A Masque Of Reason

A fair oasis in the purest desert.

A man sits leaning back against a palm.

His wife lies by him looking at the sky.

Man

You’re not asleep?

Wife

No, I can hear you. Why?

Man

I said the incense tree’s on fire again.

Wife

You mean the Burning Bush?

Man

The Christmas Tree.

Wife

I shouldn’t be surprised.

Man

The strangest light!

Wife

There’s a strange light on everything today.

Man

The myrrh tree gives it. Smell the rosin burning?

The ornaments the Greek artificers

Made for the Emperor Alexius,

The Star of Bethlehem, the pomegranates,

The birds, seem all on fire with Paradise.

And hark, the gold enameled nightingales

Are singing. Yes, and look, the Tree is troubled.

Someone’s caught in the branches.

Wife

So there is.

He can’t get out.

Man

He’s loose! He’s out!

Wife

It’s God.

I’d know Him by Blake’s picture anywhere.

Now what’s He doing?

Man

Pitching throne, I guess,

Here by our atoll.

Wife

Something Byzantine.

(The throne’s a plywood flat, prefabricated,
That God pulls lightly upright on its hinges
And stands beside, supporting it in place.)

Perhaps for an Olympic Tournament,

Or Court of Love.

Man

More likely Royal Court—

Or Court of Law, and this is Judgment Day.

I trust it is. Here’s where I lay aside

My varying opinion of myself

And come to rest in an official verdict.

Suffer yourself to be admired, my love,

As Waller says.

Wife

Or not admired. Go over

And speak to Him before the others come.

Tell Him He may remember you: you’re Job.

God

Oh, I remember well: you’re Job, my Patient.

How are you now? I trust you’re quite recovered,

And feel no ill effects from what I gave you.

Job

Gave me in truth: I like the frank admission.

I am a name for being put upon.

But, yes, I’m fine, except for now and then

A reminiscent twinge of rheumatism.

The let-up’s heavenly. You perhaps will tell us

If that is all there is to be of Heaven,

Escape from so great pains of life on earth

It gives a sense of let-up calculated

To last a fellow to Eternity.

God

Yes, by and by. But first a larger matter.

I’ve had you on my mind a thousand years

To thank you someday for the way you helped me

Establish once for all the principle

There’s no connection man can reason out

Between his just deserts and what he gets.

Virtue may fail and wickedness succeed.

’Twas a great demonstration we put on.

I should have spoken sooner had I found

The word I wanted. You would have supposed

One who in the beginning was the Word

Would be in a position to command it.

I have to wait for words like anyone.

Too long I’ve owed you this apology

For the apparently unmeaning sorrow

You were afflicted with in those old days.

But it was of the essence of the trial

You shouldn’t understand it at the time.

It had to seem unmeaning to have meaning.

And it came out all right. I have no doubt

You realize by now the part you played

To stultify the Deuteronomist

And change the tenor of religious thought.

My thanks are to you for releasing me

From moral bondage to the human race.

The only free will there at first was man’s,

Who could do good or evil as he chose.

I had no choice but I must follow him

With forfeits and rewards he understood—

Unless I liked to suffer loss of worship.

I had to prosper good and punish evil.

You changed all that. You set me free to reign.

You are the Emancipator of your God,

And as such I promote you to a saint.

Job

You hear him, Thyatira: we’re a saint.

Salvation in our case is retroactive.

We’re saved, we’re saved, whatever else it means.

Job’s Wife

Well, after all these years!

Job

This is my wife.

Job’s Wife

If You’re the deity I assume You are—

(I’d know You by Blake’s picture anywhere)—

God

The best, I’m told, I ever have had taken.

Job’s Wife

—I have a protest I would lodge with You.

I want to ask You if it stands to reason

That women prophets should be burned as witches

Whereas men prophets are received with honor.

Job

Except in their own country, Thyatira.

God

You’re not a witch?

Job’s Wife

No.

God

Have you ever been one?

Job

Sometimes she thinks she has and gets herself

Worked up about it. But she really hasn’t—

Not in the sense of having to my knowledge

Predicted anything that came to pass.

Job’s Wife

The witch of Endor was a friend of mine.

God

You wouldn’t say she fared so very badly.

I noticed when she called up Samuel

His spirit had to come. Apparently

A witch was stronger than a prophet there.

Job’s Wife

But she was burned for witchcraft.

God

That is not

Of record in my Note Book.

Job’s Wife

Well, she was.

And I should like to know the reason why.

God

There you go asking for the very thing

We’ve just agreed I didn’t have to give.

(The throne collapses. But He picks it up
And this time locks it up and leaves it.)

Where has she been the last half hour or so?

She wants to know why there is still injustice.

