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The men-made gods

I was randomly browsing poetry on the Project Gutenberg site (obviously I'm not a Slightly Dorky High Nerd for nothing!), and came across the following Ella Wheeler Wilcox poem from her Poems on Optimism collection.

The men-made gods

Said the Kaiser’s god to the god of the Czar:
‘Hark, hark, how my people pray.
Their faith, methinks, is greater by far
Than all the faiths of the others are;
They know I will help them slay.’

Said the god of the Czar: ‘My people call
In a medley of tongues; they know
I will lend my strength to them one and all.
Wherever they fight their foes shall fall
Like grass where the mowers go.’

Then the god of the Gauls spoke out of a cloud
To the god of the King nearby:
‘Our people pray, tho’ they pray not loud;
They ask for courage to slaughter a crowd,
And to laugh, tho’ themselves may die.’

And far out into the heart of Space
Where a lonely pathway crept,
Up over the stars, to a secret place,
Where no light shone but the light of His face,
Christ covered His eyes and wept.

Wheeler Wilcox is probably best known for these two quotes:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone.

Love lights more fires than hate extinguishes.

I read on wiki that she is frequently cited in anthologies of bad poetry. After perusing a few of her pieces, I can't say I'm really surprised. Her writing has that "pop" feel that I imagine literary critics would despise. (Which tendency always makes me thing of Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd, with all it's many parodies.)

However, I do find some of Wheeler Wilcox's reflections quite interesting, such as The men-made gods. The ending expresses such unbearable sorrow at mankind's obssession with, and glorification of, violence. I have to admit I puzzled for some time as to why this poem appears in a collection called Poems of Optimism. Three verses about gods of war arguing over whose followers are most bloodthirsty in their "faith", followed by a verse that has Christ weeping?? Doesn't seem very optimistic, does it?

But then I wondered if the optimism comes from knowing that there are alternatives to war. Knowing that we have a choice: we do not have to pray to gods of war and follow their bloody rules, we can instead choose to follow in Christ's footsteps and carry a message of love and peace. (Of course one could choose to follow any path that leads to peace and love...although from the poem's Christ reference, I assume Wheeler Wilcox would have meant following Christ's footsteps. And that is the path I choose to walk.) Maybe she placed this poem among her Poems of Optimism intentionally, to make us look beyond the men-made gods, our own long history of wars and bloody sacrifices, to see the infinitely better ways to share this wondrous world of ours.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
~ John 13:34 (NRSV)

I imagine the possibility for peace if everyone truly did love one another as Jesus did. What an amazing world we could share. That imagining really does lift my heart in hope and optimism.

One word frees us from all the weight and pain of the world; that word is Love.
~ Sophocles

I am a man of peace. I believe in peace. But I do not want peace at any price. I do not want the peace that you find in stone; I do not want the peace that you find in the grave; but I do want the peace which you find embedded in the human breast, which is exposed to the arrows of the world, but which is protected from all harm by the power of Almighty God.
~ Gandhi

Peace be with you, my friends...pass it on! :)


(Oh and welcome home to my best friend Valerie, who is getting back from Bermuda tonight...can't wait to see her tomorrow!! ♥)

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