the Above had taken,
all spirits of Elysium remained
…unchanged… unpiqued to any overt fear
or anger unbecoming saints! (who’d rest
undaunted by the reckless wheel of Fate—
in sureness of immutability).
Denial damns all doubt from doubtful minds.
So on the Feasts of Heaven cycled round—
in darkness: saints and Angels all the light
to light Elysium like ghosts, in flames
that flickered now upon the Gothic walls
in candle-wisps of white, revealing cracks
(by starkness) of a crumbling masonry…
The LORD was nowhere. Empty lay His Throne.
And though I walked, half-dazed, amid the trance
of Heaven’s denizens’ delusion—deaf
to care—I had the fear, and wandered down,
through aisles that spliced their plodding ritual,
Deep through the Basilica
I brought my hobbled certainty… Huge walls
and once-bright windows now stood drab, and cold—
the soaring arcade piers and archways lonely—
and as I walked I sought the LORD through all
the vacant hollows of the Overworld…
Then, turning down into the colonnades
whose stony spaces coat the outer aisles,
I saw Him—far away…
inside the dark and epic solitude
of a side altar, pacing up and down…
His Self-emitting Glow embalmed it all
within with lambent light like dancing light
on jostled water. And the gravity
of all the world seemed heavy on His back,
which, even from so far a distance, seemed
a thousand crosses of a crucifixion.
I knew, of course, Omniscience knew I saw Him,
and yet I felt it secret as I stared…
until some knocking sense of impudence—
irreverence—hurt my heart (the way it will
when boys catch weeping fathers at their pain)
and I departed.
Out, upon the fields
(those cloudy tundras, shaded by the night
that came on omen), human beings sought
their myriad dead amid the fog and blood,
for funereal offices more just
than souring into dust upon the wasteland.
Now all of them are brought within the camp.
Huge pyres are lit—their speckling blaze of hives
re-lending Paradise some glint of brilliance
as vast environs of Elysium
glow flecked with lamentation in the dark
of murk and mourning. Job, no alien
to these, broods over all. And as he does,
he weeps, and tears his clothes, and wrecks his face
with ash and graven wrinkles, beats his chest
for loss and summons all humanity
to curse a careless God for “Slaughterer”
and shake their fists at Heaven.
Few pay heed.
They are too ruined deep within; to feel
is too confusing. Millions stand, or sit
in bands, to gaze with looks emotionless
on scattered pyres now smoking with their friends
and former world. The older one has passed
away, its demarcation line scratched deep
and all-indelible: dug wounding-like
in winding trenches as a scar—and signed
with blood (where Faustus’ guns gave signature
by touching Angels to the dry white page
of ground, and stained it mud).
…What have they done?
some think, afraid in mind (and yet assured
in gut) they’ve killed their own soul’s guardian Angel…
Where tends this strange adventure into Air
for overthrowing? No one now could say…
as all the wearied faces sat and stared
at crackling flame, incinerating what
and who they were, and what has been—while blind
to all that ash and dust might chance become…
True, some proved coward. Under guise of night
they sought their hubris’ Tower for the Earth
(…or, lost, threw bodies headlong from the clouds
in want of some ablution).
They know they carry what they’ve seen and done
within them. There can be no back, nor down—
but only up and onward. All must burn,
for nothing from the prior days of Faith
can be retained, once God—Faith’s fundament—
So, since sleep, for many, slinks
away (unten- and unobtain-able),
sad crowds lounge loitering in anxious night
and seek distraction from their nightmare-thoughts:
dancing-and-song numb drug enough for most,
while others seek diversion in the stuff
of war’s assembly line, and make of cars
and Faust’s contrivances some sport and toys
for thoughtless playing on.
Beside them, men
who’d held the frontline of assault—and shelled
Elysian Angels into carrion
from once-eternal Forms of perfect beauty—
these dazed and drooping, maniac of mind,
these shell-shocked saboteurs of Ideal art
meander lost amid the labyrinth fires
and stammer, babbling, idle syllables
of grim report, and fumble feral-like
in sopping cloud to make them more a beast.