I answer flatly: That’s the way it is,

And bid my will avouch it like Macheth.

We may as well go back to the beginning

And look for justice in the case of Segub.

Job

Oh, Lord, let’s not go back to anything.

God

Because your wife’s past won’t bear looking into?

In our great moment what did you do, Madam?

What did you try to make your husband say?

Job’s Wife

No, let’s not live things over. I don’t care.

I stood by Job. I may have turned on You.

Job scratched his boils and tried to think what he

Had done or not done to or for the poor.

The test is always how we treat the poor.

It’s time the poor were treated by the state

In some way not so penal as the poorhouse.

That’s one thing more to put on Your agenda.

Job hadn’t done a thing, poor innocent.

I told him not to scratch: it made it worse.

If I said once I said a thousand times,

Don’t scratch! And when, as rotten as his skin,

Has tents blew all to pieces, I picked up

Enough to build him every night a pup tent

Around him so it wouldn’t touch and hurt him.

I did my wifely duty. I should tremble!

All You can seem to do is lose Your temper

When reason-hungry mortals ask for reasons.

Of course, in the abstract high singular

There isn’t any universal reason;

And no one but a man would think there was.

You don’t catch women trying to be Plato.

Still there must be lots of unsystematic

Stray scraps of palliative reason

It wouldn’t hurt You to vouchsafe the faithful.

You thought it was agreed You needn’t give them.

You thought to suit Yourself. I’ve not agreed

To anything with anyone.

Job

There, there,

You go to sleep. God must await events

As well as words.

Job’s Wife

I’m serious. God’s had

Aeons of time and still it’s mostly women

Get burned for prophecy, men almost never.

Job

God needs time just as much as you or I

To get things done. Reformers fail to see that.

She’ll go to sleep. Nothing keeps her awake

But physical activity, I find.

Try to read to her and she drops right off.

God

She’s beautiful.

Job

Yes, she was just remarking

She now felt younger by a thousand years

Than the day she was born.

God

That’s about right,

I should have said. You got your age reversed

When time was found to be a space dimension

That could, like any space, be turned around in?

Job

Yes, both of us: we saw to that at once.

But, God, I have a question too to raise.

(My wife gets in ahead of me with hers.)

I need some help about this reason problem

Before I am too late to be got right

As to what reasons I agree to waive.

I’m apt to string along with Thyatira.

God knows—or rather, You know (God forgive me)

I waived the reason for my ordeal—but—

I have a question even there to ask—

In confidence. There’s no one here but her,

And she’s a woman: she’s not interested

In general ideas and principles.

God

What are her interests, Job?

Job

Witch-women’s rights.

Humor her there or she will be confirmed

In her suspicion You’re no feminist.

You have it in for women, she believes.

Kipling invokes You as Lord God of Hosts.

She’d like to know how You would take a prayer

That started off Lord God of Hostesses.

God

I’m charmed with her.

Job

Yes, I could see You were.

But to my question. I am much impressed

With what You say we have established.

Between us, You and I.

God

I make you see?

It would be too bad if Columbus-like

You failed to see the worth of your achievement.

Job

You call it mine.

God

We groped it out together.

Any originality it showed

I give you credit for. My forte is truth,

Or metaphysics, long the world’s reproach

For standing still in one place true forever;

While science goes self-superseding on.

Look at how far we’ve left the current science

Of Genesis behind. The wisdom there though,

Is just as good as when I uttered it.

Still, novelty has doubtless an attraction.

Job

So it’s important who first thinks of things?

God

I’m a great stickler for the author’s name.

By proper names I find I do my thinking.

Job’s Wife

God, who invented earth?

Job

What, still awake?

God

Any originality it showed

Was of the Devil. He invented Hell,

False premises that are the original

Of all originality, the sin

That felled the angels, Wolsey should have said.

As for the earth, we groped that out together,

Much as your husband Job and I together

Found out the discipline man needed most

Was to learn his submission to unreason;

And that for man’s own sake as well as mine,

So he won’t find it hard to take his orders

From his inferiors in intelligence

In peace and war—especially in war.

Job

So he won’t find it hard to take his war.

God

You have the idea. There’s not much I can tell you.

Job

All very splendid. I am flattered proud

To have been in on anything with You.

’Twas a great demonstration if You say so.

Though incidentally I sometimes wonder

Why it had had to be at my expense.

God

It had to be at somebody’s expense.

Society can never think things out:

It has to see them acted out by actors,

Devoted actors at a sacrifice—

The ablest actors I can lay my hands on.

Is that your answer?

Job

No, for I have yet

To ask my question. We disparage reason.

But all the time it’s what we’re most concerned with.

There’s will as motor and there’s will as brakes.

Reason is, I suppose, the steering gear.

