Nancy Ames

Joined January 2008

I am a Canadian, originally from Ontario, and am now living in Calgary, Alberta. I have been writing for over 30 years and performed my...

Extracts from my reading V

(These quotations are selected to be suitable for Remembrance Day, Nov. 11)

13.
Hugh Kingsmill, in his introduction to “The Poisoned Crown”, 1944

What is divine in man is elusive and impalpable, and he is easily tempted to embody it in a collective form – a church, a country, a social system, a leader – so that he may realize it with less effort and serve it with more profit. Yet, as even Lincoln proved, the attempt to externalize the kingdom of heaven in a temporal shape must end in disaster. It cannot be created by charters or constitutions, nor established by arms. Those who set out for it alone will reach it together and those who seek it in company will perish by themselves.

14.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr., “Slaughterhouse Five”, 1966

Billy looked at the clock on the gas stove. He had an hour to kill before the saucer came. He went into the livng-room, swinging the bottle like a dinner-bell, turned on the television. He came unstuck in time slightly, saw the late movie backwards, then forward again. It was a war movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this:

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses, took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long, steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, the German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was the women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

The American flyers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn’t in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby and all humanity, without exception, conspired to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.

15.
William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”, 1920

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 Spiritus 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 toward Bethlehem to be born?

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