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The Serpent in the Wilderness


             Edgar Lee Masters



Jesus predicted that the world would come to an end

Before the generation which he addressed had passed away.

And many believed this would happen.

And looked to see the sky cast its stars as a fig tree casts its fruit;

And to see the sun darkened, and the moon failing of its light,

And the powers of heaven shaken, and Jesus descending

In clouds with great power and glory, attended by angels.

Whercupon the dead would come from their graves,

And the good would be caught up into heaven,

And the evil cast into the bottomless pit prepared for the devil and his angels.

Nearly all of the words of Jesus were founded upon fear;

And these prophecies of Jesus filled the world with terror,

And even at last shook the iron heart of Rome.

And for long centuries

After the generation which Jesus said would see the end of the world

Had passed away, still the fear that Jesus had instilled stayed alive,

And has not died to this day, and is used everywhere wherewith to recruit churches,

And to get money for popes, cardinals, priests, and for preachers

Of the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Campbellite, and other denominations,

Who live in ease oil the money gathered by fear.

While scarcelv any of them are enlightened or worth anything to civilization.

And it will be some centuries before it becomes an accepted understanding

That Jesus had no mind capable of doing good for the world.

While possessing power to put Socrates and men like him aside

So that they could do little for the world.

That this has been so and is yet so is just as mysterious

As the so-called problem of evil can be to any mind.

For no one can explain why Athens, which was indeed a city set upon a hill,

Did not last forever for the benefit of all climes and peoples;

And why Jerusalem, a village of demons and camels dung,

Became the shrine of the world

Whereto men still make pilgrimages to see the place where Jesus died for men, -

While few are interested in the jail where Socrates gave up his life

Rather than surrender his freedom to think.


The Dying Atheist



 Now closed around the deepening shades of death

     And life with all its glory fades away,

Not long those lips will yield the expiring breath,

     And this worn frame be given to decay.


Such is the lot of everything that lives,

     From humble worm to intellectual maw

Thus fades the flower that freshening fragrance gives,

     Thus all things end even as all things began.


     Tis folly to ignore the many links

          Which bind all creatures in one vast embrace,

     Yet human pride in righteous horror shrinks

          From owning kindred with the lower race.


But as from germs doth spring all life around,

     So man from nobler germs his being draws,

With all his genius--all his thoughts profound,

     He yet must yield himself to Natures laws.


Like frailest form of life that crawls the earth,

     Man in his majesty must bow to fate,

And 'neath that ground which giveth all things birth,

     Return at last to his primordial state.


So must I die, and so be laid at rest,

     Inanimate as though I'd neer had been

No more entranced by joy, by care oppressed,

     A withered mass, uncomely to be seen.


But yet Im troubled by no christian fears,

     No lurid glow of hell lights up my path,

I shed no craven penitential tears,

     Nor cry for succor from almighty wrath.


No blood-polluted god awaits my soul,

     I would not have a god appeased by blood;

What though dark seas of death before me roll,

     Can I not brave the depths of Jordans flood?


Away, false fears, ye spectres of the mind,

     Creations of the artful priests of yore,

Religions quicksands I have left behind,

     To plant my footsteps on truths rocky shore.


     And as I gaze upon the sea of life.

     And see Death's valley far below me 1ie;

         I feel assured I leave this worldly strife,

     To rest in peace beneath that changeful sky.


The good Ive wrought.  perchance, may not bring forth,

     Till mongst the living Ive long ceased to be,

Then let mankind judge my humble worth,

     And oer my failings pass in charity.


And you my faithful friends I leave behind,

     To perfect all which I have tried to do;

Raise up the weak, instruct the darkened mind,

     Make gladness for the manynot the few.


Thus will I pass away, content in peace,

     Knowing my trust is placed in worthy hands;

In patient labor you should never cease

     To spread your light abroad to distant lands.


Now I must slumber, I am old and gray,

     And fain would leave this scene of all my woe;

My one regret, that when Im passed away,

     Still straggling multitudes must come and go.


Strange darkness falls across my feeble eyes.

     And short and rapid comes and goes my breath;

And now doth fade from view those azure skies,

     Good-bye to all, I yield myself to death.


Behold he sleeps raise up his hoary head.

     How calm and grave his last duparting hours,

Eer many days well lay him with the dead,

     And say farewell, and strew his grave with flowers.



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