The Poet Sings – Libretto for an Operatic Work
For once upon a time within a very ancient world there lived a poet of a man, who in his early years sang songs and psalms of life and love and lasting joy so beautifully that all the world would stop to hear. All while he sang was Nature still to listen in.
His was a splendid tenor voice that stilled the howling winds and raging seas and one that did subdue the savage beasts and men who did the world great harm. Grass would not grow while he did sing and nearly all the singing birds were silent for the haunting beauty of his voice. Only the nightingale was skilled enough to, in soprano voice, call a refrain to his poetic melodies.
So lovely were the poet’s songs and psalms that once when scowling Death was passing by, he paused to speculate and smile and shed a salient tear, for never had he heard a sound so strangely full of harmony. The words and music made a strongly pleaded case for peace in all the Earth and heavens too.
The entity called Death thought then of what was truly joy and how he worked without respite to time indefinite. Death understood at last why menial man would fight so hard to struggle free from his compassionate embrace, and yet he grieved that life for man could be so full of joy that poets, like this man, could sing great songs that flew into the sky, while his was such an earthly lot, for never had he smiled for simple joy or laughed for foolish-hearted childishness.
His lot was rather one of trial and tragedie with those who also were like him accursed and in the world despised: for bloody Murder was his confidant, War was his wife, and Pestilence his cousin was while Massacre and Genocide were servants who did slave eternally in his employ. In every place that Death would go, his sister Sadness followed him… And O how he was hated for that which he could not help he was!
So as he stood alone and listened to the poet’s brilliant singing voice, he came to bear a hate for man still greater than man’s love of life, and since the poet glorified a life of joy, he came to hate the poet most of all. He thought to take the poet’s life, and yet alack, this poet was no ordinary man, for he was favoured by the gods.
It was too true, for when a mortal man could do a thing that gods themselves took pleasure in, when man was able to amuse the gods who were not quick amused, he earned himself a favoured place within their eyes. For this is what the gods commanded Death: “Of all the living you may eat till full… But as for man the gods themselves do love you may not eat, for on the day you do ‘tis known that you yourself will positively die.”
And so as Death considered his revenge upon this man who sang, he knew that he would have to seek permission from the gods. Well now, unhappy Death, whose name was Thanatos, he knew he had no audience with him who was the one Almighty God in all the universe, and so Death sought out Lucifer, the god of Earth.
He knew this handsome angel well and often went to him to hear advice, but getting to his master was no easy task: he had to go past wicked demon heralds and the horrid wraithish scribes who made the task of speaking with their lord and master difficult. He called his brother, Hypnos, and the two, both being twins and sons of Night, did make their way into the audience of what was called “The Court of Lucifer.”
Now this is much like what Death said in bass toned coarsely spoken syllables:
“Most honoured and respected Lucifer, the god of Earth: I come to you because I seek permission to destroy a man whose voice has pleased the gods enough to gain him recognition in your eyes. Why sure you know of him! He is that celebrated poet who, with titillating voice and palmy lyric skill, entrances all the Earth and Heavens too.
Now I have grown to hate this clever poet and I’ve come to you that I might gain permission to divide his fleshy body from its spirit part. More simply put: I want permission to destroy this man, his spirit and his flesh, which are inseparable and called his soul. Please grant my wish, for you full know till now I’ve served you well. What will you say or do for me, my Lord?”
Well now, the glorious Lucifer, he would not speak before he took the time and opportunity to think the earthly matter through. He sat a while, and then he stood.
He smiled at empty-headed Thanatos who was in truth his oldest friend. He kissed Death’s bloodless cheek and then he welcomed sleepy Hypnos to his court. Thus finally he spoke to brutish Thanatos in words like these:
This poet I have heard and it is true
I have enjoyed the songs the mortal sings;
His voice is one unlike the sounds from throats
Of ordinary men who sing in vain,
And not like any I have heard before
Or any I shall ever hear again.