“Dah…dah…” they’d stutter, turn to those who pass
and say, “…I am the executioner
of pretty things…”
Still others took it smiling.
With sureness in their task, and confidence
of optimistic revolutionaries,
gods after God were planned, and penned with words
upon the pamphlet of the air. For some
see His successor in their great Machine:
synthetic savior: mock-Empyrean,
within whose common effort they’d found aim
in laboring, and shed their soul for cog.
Beneath the umbral night, they whisper dreams
by flickering of a Lord State, whose gears
their Working turns. But others disagree,
and in their mything for the dawn, draw God
from Blood and Genes, theologize the Race,
and pray the human flaw forgiven by
messiahs in a Super-Man: our Fall
was mingling—till eugenic grace restore—
and as they wait resumed hostility
round burning pyres of souls, with burning souls
they dream of futures in an Aryan
Around some blazing mound
stacked high with bodies fluttering off to ash,
sat Faustus, staring: lost within a mind
whose thoughts (like all the pyres’ flesh-powdered wind)
transported him from present warming skin
to buoyant raptures:
What new world awaited…
Impending triumph of man’s Reasoning…
Ascetic dogma down—and God deposed!
as former phantoms fall, and yield to science…
Now, as he sits, dark crews rise out the mines
his faction’s dug into the Firmament:
unnatural caverns quarried deep, deep down,
whose walls and primal arteries men pry
and prod for Elements; seek Matter’s core
in the original—to seize the tools
of the Demiurge, and rape the cosmos’ plan.
Ascending steaming from the hole, they plot
and whisper, scheme with hands on mouths at ears
of Faustus, listening…
Scores sitting round
hear only breathy hints of something grand
…of some new, grave discovery—that rends
a causal world. “…deepest uncertainties…”
and “…only probability in all…”:
the atom offers each profound new means
to war with God.
Conferring thus with these,
and other chemic daedaluses (proud
with fresh, newfangled metal weaponry),
a lively Doctor Faust ascends a stand
and calls the idle regiments to arms:
“My dear Progressives! Armies of the Truth!
Come! Band again together, friends! bold men
and women—liberators from the Stars!”
(as waves of fire-lit eyes washed slowly forward…)
“We seek more scuff and battle with the Heavens,
no? What more Progress do we make at ease?
(as though we strove for but a property
above the Earth) We didn’t come to lease
some nearer gaze on what we loathe—but break
our bonds and slay our Overlord! Come, then.
At dawn we end our slavery. Slay God—
and slaughter Angelry! Complete what we’ve
So Faustus called (with such-like spurs
to lagging zealotry), rekindling force
and fire within the hearts of them, and sparked
insurgency as from a mess of embers.
Then, under stealth of darkness, hands returned
to sweat and heavy industry: new plans
drawn up—and greater, more ingenious grand
designs for arms and engines, worse machines,
as every ounce of ore and energy
and thought, material, and force abet
one single, epic effort and idea:
…Waking up from a dark spell
of dreamless sleep (and of that sort which seems
as if it’d been a year or just an hour
whose dreary afternoon repose confused,
and ended weary as it had begun),
I slowly felt some light—of Dawn?
(if just in creeping slivers on the floor
through tint of glass) and, just as soon, rejoiced—
(for I was far from certain that the Dawn
would shine again!)
Taking my harp in hand, then,
to greet a quiet and still-sleeping Heaven,
I rose as well, then knelt in orisons
and morning ritual to thank the LORD
for sun. But, as I did, I felt—then heard—
all early calm of daybreak broken: war
came with the light—to crush all peace above.
