Jehovah buried, Satan dead

Jehovah buried, Satan dead,
do fearers worship Much and Quick;
badness not being felt as bad,
itself thinks goodness what is meek;
obey says toc,submit says tic,
Eternity’s a Five Year Plan:
if Joy with Pain shall hang in hock
who dares to call himself a man?

go dreamless knaves on Shadows fed,
your Harry’s Tom,your Tom is Dick;
while Gadgets murder squawk and add,
the cult of Same is all the chic;
by instruments,both span and spic,
are justly measured Spic and Span:
to kiss the mike if Jew turn kike
who dares to call himself a man?

loudly for Truth have liars pled,
their heels for Freedom slaves will click;
where Boobs are holy,poets mad,
illustrious punks of Progress shriek;
when Souls are outlawed,Hearts are sick,
Hearts being sick,Minds nothing can:
if Hate’s a game and Love’s a fuck
who dares to call himself a man?

King Christ,this world is all aleak;
and lifepreservers there are none:
and waves which only He may walk
Who dares to call Himself a man.

by E. E. Cummings
54 from “No Thanks”

“That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth.” Ps. 83.18

Reading the line “Jehovah buried, Satan dead” seems dire, a feeling that only grows in the proceeding stanzas; godfearers worship technology (the bigger, faster of “Much and Quick”), are enslaved to the clock (“obey says toc, submit says tic”), and evil no longer feels wrong. Heaven becomes like Communistic Russia (the “Five Year Plan” refers to Stalin’s industrialization of the country) again depicting the submission of man to technology.

Then we have the first of the questions: if joy with pain will be pawned off (“hang in hoc”) who dares call himself a man? The second stanza starts with the dehumanization of man as dreamless eaters of shadow, individuality is lost (“Harry’s Tom, your Tom is Dick”), and science joins the transgressors (“Gadgets murder squawk and add”). Then we have the second question: “to kiss the mike if Jew turn kike who dares call himself a man?”

I’ve never seen anyone address this line other than saying it refers to the radio adding it to the technology of oppression. Whether Cummings was anti-Semitic is not a question I wish to get into as it takes us from the surface of the poem, but we can note that there is a Jew that becomes hated so that he may “kiss the mike”.

The third stanza shows us the punks of Progress shrieking about their Utopia, a place where liars argue for truth, idiots are holy, slaves need merely to click their fetters together to be free. With the loss of Jehovah (being buried) love fails and minds (reason) cannot do anything. The third question: “if Hate’s a game and Love’s a fuck who dares call himself of man?”

The envoy is next and the spondee of “King Christ” is like a clarion after the dark clatter of the poem. The world is sinking, no lifepreservers, gigantic waves which only He (notice the capital letters) may walk…the last line is no longer a question, it is the answer: only Christ dares call Himself a man.

This poem is on the radical nature of the incarnation and resurrection. The hated Jew (perhaps the Jew of line fifteen) comes to save the world (“kiss the mike” or redeem technology -though perhaps there’s a connection to the kiss of Judas) and it is only when He is acknowledge as the king that love returns, reason returns, individuality returns, all the things lost and screwed up are made right by its king and note that Satan is still dead.

The poem is written in strict ballad form, 3 eight line stanzas, plus a four line envoy, with a rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b-b-c-b-c. Cummings often used a classic form for ironic purposes.

3 thoughts on “Jehovah buried, Satan dead

  1. I had nearly forgotten about this poem until just now, though I had to memorize it as part of a theology course in high school. Thank you for helping me celebrate National Poetry Month.

  2. I wonder when he wrote this? I think he uses other words (spic, Mike) with double entendre. Spic is more obvious than Mike, which I have always taken as a reference to stereotypes of Irish immigrants. It’s a stretch, but the host of Pat&Mike jokes suggests the more common “paddy” as an epithet for an Irish immigrants. I wonder if kissing the Mike can also be an allusion to Fr. Coughlin’s pro-Nazi broadcasts.

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