Tag Archives: abuse

“Evil” by Arthur Rimbaud

Rimbaud

While the red-stained mouths of machine guns ring
Across the infinite expanse of day;
While red or green, before their posturing King,
The massed battalions break and melt away;

And while a monstrous frenzy runs a course
That makes of a thousand men a smoking pile-
Poor fools! – dead, in summer, in the grass,
On Nature’s breast, who meant these men to smile;

There is a God, who smiles upon us through
The gleam of gold, the incense-laden air,
Who drowses in a cloud of murmured prayer,

And only wakes when weeping mothers bow
Themselves in anguish, wrapped in old black shawls-
And their last small coin into his coffer falls.

(translation from http://www.poemhunter.com)

This is a very intense poem and I see it as a strong critique against tyrannical rulers who abuse their power, particularly those associated with the Catholic Church. Rimbaud sees this as the ultimate evil, to commit murder in the name of God, or to gather money from mourning mothers to bolster wealth. And it seems as if he is making a connection between the two, that young men are being sent off to die in the name of God and King, and then the mothers of the dead soldiers are exploited, manipulated into giving up their money in the hope that doing so will secure a place in Heaven for their dead sons.

HussardThe one part of this poem that puzzled me was the reference to red and green. After doing a little research online, I came up with two possibilities. The first is that Rimbaud was referring to the hussars, a regimen of soldiers who fought under Napoleon. According to Wikipedia: “Hussars were notoriously impetuous, and Napoleon was quoted as stating that he would be surprised for a hussar to live beyond the age of 30 due to their tendency to become reckless in battle, exposing their weaknesses in frontal assaults. The hussars of Napoleon created the tradition of sabrage, the opening of a champagne bottle with a sabre.” Anyway, the hussars wore green and red uniforms.

The other possibility is that Rimbaud was referring to the colors of liturgical vestments worn during Catholic services. In that period, different colors were worn for different liturgies, and red or green vestments were fairly common colors, depending upon the service. (Source) It is also possible that he was referring to both.

I am inclined to agree with Rimbaud’s thoughts. People who use their power to exploit others are the embodiment of evil. Unfortunately, this is something that still occurs today. But, on a more optimistic note, I think society is less tolerant of people who abuse their authority, and that bodes well.

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“Alice Cooper: The Last Temptation – Book III” by Neil Gaiman

LastTemptation_IIIAll Hallow’s Eve. Hallowe’en. The first day of the death of the year. Folk beliefs about this day go back forever. On Hallowe’en, they say, the Gates of Hell swing wide, and the dead and the damned ride out from dusk until dawn. On Hallowe’en, they say, the dark spews out all the nightmares, all the pain, all the death; and the hurt and the hate take shape and form. That’s when they can hurt you—or so they say.

Those are the opening lines from the final installment of Gaiman’s graphic novel trilogy featuring Alice Cooper. The events in this issue all take place on Halloween, which is appropriate. Young Steven returns to the Theatre of the Real to face his inner demons and the ultimate temptation: to enjoy a life of eternal youth in exchange for sacrificing his “potential,” letting go of his dreams of what may be and what he could become.

This terrified me, truly. I’ve reached the point in my life where I can look back and see the mistakes I made, where I’ve sacrificed my dreams, and where I’ve failed to reach my potential. For a long time, this tormented me. I was plagued with the thoughts of what might have been. Thankfully, I’ve reached a place of acceptance where I realize, like Steven in this tale, that it is best to just live life, that pain and shortcomings are what form you as an individual. I no longer allow my regrets to torture me. I know that everything I have been through has brought me to this place, and it’s a good place.

At one point in the story, the showman (Alice) tells Steven: “When you become the thing that scares, there’s nothing to be scared of ever again.” This really struck me. It made me think about cycles of abuse. I suspect that most abusive individuals were often abused themselves. The deep fear that they must have experienced causes them to become the scary person that previously tormented them. It’s a sad but true statement.

To sum up—I loved this entire trilogy. It is nothing short of amazing. The artwork is great; the story is riveting; there are no flaws that I can see. One could say I’m biased because I love Alice Cooper and Neil Gaiman, but the truth is, I approached this series with very high expectations, and this tale surpassed those expectations. So I’ll conclude with another quote from Book III which alludes to Shakespeare and P. T. Barnum:

The show’s the thing. The show. And the show must go on.

Click here to read my review of Book I.

Click here to read my review of Book II.

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“The Chimney Sweeper” by William Blake (from Songs of Innocence)

ChimneySweeperI’ve read this poem before and it never bothered me. I’d always viewed it as a social commentary against the horrific child labor practices in London. But having gone to the Holocaust Memorial in Washington DC this past week while on vacation, something about this poem struck me the wrong way, and while I am sure it is just my interpretation as seen through the lens of what I recently experienced, I still need to point out my issue with this poem.

Click here to read the poem online.

Most of the poem is pretty straight-forward. Innocent children are being exploited and one has a vision of an angel telling him that a better life awaits in the next realm. This vision provides hope for the child to continue with his life. It is the ending of the poem, though, that is problematic for me.

Tho’ the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm.
So if all do their duty, they need fear no harm.

This struck me as the same mentality that allowed the holocaust to occur, that quiet acquiescence in the face of abuse and human rights violations. On one hand, this is the same as the lie that “Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes you free) which appeared above the gates to Auschwitz. It is also likely that this is the same belief that caused many Germans to go along with the atrocities, the belief that they were only doing their duty. If you think about it, how many human rights violations are committed today as a result of “doing one’s duty.” Sometimes, doing what is right means refusing to do one’s duty.

I know that Blake was progressive and supported human rights, but we must be careful when we read and interpret literature. Ideas can be twisted and reinterpreted to express the exact opposite of what was originally intended. Just think about how many atrocities have been justified by an individual’s interpretation of a religious text. Words are powerful; therefore, we must be careful when we use them.

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