Out, on the endless air, in scenes stained pink
by Gothic glass and windowed scripture, scores
innumerable, and dizzying to eye—
of multi-million marching regiments
and swarming myriads of men, compact
in rectilinear battalions, blacked
by distance into bleak infinities
of insect lines, and marching…marching—sped
in stepping hordes upon the thunderheads
of Sky, and came towards Heaven. I watched all
within, and stared in reawakened horror
through the high panes of shaking Parables
on men’s campaign, renewed.
Heaven saw too,
and, swift as impulse, mustered into form:
t h e v a s t E M P Y R E A N
and Angels in their arcs! assembling up
in rising gyres above the crystal peaks
and emerald Citadel: horrific, dark,
Their billion beating wings waved strong
and oared the air: thrashing chiropteran
thick-fluttering in swarm—till Heaven quakes,
each human ribcage resonates with flight,
and all the tingling world resounds a deep,
deep rippling, darkness flapping like a cloth:
an undulating flag in hurricane
harsh winds seek off.
But in the gloaming sky
(lit up by flood lights on a rolling march)
the still-dark dawn sheds ink and night on God’s,
casting His Angels in a silhouette,
stark black—that Seraphs seem more demon-like,
or bats (when from some storm-lit cave they’re roused
and flood the air).
So all the Overworld
vibrates with war, each side remobilized
and churning force on force—that, from my view,
the ground seemed winding, and the sky a spool,
(men: sunken pebbles to a drinking Drain)—
God’s vortex drawing, as to pull them through—
and all the Angels, all the people too:
the gears propelling Time, and burning fuel
of human history.
But—what was that?
Some deep, low buzzing seared the rippling wind—
a droned cacophony come pouring in
as though a hive, tucked hidden overhead,
spewed onto Heaven some thick bath of bees
to drown Hosts’ fluttered dirge in murmuring…
breaking through the overcast,
Robotic bugs or leaden locusts—virus—
Down from the sky, vast steel armadas lunge:
a swooping fleet of war planes like a plague,
bombarding Heaven—silver hornets—flies—
metallic vultures in formation: high,
high up—descending now upon the Rose
and cycling Seraphim: to break their arcs
and burst their round Empyrean.
of hurtling darts, they surge toward the Center,
aiming propeller noses for the Star:
the Angels’ axle, and the gleaming Hub
extending out their winged rotations.
into its heart, these million bombers plunge
and hurl themselves, injecting like a drug
of death, and humming engines—plane on plane
colliding into all: to cleave their sphere
and blast Almighty’s soldiery apart!
Their bullet hits the mark and—how it tears…
scrambling their ordered ranks, and rupturing
the Form—the even Circuit disarrayed,
as war impregnates and implodes the Orb,
with revolutions interrupted.
their charges planted, all the aircraft bloom
from their compacted dart—and detonate
the Holy Flower of the LORD.
and bullets sweeping from inside, they set
their missiles on chaotic Hosts and gun
the Angels down! Swept from the twilit sky—
like gorgeous swans in flocks a rifle grounds
(or moons of ivory sent careening off
from ancient orbits round a starry world)—
the mangled Seraphs fall, and burst apart
when, crashing to the cloud, their bodies cleave,
and all their ichor out. Still others fight,
wrangling with war planes in the bedlam Rose
and wrestle—wings of steel with wings of down—
till both drop woven from the warring air
and burst to conflagration far below.
where was God?
The crumbling Rose revealed
He wasn’t at the core. Instead, a hole:
a rotten vacuum as infected fruit
will show, when through some peach or plum your teeth
intrude and stumble on decay. So glare
the Empyreal hollows—like a womb
still-born—that, though the war planes fan and swerve,
tracing the contours of sphered cavity
(like darting outlines that electrons lend
to paint a round thing from nihility)
they seek a wanting and all-absent LORD
in disappointed Regicide…
inflicted by their infiltration prove
too fatal, too complete—that now, at once,
Angel on Angel, Throne on Throne, and Princedoms,
Virtues, and Dominations, Powers: all,
all arcs of Angelology and Spheres
of the celestial order
and part: exploding outward like a star
that’s spent in white Seraphic nova flame.