The will as brakes can’t stop the will as motor

For very long. We’re plainly made to go.

We’re going anyway and may as well

Have some say as to where we’re headed for;

Just as we will be talking anyway

And may as well throw in a little sense.

Let’s do so now. Because I let You off

From telling me Your reason, don’t assume

I thought You had none. Somewhere back

I knew You had one. But this isn’t it

You’re giving me. You say we groped this out.

But if You will forgive me the irreverence,

It sounds to me as if You thought it out,

And took Your time to it. It seems to me

An afterthought, a long long afterthought.

I’d give more for one least beforehand reason

Than all the justifying ex-post-facto

Excuses trumped up by You for theologists.

The front of being answerable to no one

I’m with You in maintaining to the public.

But Lord, we showed them what. The audience

Has all gone home to bed. The play’s played out.

Come, after all these years—to satisfy me.

I’m curious. And I’m a grown-up man:

I’m not a child for You to put me off

And tantalize me with another “Oh, because.”

You’d be the last to want me to believe

All Your effects were merely lucky blunders.

That would be unbelief and atheism.

The artist in me cries out for design.

Such devilish ingenuity of torture

Did seem unlike You, and I tried to think

The reason might have been some other person’s.

But there is nothing You are not behind.

I did not ask then, but it seems as if

Now after all these years You might indulge me.

Why did You hurt me so? I am reduced

To asking flatly for a reason—outright.

God

I’d tell you, Job—

Job

All right, don’t tell me then

If you don’t want to. I don’t want to know.

But what is all this secrecy about?

I fail to see what fun, what satisfaction

A God can find in laughing at how badly

Men fumble at the possibilities

When left to guess forever for themselves.

The chances are when there’s so much pretense

Of metaphysical profundity

The obscurity’s a fraud to cover nothing.

I’ve come to think no so-called hidden value’s

Worth going after. Get down into things

It will be found there’s no more given there

Than on the surface. If there ever was,

The crypt was long since rifled by the Greeks.

We don’t know where we are, or who we are.

We don’t know one another; don’t know You;

Don’t know what time it is. We don’t know, don’t we?

Who says we don’t? Who got up these misgivings?

Oh, we know well enough to go ahead with.

I mean we seem to know enough to act on.

It comes down to a doubt about the wisdom

Of having children—after having had them,

So there is nothing we can do about it

But warn the children they perhaps should have none.

You could end this by simply coming out

And saying plainly and unequivocally

Whether there’s any part of man immortal.

Yet You don’t speak. Let fools bemuse themselves

By being baffled for the sake of being.

I’m sick of the whole artificial puzzle.

Job’s Wife

You won’t get any answers out of God.

God

My kingdom, what an outbreak!

Job’s Wife

Job is right.

Your kingdom, yes, Your kingdom come on earth.

Pray tell me what does that mean. Anything?

Perhaps that earth is going to crack someday

Like a big egg and hatch a heaven out

Of all the dead and buried from their graves.

One simple little statement from the throne

Would put an end to such fantastic nonsense;

And, too, take care of twenty of the four

And twenty freedoms on the party docket.

Or is it only four? My extra twenty

Are freedoms from the need of asking questions.

(I hope You know the game called twenty questions.)

For instance, is there such a thing as Progress?

Job says there’s no such thing as Earth’s becoming

An easier place for man to save his soul in.

Except as a hard place to save his soul in,

A trial ground where he can try himself

And find out whether he is any good,

It would be meaningless. It might as well

Be Heaven at once and have it over with.

God

Two pitching on like this tend to confuse me.

One at a time, please. I will answer Job first.

I’m going to tell Job why I tortured him

And trust it won’t be adding to the torture.

I was just showing off to the Devil, Job,

As is set forth in chapters One and Two.

(Job takes a few steps pacing.) Do you mind?

(God eyes him anxiously.)

Job

No. No, I musn’t.

’Twas human of You. I expected more

Than I could understand and what I get

Is almost less than I can understand.

But I don’t mind. Let’s leave it as it stood.

The point was it was none of my concern.

I stick to that. But talk about confusion!

How is that for a mix-up, Thyatira?

Yet I suppose what seems to us confusion

Is not confusion, but the form of forms,

The serpent’s tail stuck down the serpent’s throat,

Which is the symbol of eternity

And also of the way all things come round,

Or of how rays return upon themselves,

To quote the greatest Western poem yet.

Though I hold rays deteriorate to nothing,

First white, then red, then ultra red, then out.

God

Job, you must understand my provocation.

The tempter comes to me and I am tempted.

I’d had about enough of his derision

Of what I valued most in human nature.

He thinks he’s smart. He thinks he can convince me

It is no different with my followers

From what it is with his. Both serve for pay.

Disinterestedness never did exist

And if it did, it wouldn’t be a virtue.

