Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Some men wish evil and accomplish it"

Crush out the fly with your thumb and wipe your hand,
You cannot crush the leaden, creaking machine....

Some men wish evil and accomplish it
But most men, when they work in that machine,
Just let it happen somewhere in the wheels.
The fault is no decisive, villainous knife
But the dull saw that is the routine mind.

Why, if a man lay dying on their desk
They'd do their best to help him, friend or foe,
But this is merely a respectfully
Submitted paper, properly endorsed
To be sent on and on, and gather blood.
-- from Stephen Vincent Binet's long poem, John Brown's Body

In the portion of his modern epic quoted here, Binet is writing about the POW prisons of the U.S. Civil War, known for their butchery and their violence:
For all prisoners and captives now,
For the dark legion,
The Andersonvillers, the Castle Thunder men,
The men who froze at Camp Morton and came from the dungeons
With blood burst out on their faces.
The men who died at Salisbury and Belle Isle,
Elmira, St. Louis, Camp Douglas -- the Libby tunnellers --
The men in the fetid air.
Binet is scornful that any accountability can occur, especially inside the insanity of war:
The sun shines, the wind goes by,
The prisoners and captives lie
In a cell without an eye....

The band blares, the bugles snort,
They lose the fort or take the fort,
Someone writes a wise report.

Someone's name is victory.
The prisoners and captives lie
Too long dead before they die.
And yet change does happen... how does it happen?
There is no sudden casting off of a chain,
Only a slow thought working its way through the ground,
A slow root growing, touching a hundred soils,
A thousand minds -- no blossom or flower yet.

It takes a long time to bring a thought into act
And when it blossoms at last, the gardeners wonder...

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