…To watch the rupture of Empyrean?
strange that I did not cry… fall down, and weep
inside a shaken, scared Basilica…
But there are beauties in sublime dismay—
appalling tragedies that, when they come,
seduce us by the cataclysm: and we
obey. So was it then, and I stood awed,
to see how eerily the Seraphim
appeared as florets in a rushing wind
when off they’re whispered from a dandelion…
Still, Earth was far from victory with this.
The high, colossal Sphere had shattered, but
like showered glass-shards from a broken bulb
descended now upon the surging floor,
point-first. (So bees from boy-broke hives; so drops
the lava; so the shockwave, fired from fire:
prophetic to its own catastrophe.)
Belling their opal fall (like tumbled wine
that overflows its brimful bowl to coat
a granite table), Angel floods pour up
and out and down—as bowed magnetic fields
erupt out of the sun in polar crescents.
Now, over fields of cloud, they swoop and skim,
all hurtling forward at the charging men
who brace for hard collision.
“H o l d!” yelled Faust
through chaos, fear, confusion, rushing—noise
burying thought—horizons pulverized
by vast infinitudes, and sweeping vistas
blotted with bodies and invasion—lands
of shaking thunderheads as endless as
eternity: seething with them, with men,
with mutinous, apostate hordes in fields
of gray humanity.
The Angels near—
now: shrieks—and cries—
and all at once both meet
in a deciding Battle of the Stars.
Hard—like the rams’ heads’ crackling, horn to horn—
these billion bodies of God’s Angelry
and angry men collided—crashing chests
and arms on wings-and-chests-and-arms, and bone
on bone: shattered in the explosion! Mess
in violent chaos issued out. Two waves
converge and froth confusion on a sea:
so was it then, a million-fold (if seas
foamed red and bloodied at the bubbling merge)
and all was pandemonium in Heaven.
Yet human hosts prove greater force, and at
their union, over-stormed collapsing wings
and spears—as one tectonic plate, above,
will plunge the under to the mantle-core.
So trampled, broken Angels floor the feet
of a wild stampede, and human armies roll
the battle back towards the Wall.
enormous hulks of iron, plodding death—
like armored elephants—metallic, black,
and mounted ivory-tusked artillery—
extend their steel erections out and burst
a belching fire—
(…smoke spumes and far away
a hundred Angels shatter into bits
of spinal cord and coiled intestine)
and burst again—A volley of a thousand
pummel the cloudscape with their slender pipes
and stir a shrapnel mist from blood and steel.
But Angels too mete rage. Some tackle men
and—rising, meteoric—surge themselves
up! up! into the highest air! clutching
like eagles or a bird of prey its pelt
a dangled man, sharp-taloned to the sky—
to drop! For, in the brittle atmosphere
and windy arctic heavens over Heaven,
their grips are loosed, and down their cargos fall,
that all above the hectic battlefield
loud, steady hails of human beings streak
the sky with screams, and rain down evenly
to puddle into corpses on themselves.
Elsewhere, the savage struggle thrashes fierce
and crude, as, hand-to-hand, combatants brawl—
men beating Angels with their broken fists,
and brutal scientists at bludgeoning.
Some Seraphs too turned madly animal,
and, in a violent grief (for on their skin
glimmers the crimson fluid: streaks of friends
men slaughtered into stains and butcher’s goo)
mauled at the faces of the victims caught,
and screamed their heartache hoarse.
…Their eyes will haunt,
forever haunt me… (I—what could I do?)
