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About me

Voltaire: Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne


Hold up! Before you read on, please read this...

This post was published more than 15 years ago

I keep old posts on the site because I often enjoy reading old content on other people's sites. It can be interesting to see how views have changed over time: for example, how my strident teenage views have, to put it mildly, mellowed.

I'm not a believer in brushing the past under the carpet. I've written some offensive rubbish on here in the past: deleting it and pretending it never happened doesn't change that. I hope that stumbling across something that's 15 years old won't offend anyone anew, because I hope that people can understand that what I thought and felt and wrote about then is probably very different to what I think and feel and wrote about now. It's a relic of an (albeit recent) bygone era.

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

  • My views may well have changed in the last 15 years. I have written some very silly things over the years, many of which I find utterly cringeworthy today.
  • This post might use words or language in ways which I would now consider highly inappropriate, offensive, embarrassing, or all three.
  • Factual information might be outdated.
  • Links might be broken, and embedded material might not appear properly.

Okay. Consider yourself duly warned. Read on...

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 162nd post was filed under: Tsunami 2004.

Some recently published posts

What I’ve been reading this month / January 2020, 11 minutes long

The Tyne Pedestrian and Cycle Tunnels: eight years on / January 2020, 8 minutes long

What I’ve been reading this month / January 2020, 7 minutes long

Faber Stories / December 2019, 4 minutes long

My favourite books of 2016 / December 2019, 26 minutes long

Some random old posts

More Mozilla flaws / April 2005, Less than a minute long

Where will the next pandemic come from? / August 2013, Less than a minute long

Fathers group in Downing St stunt / February 2005, 1 minute long

What I’ve been reading this month / December 2016, 6 minutes long

Newspaper misspells own name in masthead / July 2008, 1 minute long

Identity Theft / February 2005, Less than a minute long

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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