I love this poet well and so I ask:
Why have you chosen him to hate in all
The world of man? Why are you bent on him?
Just ask of me the lives of lesser men
And see how I will give you all you ask
Up to ten thousand dead in place of him.
Still must you be so bent on taking him?
In truth, Lord Lucifer, he knew Almighty God did love this poet with great godly love, so even Lucifer, for all his earthly pow’r, was powerless to grant permission to his servant, Thanatos.
But Death, his ever cold and dark and lifeless face contorted by great hate for man, he did not smile or even waiver as he stood before the wicked, crafty god of Earth. He spoke with raspy bass-enunciated words to this effect:
Not even for a thousand thousand would I e’er forget my burning hate for him. This poet sings of inward joy and lasting peace without, which bodes a peace within. Such is a joy and peace that I shall never have. I’ve chosen to destroy this goodly godly poet for the envy that he by his singing makes me feel. Why is it that the life of earthly man can be so full of joy if chosen carefully?—while mine is one of endless strife and tragedy in which I have no choice at all?! O cursed being that I am! And I, by universal law, cannot forsake the place I’m in. I’m doomed to endless wickedness!
Yet Lucifer, divine in wisdom, peered into the mind of brutish Thanatos and saw there was no trace of careful thinking in his head. Death was not wise and so the shining angel sought to use him as he had in times before.
He smiled again aloud to gain more trust of Thanatos and spoke to make Death speak, for this the angel knew: that those who spoke their hearts were easier to use. And so the scheming Lucifer, in baritone, did offer this:
My time to rule the wicked world is short,
And yet this poet makes me feel regret:
Reminds me that I once was not opposed,
That there was harmony in every work,
But I, cast as the wicked son of God,
Brought sin into the Earth and Universe;
Sin is my son and you his bastard son.
That man can choose in life, I’ve hated him;
That he is favoured in the heart of God;
That I was sent to minister to him;
That he is spirit and yet blessed with flesh;
That I, so wise, was cursed to challenge God;
For reasons such as these I’ve hated man,
And yet I love this poet for his songs
Which bring to mind the best in men and gods.
Tell, if you please, why you have hated man.
Then ancient Thanatos thought back a thousand years, and finding no offense, thought back five thousand more, and finally, while standing there, he learned why he had always hated man.
As I have said, my Lord, I hate him for the joy he lives, but more than that, I hate him for the place I’m in, for my predicament has much to do with man: When man did choose that fleshly form, rejecting the Almighty God who rules the universe, he cursed himself to Sin and to myself and cursed me to a bloody appetite. For I am cursed to do the work of God: that man should die for sinning in his spirit choosing flesh. Eventually, I’m given both of every man, but cursed am I. Almighty God has cast me with your lot. One day, into the ‘lake of fire’ we will go, which means a sort of second death, from which we’ll not escape.
It’s selfish Man who’s cursed me to such cursed destiny, so why should any man have joy enough to sing these loving songs? The poet represents the best in man and all that is not subject to his selfish flesh and blood.
Still more, he represents man’s inner harmony, a quality I would that I could end. By cutting short the poet’s life and song, I’ll make man’s world a place of misery. Without the poet’s songs, he will become a race of brutish beasts, respectful only of my coming-in and going-out. I’ll not be hated as before, but worshiped as a god again. My reason being stated thus: I hate the poet for the love and light and joy and harmony he bears, and so I ask again for your permission to destroy all that he is, has been, will be, and represents. I want for man to worship me again.
Well now, Lord Lucifer, he did not want to grant permission, though symbolic, to his wasteful subject Thanatos, who seemed too arrogant and crude besides. He wanted rather that the princely poet be preserved for future use in opposition to Almighty God. If he could win the poet to his side, he’d have a powerful influence in his universally detested cause.
For Lucifer did see the poet’s beauty as a crafty tool: to simple and unthinking Man, a thing of beauty must be good, while what seems foul is bad. The poet’s handsome face was sure a fair disguise for impropriety, if only could he make him to oppose Almighty God. How perfect seemed his plan! But brutish Thanatos would think to waste the poet’s life for vanity!