For I stood gaping in a quiet room
and kept my window, looking down on war…
as though, in all the ruin of my world,
I read a book laid out, and every word,
dissolving—fighting God: like paragraphs
conspiring into regiments at dawn
to burn down Heaven round a child.
they go: down Raphael, down Uriel,
Zerachiel, and Sachiel, and down
Seraphiel fell silent in the fog;
and down the Seraphs, down the Hosts of God—
too like the hay-stuff in the grass, blown off—
and down Salvation tumbles from its Cross
and from my heart: far brittler of a thing
than faith would have imagined, or have thought…
But in the bleeding of the fray was Job,
who now, as in the eerie calms that reel
tumultuous hurricanes around a pause,
had stumbled face-to-face with some great force,
alike unarmed: the looming Peniel—
or ‘Angel of the LORD’—and stood unmoving…
“…WHAT IS YOUR NAME?” the Spirit asked (afraid?
or nervous at such intimate exchange
amidst the sweeping anonymity
of slaughter?) Job just stared, as battle burned
and chaos bloomed around. “My name?” he scoffs,
“Why ask a man his name? No sooner sung
its music ends, and dies upon the air.”
—(beside him, thousands fall, and breathe their last
upon the trembling Firmament of Meaning)—
“Though… true. In those brief tones lie symphonies
of suffering (if only varying fugues
upon a theme). Man’s but an uttered breath:
a spate of sound, and then eternities
of silence. Glory’s echo loiters, soft…
—but fades in rapid decrescendos down
to infinite fermata rests. And only
a fool… a fool upon some jingling jest,
would fiddle time with names! lying with sound
and hoping in his heart that names might stir
once life’s vibrations still, or stand as waves
to beat on some immortal shore.
But all is
Names are toys as well: the sounds we give
to dying things. So come, and let me take
mine to the grave. Death is a fame—much noise—
which everyone must know.”
Then, all at once,
as if unplucking sutured memories
(say, of a boy, a wife, a daughter: pressed
beneath the wretched onus of the world)
Job’s face turned cloudy, and a grimace sneered—
as, with a primal moan to break his heart’s,
he leapt upon the Angel of the LORD!
On thunderheads, and fog—wrestling, with grunts,
and vicious blows—the two rolled madly round—
and snarled—and growled—until (in spite of age,
and all the wear and bruises of his pain
in toiling time), Job pinned the Seraph down,
and howling in the air a monstrous wail,
he crushed its face with blunt-force to the eyes.
Now, lying on the ground, and heaving hard,
and throbbing by the corpse of it, he sighs:
“So have I struggled with God… only now
Slaughter and murder on a mythic scale—
not just in magnitude (though it was vast:
Angel and man spread out, bacterial:
black, writhing dots upon the film of mist
and sick, staphyloccoccic clouds), but here
raged slaughter of premier import, whose worth
was great, and in this scale aghast. For on
the life which was its Purpose fed the bug,
turning infection tragic and profound—
decaying, inside-out, the human soul,
spit up—and decomposed Elysium.
Just then—the ground beneath me shook… the walls
trembled and quaked… A sudden thunder pierced
the clamor of the muffled war below,
and then my stained-glass window
in vibrant flecks and shards, the Parables
their crystal colors
slivers of Christ, and the Apostles:
as dust and rubble blanketed.
thrown backward by the deafening blast, and lay
in pain and powder. Through that gaping hole
poured loud cacophonies and savage floods
of the unmuted war, as I looked out
and saw the bombers flying, flying off
like southward geese in V-shape overhead.
“My God…” I whispered, horrified with awe:
They’ll bring It down…”
Indeed, all round me
the bombs were going off, and all the walls
of Heaven were exploding. Blast on blast
reverberated—left and right—as planes
let slip their missiles on the Overworld.
Huge spires collapse—and tumble on themselves—
towers on towers of the Citadel—
eternal Structures in the Cityscape
of Paradise, and down the Bells—down Time
and certainty—implode, and fall away.
For now great Transcendental forms, and frames
to skeleton a metaphysics break,
crumble, disintegrate: as air raids rock
and craters catch them.
becomes the crosshairs well (as any camp
or barracks, battlefield or city, home,
cathedral, garden, Dresden, library),
and in the haze of chaos, one for one,
seems wondrous edifice for demolition.
