The Nuncio

Suddenly he began to torture the flowers
began to twist red winter tulips
faced by the behemothian jaws
for which there is no inevitable IN and OUT.

The carnage at the Menin Gate
the startled blackcock's raucous cry
the Morse code of a boot and crutch
filled the space between river and sky.

But stay! the light is cancelled there
the dark eyes cease
to stare at suns
and light breaks in behind the brain.

I too was present
one of a tufted mat of men
gathered under a high coffer'd ceiling.
I stood apart, making an image
for the dense throng of heads
hard, carapaceous
inhabited by a thousand eyes
crouch'd there like a scarab body
on each side the receding
columns of porphyry and gold
outspread like tense wings.

My musings were interrupted
by a fanfare and a sudden cry of heralds.
In the ensuing silence
all eyes were drawn
to the slowly opening doors.

First to enter were two attendants
carrying a regalia of astronomical instruments.

Starr was the name of the one we waited for.
He entered presently, removing his tiara
with the economical gestures of a man entering his own house.

A short squat man.
his hair powder-blue
on his white shaven skull.

He spoke immediately
into the ear of the microphone
he spoke immaculately
like a dancer
speaking into the ear of his partner.

" We may not have long to wait
not so very long
There has been despair: the first shock of defeat
cost us more losses in faith than in men.
Now we must build again
repair our broken parapets
dig fresh communication trenches.
The lines are cut; runners must proceed with messages.
At all costs we must make contact
assemble our scattered units
issue orders for a counter-attack.

Against tyrants there is only one weapon
anciently the pen now the microphone.
From the high tension of our minds
must radiate such measures as the situation demands.
From Moscow Princeton Berlin and Paris
from London Tokyo Rome and Buenos Ayres
from every city school and cloister
we must gather to avert disaster.

Our structures are of steel and glass
their subtle struts not obvious
we build with space in space
and by ingenuity produce
our aerial houses high towers
our winding stairs —
all is in light
above-board and ought
to win the approval of the masses.

But by those ignorant of stresses
our architecture is dismissed
as at best a jest.
Any demagogue can raise a wind
to break the logic of the mind.
In the last extremity
we can no longer employ geometry.
Floodlights of emotion
must be thrown against the recess'd terraces
the rectangular towers and bleak buttresses —
the external form of our adventure.
We must design with brighter colour
borrowing harmonies from children at school
and especially on an outer wall
cast a warmth that will appeal
to those unable to measure steel.

On our highest towers we might erect
flagpoles on which to inflict
pennants streamers and any pied
pattern that catches the colour-avid eye.
Rays of light and yards of bunting
take the place of verbal ranting.
Never to the eye deny
what the mind can amplify.

Then we must provide some stairs
obviously connect the various floors.
The lift that shoots from first to fourth
will only be a cause of wrath
to those long accustom'd to creep
from first to second step by step.

Such ascending and descending spirals
will serve eventually as treadmills
or as a substitute for war.
The lift can thread the spiral core.

We must not forget the fire-escapes
we must decoy suspicious dupes
with the prospect of continual safety
We must not treat this matter lightly:
the mouse the mole and the rabbit
have habits different from the robot.
Rodents range darkly in a fire-proof underground
not meeting fire
they have no fear.
But our enemy like an ampersand
lives inevitably between
between land and sky, between earth and heaven.
He must connect, and if he leaves the earth
must be assured of a safe path
back to his natural element.
A building without a fire-escape
he regards as a dangerous man-trap.

No need to multiply instances.
But we must reduce the area of glass:
we have avoided darkness
our structures are transparent —
only the skeleton visible and adamant
lies like a net embedded criss-cross
This would fail as an ambush
therefore blacken the glass
fill in the mesh
with soil and cement
any opaque element
so that their eyes cannot penetrate
partitions or discover remote
repetitions of plane and space.
Their eyes do not wish to pierce
floor or ceiling, nor traverse
limitless horizons; eyes
follow nose
fixed and unilateral in their course.

The strategy must vary
according to the class and climate
but normally provide a dormitory
where every night
your prisoners may sleep;
otherwise their weary footsteps will distract
the occupiers of the inner cells, who conduct
their meditations in despite
of earth's diurnal revolution, and the want of faith and hope.

Thus in various ways by various devices
sacrificing appearances preserving the reality
evading force by the use of mental agility
guarding in an inner redoubt under lock and key
the lost lineaments of goodness truth and beauty."

Starr paused, his head erect
his eyes fixed on some abstract
conception of the universe and man.
His audience was very still, and when
Starr spoke again
his whisper barely reached the microphone.

" In a vision we have seen
the world one, all men one
a single confederation
spreading from ocean to ocean

reason supreme
a flame
served by a few priests
the world obeying their behests.

the evil and the ill
tamed and all
spiritual corruption
given absolution.

Reason like a lily
fed by sense and feeling
blooming eternally
all the flowers of the field

Starr ceased
and we who had listened
suspended in stillness
surged like a sudden tide
towards the dais where he stood.
But Starr
checked our rash
onward rush
held us with his lifted hand
and to us gave this last command:

" Each to his cell:
the individual
is the pivot of our plan.
God only speaks to those who pray.
Action without grace can never win.
Therefore seek grace in meditation: employ
your mind and senses in the worship
without which we are without hope.
Reason prevails
against all symbols;
symbols are idols of mind's darkest level:
live in light immune from evil."

So Starr left us.

and then in single floes and flakes
we broke apart and left that hall
each intent, each mind full
of plans, prognostications and strategics.
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