The errant angel smiled on shallow Death, who stood there ign’rant to the workings in the angel’s shining head. He’d not grant the request, and yet he’d fool conceited Thanatos to feel he offered something better still. And so did Lucifer appear sincere while singing words like these:
For this is what was written long ago:
‘There is no suff’ring in the grave of man.’
Well now, it seems to me and should to you
That if the poet dies, he’ll serve no need
Of yours or mine in our respective aims.
Methinks you want for him to worship you,
And yet you want to take his very soul.
Both can’t be had, unless you hear me out,
That I might show you how to think on it.
The angel’s careful chosen words confused poor thoughtless Thanatos, who scratched his seeming hollow head and uttered in this way:
I’ll humbly listen to your royal counseling, so tell me what it is that I should do.
And then the cunning Lucifer, convinced that he had once again deceived, he offered something much like this in song:
The handsome poet must not die;
He must be used for subtler purposes.
I’m loath to have denied your want and so
I’ll give to you a bloody war instead
To satisfy your lusty appetite,
Wherein you’ll master forty thousand men,
And yet the poet must be left to me
And see: I’ll make this poet worship you;
I’ll strike his flesh to cause a pain so great
That he’ll sing out in rueful agony.
Eternal pain will stretch his days and nights
So he can ever think of none but you.
I’ll cover him with rotting boils and
With parasites that make him mad with pain,
And when he reaches out for your embrace,
You must, when nearly in his grasp, away!
And finally, he’ll seek to deal with you
And you must say and with a royal voice:
‘Bow down and worship me, O earthly man!’
And when he does, you must give him to me,
But only for a little while, and then
You may do to this poet all you wish.
Well then, the beastly Thanatos did love the clever scheme for selfish reasons of his own, and yet the vanity of Thanatos is what the angel acted on, for vanity in man and beast is sure the adversary’s greatest tool.
With Death agreed, the royal, princely angel slaughtered several former faithful men who had by their own vanity been made to sin with knowing sins gainst God.
Then Lucifer did pour their blood into three golden drinking vessels and he offered one to Thanatos, and then the second to his other guest and, taking up the third himself, he laughed aloud and offered up a song like this:
We drink the blood of holy ones turned bad
And to your feast of forty thousand men,
But let us go to hear the poet sing
A final song before I smite his flesh:
For never in the wicked world again
Will gods take pause to hear the songs of men.
The poet did not know his audience, nor did he know that he would intonate his song of joy a seeming final time, but he did sing with strength and clarity, with stirring passages a composition e’er so sweet and full and rich with harmony that glowing Venus paused to stare from northern skies, and Jupiter at once aligned himself with Earth and all the other deities did stand about to hear the poet sing.
The swirling singing stars themselves were silent then and for a moment there was peace and harmony in all the universe. The mighty hunter did lay down his heavy club while his two dogs sat still, the larger shining brightly in the night. And further, resting only months away, the Scorpion thought none of doing harm but listened to the poet’s stirring song.
Then when at last the song was done, the universe heaved out a pleasant sigh and marked its time again. And Lucifer, his spirit moved yet most of all, felt much regret for what he was and thought to reconcile himself to that Almighty God above.
That he could change the past! Undo the things he’d done! With knowledge that he’d learned through sin, he’d be great help to God and man, but he had sinned a grievous spirit sin, and he remembered that not even gods could change the past: the die was cast, and he at last resolved himself to smite the poet’s guiltless flesh, but could not do it lest he had permission from Almighty God above.
His head held high did Lucifer advance into the radiant court of God, and thinking to deceive, he challenged God before the other sons of gods yet standing there. He challenged God to test the poet’s faith by granting that his flesh and bone be touched.