Now, where the missiles struck, I saw the wounds
they left: cold, gaping
of utter black
(as when, in space, some stellar giant dies,
sinking so deep on its imploding self
it’s pierced the very fabric of the sky
with densest nothingness). So was it then,
except in myriads! and all the heights
of Paradise pocked sickly with the rash—
as down into the craters strikes and bombs
had gashed rubble fell to a Void, and Forms
like mortar to the gobbling holes: swept down,
imagine…shrines (but worth the name), great shapes
fit for the Temple of the Spiritual,
and build a city in your mind of awe.
Dream up into the air what’s holiest,
in structure soaring like sequoia-scapes,
till all the skyline beams what’s dearest us:
our Cause, done cosmopolitan. Build up
—then throw the whole thing down. Break off
its shoots for losing in abyssal blots.
By this, the Heavenless might gain some sense
of loss, and tally tolls of bankruptcy
by summing measure to infinitude.
For so the City crumbled, sinking spire
by spire, explosion by explosion; planes:
fly-like, and darting to-and-fro; and down
upon the battlefields: red massacre,
red carnage—millions of the Seraphim
hacked, mutilated; men doused with their ichor;
as all the vistas of Elysium
looked seething with the broth of dead and dying,
the dead and dying falling mixed, and lost
beneath the cloud.
Then: tremors overhead…
a bomber swoops!—and, all at once, smoke BURSTS
with rubble from the emerald Citadel!
revealing souls inside… There, in the shell
and ruined room its triggered wreckage left,
crowd multitudes of LORD Jehovah’s own:
the Tribes of Jacob, still at prayer—still true—
and chosen children from an older world.
The floodlights’ blare tore in on them, and seared
their worship red—so that I saw their faces,
saw all their multitude, and multitudes
in hate against them, till I feared what I’d
I gulped—expecting savagery
to let itself in orgies of the butcher…
was awed the more
when, one by one,
contingents of re-ordered armies formed
There, cog by cog,
it rounds the prisoners up, mechanically—
devoid (it seems) of unkempt malice’ rage—
and, man by man, conveys them out apace
like any product on a factory line.
…Amazing, is it not? how men could make
their slaughter art? or (more correct) a skill:
a scientific and precise affair,
with all the nonchalance of business? And
is this not most of all: that as they passed
their stuff along—passed men and women, cog
by cog—conveyed their cargo mile by mile
(out past the frenzy of still-raging war)
and transferred Israel from dust to dust
to hurl all coldly to a distant Void—
is not this something: that of all who worked,
there was no one to blame… no ‘murderer’…
So can six million die, efficiently—
and none who kill consider it a crime.
But all defenses now were lost. The Walls
were breached, and Heaven opened-up. The Hosts
of Angels struggled fruitless—or in heaps—
and millions flecked their corpses on the cloud.
…But where was God?
More blasts! The Gates—
entrance to Heaven—tumble from their jambs,
shatter to colors of chalcedony
and deep jacinth—Perfection’s sardius,
chrysoprasus, and beryl. All these, like gems
of every value: scattered to the winds!
as everywhere rich beauty’s ruinous
and spreads the splendor of Elysium.
So savaged, hallowed-hollowed, Mystery riddled
and wholly scarred with bruises of the Void
and bomb-blotched meaningless, the ancient Walls
and outer Gates of Heaven break apart—
cleave into slabs, and teeter droopingly…
…holding a moment…
—like a man about
to fall—when heart and soul, at strife in dying,
dither to pass for hunger of the world—
and so holds on, with clutching at the chest…
a weeping grimace at the body’s fault…
before a gravity more powerful
(and careless) brings him down for final rotting—
so, billowing down in swollen clouds of smoke
and circled plumes, the ancient walls of Heaven
the force of human history they crashed
and shook the Overworld in awful peals,
as though a million bells were tolling then—
the din of every human church at closing—
a cosmic funeral—the midnight hour
of God—and all man’s armies on the brink
to pillage through, as I leapt up, and out
my trembling room before it falls to dust.