Thursday, 5 January 2012

Waiting for the barbarians

Sometimes our situation as Anglo-Catholics seems comparable with that of the famous and many-layered poem by C.P. Cavafy - the interminable waiting around for the final cataclysm to happen and for decisions to be made which will determine our futures.
Of course, unlike for Cavafy's Romans, in many ways day-to-day life does go on, the Gospel is proclaimed and the Sacraments celebrated, plans for the future are made albeit tentatively and provisionally, but the unspoken question (actually, several unspoken questions) is always hanging in the air and the sense of waiting is almost tangible.
But, in complete and total contrast to the ending of the poem, there are barbarians (sorry about the analogy, sisters and brothers, but...) and they are on their way.

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Translated by Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard

On the subject of contemporary barbarism of a different kind, even if we could make a good case for their being philosophically related -  the Falconer 'Commission' on assisted dying (reported by the BBC this morning for all the world as if it were what it purports to be) - there's an excellent post here from Ancient Briton about Dame Cicely Saunders and the hospice movement, and notice of a radio discussion from Fr Abberton here
According to one British LibDem euro-politician here , assisted dying is a 'liberal issue.' It's odd that 'liberal issues' now seem to concern death in one way or another, not the enhancement of life. Mr Gladstone must be spinning in his grave.

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