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Thursday, January 20, 2011

This is the way the world ends


I've recently started reading Lovecraft and suddenly wonder where he's been all my life. Lovecraft wrote what he called "Cosmic horror," a sort of mash-up of horror, sci-fi, and mythology that reads like non-fiction. He invents characters at once compelling and beyond imagining; stories that chill your bones that give you the feeling you're reading a history text.
I don't know enough about him to write a whole ton or anything, but I plan to. Today, though, I was just noticing the similarities between Lovecraft's dystopia and the work of my favorite poets, who all wrote around the same time. 
They all create this nearly apocalyptic world beyond what was once our worst imagining. Creatures more evil than we could once conceive of, never-ending bleak landscapes, and pervasive dark images like hallucinations you can't shake off.
I was thinking how maybe it's got a lot to do with The Great War. The three men wrote around the time of the great war, a time that seems almost quaint to us now. Compared to images of Hiroshima, death camps, Rwanda, even 9-11, World War One fades into the woodwork.
But imagine seeing a zeppelin for the first time. It must have been like watching demons invade from above. Imagine the pictures of mustard gas victims in the paper. Heck, just think about how horrific it would be to see a bunch of folks in those old-style gas masks. The trenches... endless weeks and years in filth and cold, people are spending the last months of their lives in a miserable, disease-ridden hole in the ground. Influenza. Poverty. All documented in vivid photos on the front page. It shows in the writing of the time.

Here. Read 'em out loud to really get the full effect.

Lovecraft:
from The Festival

The nethermost caverns are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.


Yeats:
The Second Coming


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. 
Surely some revelation is at hand; 
Surely the Second Coming is at hand. 
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man, 
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, 
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. 
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, 
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Eliot:
Excerpts from The Wasteland


We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar


Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
...
Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
...
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.


It's like all writing was horror there for a time. 


5 comments:

Cap'n Ergo "XL+II" Jinglebollocks said...

"... instructs the very worm that gnaws..." gives me shudders...

disheah said...

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings had the same origins.

Mindi Leatham said...

Some of my favorite poems. They work so well with the photos you chose, too!

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Love the photos, a visual element for these writings. When I read the post's title, I immediately thought, "Not with a bang but a whimper." So you entitled it perfectly.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

My introduction to Yeats and Eliot came when I watched/read Stephen King's The Stand as a teenager. As if they weren't creepy enough on their own.

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