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Voltaire: Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne

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Warning: This post was published more than 12 years ago.

I keep old posts on the site because sometimes it's interesting to read old content. Not everything that is old is bad. Also, I think people might be interested to track how my views have changed over time: for example, how my strident teenage views have mellowed and matured!

But given the age of this post, please bear in mind:

  • My views might have changed in the 12 years since I wrote this post.
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Many thanks for your understanding.

After all of the posts on here recently about the religious explanations for the tsunami disaster, I thought it was about time that I gave my personal opinion on the matter. Not wanting to use my usual non-elequant writing style, though, I turned to classical poetry, and Voltaire, who’s opinions roughly match my own.

Some choice quotes (from the English translation, you’ll be glad to hear):

Behold these shreds and cinders of your race,
This child and mother heaped in common wreck,
These scattered limbs beneath the marble shafts—
A hundred thousand whom the earth devours,
Who, torn and bloody, palpitating yet,
Entombed beneath their hospitable roofs,
In racking torment end their stricken lives.
To those expiring murmurs of distress,
To that appalling spectacle of woe,
Will ye reply: “You do but illustrate
The iron laws that chain the will of God”?
Say ye, o’er that yet quivering mass of flesh:
“God is avenged: the wage of sin is death”?
What crime, what sin, had those young hearts conceived
That lie, bleeding and torn, on mother’s breast?
Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of vice
Than London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid?

God holds the chain: is not himself enchained;
By his indulgent choice is all arranged;
Implacable he’s not, but free and just.
Why suffer we, then, under one so just?
There is the knot your thinkers should undo.

But how conceive a God supremely good,
Who heaps his favours on the sons he loves,
Yet scatters evil with as large a hand?

And, since it’s 2005 and not 1756, here’s the Reduced Shakespeare Company with their similar take on things:

Why does God allow bad things to happen
To good people?

Praise the Lord for the good he can do,
But he should take the wrap for the bad crap too…
If He can’t take the heat,
He oughta get out of heaven!

Well over two hundred years of poetry in a single blog entry, all painfully relevant to modern world events. What other blog gives you more? 😉

This 163rd post was filed under: Tsunami 2004.






More posts worth reading

What I’ve been reading this month (published 4th December 2017)

What I’ve been reading this month (published 6th November 2017)

What I’ve been reading this month (published 5th October 2017)

Shop ’till you drop! (published 8th April 2007)

12,000 (published 8th March 2005)

Photo-a-day 357: Wonky Christmas tree (published 23rd December 2012)

Photo-a-day 70: Home… nearly! (published 13th March 2014)


Comments and responses

Comment from poeme


by poeme

Comment posted at 09:00 on 6th May 2008.

Le passage de ce poème en français

Ces débris, ces lambeaux, ces cendres malheureuses,
Ces femmes, ces enfants l’un sur l’autre entassés,
Sous ces marbres rompus ces membres dispersés;
Cent mille infortunés que la terre dévore,
Qui, sanglants, déchirés, et palpitants encore,
Enterrés sous leurs toits, terminent sans secours
Dans l’horreur des tourments leurs lamentables jours!
Aux cris demi-formés de leurs voix expirantes,
Au spectacle effrayant de leurs cendres fumantes,
Direz-vous: “C’est l’effet des éternelles lois
Qui d’un Dieu libre et bon nécessitent le choix”?
Direz-vous, en voyant cet amas de victimes:
“Dieu s’est vengé, leur mort est le prix de leurs crimes”?
Quel crime, quelle faute ont commis ces enfants
Sur le sein maternel écrasés et sanglants?
Lisbonne, qui n’est plus, eut-elle plus de vices
Que Londres, que Paris, plongés dans les délices?


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