Neither would fairness. You have heard the doctrine.

It’s on the increase. He could count on no one:

That was his look out. I could count on you.

I wanted him forced to acknowledge so much.

I gave you over to him, but with safeguards.

I took care of you. And before you died

I trust I made it clear I took your side

Against your comforters in their contention

You must be wicked to deserve such pain.

That’s Browning and sheer Chapel Non-conformism.

Job

God, please, enough for now. I’m in no mood

For more excuses.

God

What I mean to say:

Your comforters were wrong.

Job

Oh, that committee!

God

I saw you had no fondness for committees.

Next time you find yourself pressed on to one

For the revision of the Book of Prayer

Put that in if it isn’t in already:

Deliver us from committees. ’Twill remind me.

I would do anything for you in reason.

Job

Yes, yes.

God

You don’t seem satisfied.

Job

I am.

God

You’re pensive.

Job

Oh, I’m thinking of the Devil.

You must remember he was in on this.

We can’t leave him out.

God

No. No, we don’t need to.

We’re too well off.

Job

Someday we three should have

A good old get-together celebration.

God

Why not right now?

Job

We can’t without the Devil.

God

The Devil’s never very far away.

He too is pretty circumambient.

He has but to appear. He’ll come for me,

Precipitated from the desert air.

Show yourself, son. I’ll get back on my throne

For this I think. I find it always best

To be upon my dignity with him.

(The Devil enters like a sapphire wasp
That flickers mica wings. He lifts a hand
To brush away a disrespectful smile.
Job’s wife sits up.)

Job’s Wife

Well, if we aren’t all here,

Including me, the only Dramatis

Personae needed to enact the problem.

Job

We’ve waked her up.

Job’s Wife

I haven’t been asleep.

I’ve heard what you were saying—every word.

Job

What did we say?

Job’s Wife

You said the Devil’s in it.

Job

She always claims she hasn’t been asleep.

And what else did we say?

Job’s Wife

Well, what lead up—

Something about—(The three men laugh.)—The

Devil’s being God’s best inspiration.

Job

Good, pretty good.

Job’s Wife

Wait till I get my Kodak.

Would you two please draw in a little closer?

No—no, that’s not a smile there. That’s a grin.

Satan, what ails you? Where’s the famous tongue,

Thou onetime Prince of Conversationists?

This is polite society you’re in

Where good and bad are mingled everywhichway,

And ears are lent to any sophistry

Just as if nothing mattered but our manners.

You look as if you either hoped or feared

You were more guilty of mischief than you are.

Nothing has been brought out that for my part

I’m not prepared for or that Job himself

Won’t find a formula for taking care of.

Satan

Like the one Milton found to fool himself

About his blindness.

Job’s Wife

Oh, he speaks! He can speak!

That strain again! Give me excess of it!

As dulcet as a pagan temple gong!

He’s twitting us. Oh, by the way, you haven’t

By any chance a Lady Apple on you?

I saw a boxful in the Christmas market.

How I should prize one personally from you.

God

Don’t you twit. He’s unhappy. Church neglect

And figurative use have pretty well

Reduced him to a shadow of himself.

Job’s Wife

That explains why he’s so diaphanous

And easy to see through. But where’s he off to?

I thought there were to be festivities

Of some kind. We could have charades.

God

He has his business he must be about.

Job mentioned him and so I brought him in

More to give his reality its due

Than anything.

Job’s Wife

He’s very real to me

And always will be. Please don’t go. Stay, stay

But to the evensong and having played

Together we will go with you along.

There are who won’t have had enough of you

If you go now. Look how he takes no steps!

He isn’t really going, yet he’s leaving.

Job

(Who has been standing dazed with new ideas)

He’s on that tendency that like the Gulf Stream,

Only of sand not water, runs through here.

It has a rate distinctly different

From the surrounding desert; just today

I stumbled over it and got tripped up.

Job’s Wife

Oh, yes, that tendency! Oh, do come off it.

Don’t let it carry you away. I hate

A tendency. The minute you get on one

It seems to start right off accelerating.

Here, take my hand.

(He takes it and alights

In three quick steps as off an escalator.

The tendency, a long, long narrow strip

Of middle-aisle church carpet, sisal hemp,

Is worked by hands invisible off stage.)

I want you in my group beside the throne—

Must have you. There, that’s just the right arrangement.

Now someone can light up the Burning Bush

And turn the gold enameled artificial birds on.

I recognize them. Greek artificers

Devised them for Alexius Comnenus.

They won’t show in the picture. That’s too bad.

Neither will I show. That’s too bad moreover.

Now if you three have settled anything

You’d as well smile as frown on the occasion.

(Here endeth chapter forty-three of Job.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *