Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Thus Ends the World, Scene 5



Scene 5

[Richard running after Mary on a dark country road]

Richard: Beloved, wait!
            I would speak with thee!
            There are bleak half-truths abiding
                        In the space between us,
            And their incompletion will undo us
                        Lest thou would let me speak!

[Mary stops and turns to face him]

Mary: Do you still have words?
            Even now? Even here?
            Richard, our son is dead.
                                                [Breaks into sobs]

Richard: I know, Mary, I know.
            I have known no greater sorrow,
                        Nor ever shall, I think,
            Than the passing of my boy.
                        Charles! Whom I loved—
                                    Yes, I too, loved him, Mary!—
            All I can see now, against the wind and darkness,
            Is a vision of his smile, his winsome eyes,
                        His cheeks alight with laughter
                                    When I dandled him on my knee.
            I see him strong and true,
                        A man of such beatified virtue
                                    That it put his father to shame, yes!
            And now, to have that light, that laughter,
                        The glory of all he is,
                                    Torn away in one heartless night—
            It dismembers my very soul…
                        I am unmade with sorrow.
            Yet even in the valley of the shadow of death
                        I see another vale before me,
                                    Fulsome, clear, unshadowed,
            And there I know, I know, I know,
                        My son Charles waits for me,
            And these unsanctified eyes,
                        After many long purgations,
                                    Will see him once again.
           
But Mary! Mary!
                        This night thou hast daggered my corpse,
                                    Driving sorrow upon endless sorrow,
            And I do not know the reason why.
            Charles I have lost, yet Charles I will gain again;
                        But how have I lost thee?
            Whence comes this flood of dark reproach,
                        Surmounting our darkest moment
                                    With oceans of trouble still darker yet?
            In this one night, the consolation of thine embrace
                        Has abandoned me—
                                    That consolation had been for me a steady pillar
                                    Grounded deep and true in the boundless love of God—
                        In this one night, thou hast played the Samson to my life
                                    And torn the temple down.
            Why? Speak to me something, anything…
                        Please.

Mary: I cannot speak.
            Thou sayest sorrow unmakes thee—
                        It has already unwritten the record
                                    Of my very life.
            Behold the vapor of a woman who beforehand was,
                        Yet soon to vanish in the wind.
            Why have I hated thee,
                        In this, our final moment?
            Neither have I any answers, save this:
                        In the face of black injustice,
                                    That ascends unreasoned from the abyss,
                        Justice would demand a victim’s anger.
And who else is there left for me to hate?

[Richard moves closer and takes her by the hands]

Richard: I know that thou art angry, Mary.
            That I can understand.
                        But let not thine anger shatter the foundations
                        Of the only refuge that remains….
            Mary…Mary, what is this?
                        These marks upon thy arm?
            Oh, ungracious God, say not that this can be!
                        Not here! Not to thee! And no, not now!
                                    Has heaven truly hated me?
            And thee! Why thee, my beloved, to suffer so?
                        Thou didst not tell me this!

Mary: I only knew today.
                        Perhaps my anger was not toward thee at all,
                                    Good Richard…
                        Perhaps it was the echo of a traitorized faith,
            That had trusted vainly the word which the ancient book had spoke:
                        “Thou shalt not fear the pestilence that stalks in darkness.”

Richard: Thou has it, then—the plague!

Mary: Aye, the plague.
            Unhand me now, lest this divine malice,
                        This serpent of hell’s wrath,               
                                    Make deadly strike at thee.

Richard: How can I let thee go?

Mary: Go, Richard. Fly from my side,
            And let this Samson destroy the temple of our lives,
                        That thou may have space to build another.

Richard: But where shall I go?

Mary: Go back to hallowed ground,
            And seek the answer to thy question.
                        Perhaps the wisdom of the cell,
                                    Of a martyrdom chosen in the midst of life,
                        Might grant thee some reprieve
            From the scourgings of the living death
                        Thine eyes must now behold.
            Go, Richard.
                        Go, and be blessed.

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