A Poem of the Millennium

January 1, 1000

Year One-thousand, January One,
starts the new millennium.
The villein, Jacques, in Reims,
wakes to find his world unchanged.
His hut stinks; his flour’s wormy.
He fears God’s wrath, but trusts His mercy.
Walled in by his community,
set in Christian certainty;
by their fireplace, with his family, sitting,
he plans the plots he’ll plant come spring.                                                                                           
The stars above him do not move;
he knows God’s power –and His love.

 

 

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1118

Others loathe such conformity:
their minds and spirits must be free.
Tutor Pierre finds knowledge increase
in the arms of his pupil Héloise.
Risking life and reputation,
they learn a different conjugation.
(L’Université de Paris’s great philosophe
and the canon’s niece –in reckless love.)
You think the danger overstated?
Let me remind you that Abélard was castrated
–and the slut confined to a nunnery …
whence she wrote most eloquently.
(“Though I should think of God, I think of thee.”)

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1225

Dear Francis,

I hear that when you visited St. Peter’s
you exchanged clothes with a beggar
and stood all day at the door of the church;
that you asked the people of Gubbio
to be kind to the wolf who was eating their sheep;
that you call birds your “sisters” and fire, your “brother”;
that you would have us give all that we own to the poor….
–Perplexed in Perugia

Dear Perplexed,

I ask only that you see God’s hand in all creation:
wolf, leper, flower, stone —
God gives to each His rain and His sun.

What man is in the eyes of the Lord,
that I am –and nothing more.

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1517

Martin Luther says you can’t buy salvation;
the individual conscience is the only true religion.
Of intermediaries, he’ll have none;
Man is responsible to God alone.
The Bible, being God’s holy Word,
must, by each Christian, be read and understood.
Humble toil is a service of God
far surpassing the holiness of monks.
God is terrible in his majesty;
by faith in God, are we made free.

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1611

[London; Shakespeare addresses assembled friends as he retires to Stratford;… a mysterious stranger rebuts.]

“Despite it surely not being my intention
to slight the worth of imagination,
to doubt the value of our fictive craft,
there can be no question:  in their import,
the actual deeds of actual men
must, perforce, surpass the disembodied pen.
This [pointing] is merely men upon a stage;
these, merely words I’ve placed on the page.”

“Master Shakespeare, I beg to differ:
it is your words which will live forever.
When fiery Phoebus ten million times
has run his course ’round rotund Earth, men will
still
be astonished at Lear’s great woe,
still sigh with Juliet for her Romeo.”

 

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1711

They’ve placed Monsieur Voltaire in prison.
This will not postpone the Age of Reason.
Men will speak and write as they see fit,
be governed by laws and the intellect.

                                                                                          

                                                                    

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1783

[General Washington, at Annapolis, Maryland]

“My friends, I’m honored deeply,
by the faith which you here show in me,
your confidence that these qualities
which served so well in war might now
to governance be applied successfully.

“I, myself, have doubts:
I fear that battle’s clear, cold steel will be dulled
in the gauzy murk of diplomacy.
And though I were suited to this high estate most perfectly
still I should shrink from it.
I think of Caesar,
returning, triumphant, from Gaul,
his heart full of zeal for the good of his people,
who achieved much, but whose lordly rule
gave way to others far less wise….

“There’s a name for a man raised above men as a god:
it’s ‘king’. I’ll have no kings!

“Thus, I surrender to you,
the duly-elected representatives of the States,
the outward and visible sign of my authority:
this sword. Let the world take note
that these united States, born under tyranny’s yoke,
shall, in word and deed, henceforth
be governed democratically.”

 

 

by James Peale (1787)       

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July 27, 1890              

Vincent finds his world has narrowed,
(–what wonders he’d seen in la lumière d’Arles!–)

all the things for which he’s sorrowed–

rejection by his cousin Kee,
reliance on his brother’s charity,
failure of his “painters’ community”–
come welling up….
He walks to the field from which he’d come.
In his pocket, the letter he’ll never mail.
The wheatfield he’d so recently painted.
In his pocket, by his chest,…
the gun.

July 16, 1945

[Robert Oppenheimer, near Alamagordo, New Mexico]

If the radiance of a thousand suns
were to burst into the sky at once,
that would mirror the Mighty One’s splendor….
I am become Death –World-destroyer.
–The Bhagavad Gita

Everything was so much clearer
when it seemed the Germans might get the thing first….
Now it’s all so terribly muddy….
Who knows what these generals’ll do with it.
…The radiance of a thousand suns….
That 100-foot tower –completely gone!…
If we didn’t do it, someone surely would….
I am become Death –destroyer of Worlds.

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January 1, 2000

Year Two-thousand, January One,
starts the new millennium.
The sales-clerk, Jacques, in Reims,
wakes to find his world unchanged.
He’s got Internet access! Two cars!
He doesn’t fear the universe….
The only group he‘s part of
is guys who drink at the local bar….
He goes to church, but doesn’t believe.
His job, his marriage –nothing is certain….
Even the stars above him move.
He knows God’s power –but not His love.

 

Hear Jerry/Lucius read this poem.    This poem is part of the Scraps of Faith collection of poems.

Keywords:  millennium, Abelard, Heloise, St. Francis, Shakespeare, George Washington, Van Gogh, Oppenheimer

 

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