Religion Comes

Religion comes from our pity for humans
They are too weak to live without divine protection.
Too weak to listen to the screeching noise of the turning of infernal wheels.
Who among us would accept a universe in which there was not one voice
Of compassion, pity, understanding?
To be human is to be completely alien amid the galaxies.
Which is sufficient reason for erecting, together with others, the temples of an unimaginable mercy.

— Czeslaw Milosz

religion

Religion, opium for the people. To those suffering pain, humiliation, illness, and serfdom, it promised a reward in an afterlife. And now we are witnessing a transformation. A true opium for the people is a belief in nothingness after death—the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murder we are not going to be judged.

Czeslaw Milosz, from “From the Rising of the Sun”

My generation was lost. Cities too. And nations.
But all this a little later. Meanwhile, in the window, a swallow
Performs its rite of the second. That boy, does he already suspect
That beauty is always elsewhere and always delusive?
Now he sees his homeland. At the time of the second mowing.
Roads winding uphill and down. Pine groves. Lakes.
An overcast sky with one slanting ray.
And everywhere men with scythes, in shirts of unbleached linen
And the dark-blue trousers that were common in the province.
He sees what I see even now. Oh but he was clever,
Attentive, as if things were instantly changed by memory.
Riding in a cart, he looked back to retain as much as possible.
Which means he knew what was needed for some ultimate moment
When he would compose from fragments a world perfect at last.

Czeslaw Milosz, “Elegy for Y. Z.”

Never forget that you are a son of the King.  — Martin Buber

A year after your death, dear Y.Z.,
I flew from Houston to San Francisco
And remembered our meeting on Third Avenue
When we took such a liking to each other.
You told me then that as a child you had never seen a forest,
Only a brick wall outside a window,
And I felt sorry for you because
So much disinheritance is our portion.
If you were the king’s daughter, you didn’t know it.
No fatherland with a castle at the meeting of two rivers,
No procession in June in the blue smoke of incense.
You were humble and did not ask questions.
You shrugged: who after all am I
To walk in splendor wearing a myrtle wreath?
Fleshly, woundable, pitiable, ironic,
You went with men casually, out of unconcern,
And smoked as if you were courting cancer.
I knew your dream: to have a home
With curtains and a flower to be watered in the morning.
That dream was to come true, to no avail.
And our past moment: the mating of birds
Without intent, reflection, nearly airborne
Over the splendor of autumn dogwoods and maples;
Even in our memory it left hardly a trace.
I am grateful, for I learned something from you,
Though I haven’t been able to capture it in words:
On this earth, where there is no palm and no scepter,
Under a sky that rolls up like a tent,
Some compassion for us people, some goodness
And, simply, tenderness, dear Y. Z.

P.S. Really I am more concerned than words would indicate.
I perform a pitiful rite for all of us.
I would like everyone to know they are the king’s children
And to be sure of their immortal souls,
I.e., to believe that what is most their own is imperishable
And persists like the things they touch,
Now seen by me beyond time’s border:
Her comb, her tube of cream, and her lipstick
On an extramundane table.