Almighty God could never be deceived, but he for love had faith in man, the poet being one that he was proud to love. For Lucifer believed no man would do the will of God without reward or safety to his flesh; and too he had no faith that any spirit person would serve God without reward; and so Almighty God agreed to let his adversary touch the poet’s flesh and bone.
Permission being given him, Lord Lucifer went out at once and struck the poet’s flesh to cause a painful boil reaching from atop the poet’s tender head down to the bottom of his blistered feet.
At once the poet fell prostrate upon the Earth and prayed a desp’rate prayer to God to be relieved of fleshly life and misery. No answer came to poet sitting there who next began to stink and twitch for writhing worms within his flesh.
Before, when he could sing for joy, he was adored by man and beast alike. Now he was humbled by a loathsome, rotten, agonizing pestilence, this from a hand that was not man’s. Why surely he had sinned a very wicked sin gainst God to be exacted punishment in such a horrid way.
The little children who had danced and laughed and lived to hear his voice now pelted him with stones and spat onto his balding lowered head. The starving dogs who once forgot their carnal appetites when he did sing now barked and nipped at him and ate his rancid flesh.
And on a spir’tual Earth he humbly sat for many years, low in the eyes of men and gods. While suffering for the pain that grew with ev’ry day, the poet did not sing or speak a word, but suffered silent knowing God was just.
Still as he sat, the sun and moon and stars grew dark, the clouds returned, the keepers of the house began to shake, the men of vital energy did bend themselves while ladies seeing at the windows found it dark. The grasshopper did drag itself along; the almond tree did flourish white, this while the caper berry bursted and the daughters of that glor’ous song fell low. It seemed his celebrated voice was gone.
In all the years that passed, the poet loved his god but did not understand his suffering, though never did he curse his god or seek or yet once worship Death.
At last, begrudging Thanatos did grow impatient in the scheme, for being weak in heart and mind, he thought the plan had failed, and heated up with rage, he sought his master out to speak with flaming words.
You’ve lied to me, O villain there! to make me think the poet e’er would worship me. Yet all along you knew he’d still be faithful to his god! You are too wise to e’er be wrong, and knowing all before, you lied. You knew what he would do! And yet you made me think that he would worship me! Why have you used me so?
Well now, the disappointed angel truly had not known the poet would be faithful to Almighty God, but never would he say that he’d been wrong. Instead he sang the words, deceiving Thanatos again:
I was not wrong, for all is as I planned;
I knew he would be loyal to his god,
And that is why I fixed another scheme
To make him curse his god and bow to you.
Come let us speak to him with poisoned words,
But first we must become like friends who mourn.
Then Lucifer took on the guise of man and urged it so that Thanatos and Hypnos did the same, and finally the three approached the stinking poet where he sat, still scraping at his wounds with broken earthen plate.
The poet recognized the three as aged friends who also wrote but sang such simple songs that they were always lacking audience. They watched the poet for a year or more and did not speak a word to him.
The poet though, was ever humble, patient, and still loyal to Almighty God above, for often was he sweating blood while praying earnest pray’r with face bowed low to Earth.
Well Thanatos had never been the patient sort, and so while sitting there, he thought to draw the poet out, to make him see himself and how he suffered on the Earth without respite. Death started in his low-pitched voice while singing something much like this:
O poet there and friend! How have you lived to make yourself so utterly despised by God above? Why surely you must be a wicked, wicked man to yet exact a punishment so harsh from Him! Your heart, your soul, your flesh is evil to the bone. There is no help for you, and yet, for reasons unrevealed, he will not let you die. So you are doomed to torment in an earthly fleshly frame to time indefinite.
I am a poet too, and in your place I know what I would do: Curse your Almighty God and die! Debauch his holy name to strike at him. For generation after generation will examine what you’ve done (since you alone were favoured by the gods), and this will surely be your way to end the pain and suffering you’ve brought upon yourself. Curse God and Death will surely come.
While hearing this, the poet was still bowing low before his god. At last he raised himself to answer Thanatos.
