THE PARABLE OF THE OLD MAN AND THE YOUNG
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in the thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
That last line has been reverberating in my mind over the past week or two as discussions of the armistice that temporarily ended the Great War have taken place. Wilfred Owen, as I suppose everybody knows, died in that war, leaving behind a handful of poems about it that have become classics. This is not the best known, but like I said: that last line.
Owen was killed in action on November 4, 1918. His mother received the news of his death on Armistice Day.
That war does not cast as dark a shadow over the U.S. as it does over Europe. I don't think I fully grasped the extent of the catastrophe that it was until sometime in adulthood when I saw a Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth. She lost her brother and her fiance and several friends in the war. My maternal grandmother served in the Red Cross in France. And I recall a picture of my paternal grandfather in an Army uniform, and I think that also was during the war. But very little in the way of family stories about their experiences came down to my generation, and now there is no one to ask.
Leonard Cohen's song "Story of Isaac" makes similar use of Abraham and Isaac.
I've always thought the song would be better without that last verse, and ended on "...beauty of the word." I don't know exactly what the peacock means, though, and perhaps I would like that verse better if I did. But it's a great song anyway.
I also have a bit of a theological quarrel with this:
A scheme is not a vision,
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a god.
That suggests that there would be something grand about the demon's approach. But nasty little schemes are very much in the demonic line.
--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.