“Fire and Ice:
Some say the world will end in fire.
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.”
- Robert Frost (1874–1963), American poet
It was only 10 generations between the first man and almost no man, such was the inimical nature of evil.
The first time it wasn’t exactly ice, but water in its liquid form (water being one substance that exists in all 3 states: liquid, gas — vapor, and solid — ice). And it didn’t completely destroy the planet, but, according to common understanding of Holy Writ, came close.
After a few millennia, mankind is pretty much back to where it started. Déjà vu all over again. A variant on the myth of Sisyphus. Ever since the beginning, the heart of man has been naturally inclined toward darkness.
There have been instances of focal destruction — Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and brimstone; that caused by volcanoes, asteroids, tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, and the like; and the dinosaurs are no more — but nothing on a scale to rival the Great Deluge.
Rainbows, so lovely to regard (demonstrating white light is composed of many colors well before Sir Isaac Newton refracted white light through a glass prism), also remind that water will not be a future means of planetary destruction. But they are only visible when light shines through moisture. The same light that shines through darkness.
The English poet William Wordsworth (1770–1850) was so moved by the sight of a rainbow, he wrote:
“My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.”
In modern times, after the atom was split and the consequence of that achievement demonstrated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some feared a future Armageddon, but that has not happened.
Perhaps the winds of strife are yet being held back.
This quatrain captures the moments following the deployment of a nuclear device over Japan:
“Epitaph: 1945” (from ‘Poets of the Non-Existent City’)
By Naomi Replansky (1918- ), American poet
“My spoon was lifted when the bomb came down
That left no face, no hand, no spoon to hold.
One hundred thousand died in my hometown.
This came to pass before my soup was cold.”
The title of this essay is the same as that of a well-received work written in 1963 by James Baldwin, a writer I admire. Perhaps my appropriating it is an example of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery (Oscar Wilde).
In different context, it describes the way true believers maintain time as we know it will cease to be.
British poet T S Eliot, in “The Hollow Men” (1925), envisioned the terminus of things this way:
“This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
Holy Writ does not mention whimpering. It does speak of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Perhaps there will be some whimpering. The negative emotions expressed by the lost as recorded in Holy Writ may not have been intended to be comprehensive.
At the end of time, some will call on the rocks to keep them from meeting their Maker.
There appears to be an unusual form of suicide in the USA, wherein certain individuals choose to act in such a way they are executed by law enforcement officials — so-called ‘death by cop.’ This is far outweighed by those not intending to be shot, but it seems nevertheless to be a valid, if odd phenomenon.
A variant of this may be death by rock. However, if the rocks are responsive to the Voice which tore them asunder (and they may be; recall the comment of Christ on His triumphant ride to Jerusalem on a donkey, that if the people were silenced, the very rocks would cry out), they may not crush life from the wicked, as begged.
There will be nothing equivalent to the ark. No asbestos-lined or heat-resistant craft which certain privileged can board. No escape this time.
And the marrying and giving in marriage mentioned in Matthew 24 pre-Parousia — is that because in the afterlife there will be none? I suspect few, if any, participants in matrimony in the last days will be taking that into consideration. More likely the thinking of most will be along the lines of the worn adage: “Eat, drink and be merry; for tomorrow we die.”
In “Spring and Fall — To a Young Child” (1880), English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins addresses the mortality of man thusly:
“Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! As the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.”
The time will come when mourning is over and but a dim memory, if that.
I know nothing of the Margaret that the poet Hopkins addressed. It was not his own child; as a Jesuit priest, he never married.
Perhaps he just liked the polysyllablic name, which lent itself to his poetic experimentation with sprung rhythm.
But, as a generic stand-in for all, she would have had the same hope that bolsters us.
That the mortality of man will also one day be but a dim memory.
It is my understanding that leaves of trees in the new earth will not fall. It may be perpetual spring.
I have thought (should I be fortunate to be there) I might miss fall colors. Autumn in New England was my favorite season and truly a feast for the eyes.
But the other new earthly delights will far outweigh that. They will exceed the imaginings of any of us.
Ponce de Leon was looking in the wrong place for the fountain of youth.
Hearts of those within the city will not grow older. Neither will any other parts of the body.
There will be no sighing, no weeping, no sorrow, no blight. None of which Hopkins wrote.
The fire that cleanses the earth will make it possible for all things to begin anew.
And this time things will go right.