I am not wicked as you say of me,
But loyal to Almighty God above;
Though good we men of flesh may never be,
He sees the good in us for his great love.
I’d rather suffer, never knowing why
Than O so vainly curse my God and die!
Then after saying this, the poet bowed again, when from the heavens came the angel, Azrael, who seemed much like the nightingale, and Azrael did sing a song to bring the poet peace, but when the song was through, the nightingale did seem more man than bird.
The angel listened as the softly-spoken Hypnos sang his song, that sounded in a low-pitched woman’s voice:
Poets are wiser than all other men,
Given the vision to see as gods would;
Yet in the act and commission of sin,
Poets and gods sometimes fail to do good.
You say you’re blameless; perhaps that is true;
Men are all sinners and named so by He.
If you are punished for some sin in you,
You must confess it to make yourself free.
If you are righteous and punished for naught,
Then God is wicked for smiting your flesh,
For a good god would e’er do what he ought:
Wicked are cursed while the good he must bless.
You seem to say you’re more righteous than He;
If that is true, a false god he would be;
Tell who’s more righteous so all may yet see.
The poet once again sat up to face his seeming friends, while Azrael did stand apart from all to listen in.
The wretched poet thought a year before he spoke aloud and in such careful angry words he answered much like this:
Again I say I’m guilty of no wrong
Deserving of the pains I now endure.
I’m but a man who pleased my god with song
That came from mine own heart with motives pure.
Why must you seek to villainize my name?
For I am righteous and yet free of blame!
The poet did not sit this time, for he was angry that his seeming friends were searching for a grievous fault in him; they sought to say that he deserved such punishment.
The brilliant Lucifer saw opportunity in seeing how the poet’s anger blazed against the other two. He smiled aloud, and with great care, he kissed the poet’s heated cheek. The voice of Lucifer was softer, smoother than was Death’s, so as he sang in baritone, he sought to win the poet’s heart and soul.
My friend, you seem to me to be upright
And one in whom our God should take delight;
Though why he pains your flesh both day and night
Leaves me to think your works escape his sight,
Leaves me to doubt his sense of what is right,
When works like yours should godly love incite…
Yet Lucifer did pause to leave the poet thinking on those deeply spoken words, and then he sang again:
If I too deeply in your matters pry,
It should my seeming wickedness belie,
For looking on you no man can deny
There’s certain godly error in the sky.
Our God is wrong to make you moan and sigh
Your way of virtue does his guilt imply.
The poet wavered then to wonder what was wrong in what this fellow said. At last he realized it was not possible for Almighty God to err, and still, he would not say that he himself had sinned.
Yet Yahweh is incapable of wrong;
He’s loving, just, yet powerful and wise;
So still I’d glorify my God in song
If that would grant me favour in his eyes.
Though in my heart I know I have not erred,
I know not why this pain I’ve not been spared.
The poet sat again and in the silence that pursued, the angel Azrael stood up to sing another melody, that in a woman’s highest singing voice. And brilliantly, as his great song began, the angel did approach the poet and his wicked friends.
His voice was high and clear, though sharp and full of anger as a violent storm began.
Thus to the poet were these words:
You’re right to say Jehovah God is good,
For he is over all the Earth and sky,
But you have loved yourself more than you should,
To put your thoughts before your God on high.
How small are you to think to judge your Lord!
God need not answer any charge by you,
For as Man acts so will his God reward,
And give to earthly man all that is due.
Consider now this storm that flies about!
Stand still and show yourself his mighty acts!
How they inspire fear and conquer doubt!
His mightiness is proven in these facts!
God loves the man who fears him for his part,
Not he who would be good in his own heart.
At once the four stood still and looked into the raging storm, then to the giant mountains standing further out, then to the sky so vast and so profoundly wide and full of stars about the Earth. As far as eyes could see the universe stretched on and on past any fleshly thought of man into infinity.
The thought was one on every mind: How small seemed man in all the boundless universe! How could he make himself more righteous than Almighty God?
The poet was there humbled by that thought and then Almighty God, from out within the storm did use a chorus of his glor’ous works to give an answer to the poet trembling there.
This was the voice of wind that whirled about the poet and his seeming friends:
How wilt thou answer me, O fleshly man?
For where wast thou when I didst found the Earth?
When I didst stretch it out with mine own hand?
When I didst arbitrate its weight and girth?
Canst thou tie fast or bind the Pleiades?
Or use thy ropes to tame the unicorn?
Behemoth I have made to humble thee,
Leviathan to make thou fear and mourn.
Gird up thy loins, O man, and answer me:
Wilt thou condemn me so thou wouldst be right?
Thou art not wise to listen to these three,
For they have sought to bring to naught thy fight.
Bow down, O man, and humble thine own heart
To praise thy gracious God with all thou art!
At once the humbled suff’ring poet fell before the chorus voice that whispered boldly in the raging storm that whirled about. His disposition changed, and he fell low before his skyward Lord to groan out words like these:
As man your godly ways I did not know,
And yet I spoke though did not understand:
I blamed my God for all my trial and woe…
Pronounced my pain some slightness of his hand.
I see, my God, that all your ways are just,
So I repent in ashes and in dust.
At once the storm did cease to rage awhile and here a glor’ous ray of sunlight fell upon the poet’s humble upturned face, for God did urge the man to sing again. In all the time the poet suffered pain and woe and misery, he had not once called out a single melody.
He understood it only then that he, in all the time that passed, was feeling sorry for himself, was dwelling only on himself. And all along, if he had ceased to love himself so much, he could have known the cure for all his miseries! For man should be the best that he could be in spite of all—for self, for God, for all the world and universe. And doing so he ends his spir’tual miseries.
How good that man should learn humility! A simple song would heal the poet’s pains, and as he stood to sing, the angel Azrael, again a nightingale, did perch on high to sing along. The man and angel at that moment sang a somber song so seeming sad and deeply meaningful and delicate in every way that all the universe was still to hear, for here was voiced a tragic song whose periodic poetry and simple truth and pointed practicality was more than merely music in the musing minds of men and beasts and gods.
On hearing such a song, how beastly Thanatos did mourn and try to sing along! And how his sleepy brother Hypnos tried the same! And falling to their knees they praised Almighty God above so that a change occurred within their hearts.
And then at last, e’en yet did Lucifer evince regret for all he’d done and sang along. He bowed his head and cried for shame and sadness deep within his spirit heart, a heart divine that truly hated pandemonium and one that tortured ev’ry day the separated spirit creature that he had become.
And yet while crying there, the angel Lucifer, he would not bow or kneel or even recognize the sovereignty of the Almighty God. It was unthinkable to him, for Lucifer was far more beautiful than every other son of God and thus he was afflicted by the greatest vanity of all.
Now when the song was through, the whirling raging storm began again and it was then that God (for how the shining Lucifer had stood opposed), he caused that storm to strike his son, to wound the perfect flawless face of Lucifer.
How vain was Lucifer! And how his seemly face was scarred to time indefinite! Now he could think of nothing but his ruined spirit face! The poet for his part, was healed and young again while Thanatos was satisfied at last for who and what he was, for Thanatos had made his peace with God and was a brute no more. His tired brother Hypnos also came to find a place with God. The poet, Thanatos and Hypnos left the storm in peace as friends and ventured back into the fleshly world of man.
Well then, the stricken angel in that place remained awhile, for he felt shame for being proven wrong, this by the poet who was just a fleshly man. For this he hated flesh and man still more than e’er he had before.
With vengeance he resolved to bring all flesh to ruin, especially that of those Almighty God does love. And as he did go down to find a place within the world of man, he cursed Almighty God and then began:
Stand warned! Beware!
For I with vengeance come unto this place!
My face! Is scarred!
Both men and gods shall pay for my disgrace!
And saying thus, the Devil, hot with rage, descended on the world of man.