|I: Human Will versus Destiny
Khlebnikov’s interpretation of the world is in mathematical terms. Everywhere he looks, he sees the patterns of number and natural law making themselves manifest in the world. In order to understand these patterns, Khlebnikov set about analysing the relationship between events in history. He traces this desire back to an incident in 1905, “I swore to discover the Laws of Time and carved that promise on a birch tree (in the village of Burmakino, Yaroslavl) when I heard about the battle of Tsushima”22. In the analysis that follows, I will demonstrate how this desire to discover the Laws of Time is a central theme in his writings. As Khlebnikov develops this idea, it is framed in terms of a deep and fundamental conflict between the Human Will and Destiny.
“Otter’s Children” (1911-13) is the first of Khlebnikov’s supersagas, and is the only pre-war piece in this selection. It consists of a series of “Canvas Panels”, six in all. Commenting on the piece in “Self-Statement” (1919), Khlebnikov writes, “The separate canvas panels make up a complicated structure and tell of the Volga as an Indo-Russian river, and treat Persia as the angle where two straight lines – the Russian and the Macedonian – meet. The sagas of the Oroches, that ancient Amur tribe, had a profound influence on me, and I conceived the idea of creating a pan-Asian consciousness in my poems.”23This first piece has as its overarching idea the construction of a “pan-Asian consciousness”, which is the first step in the development of Khlebnikov’s internationalist program. Throughout his life Khlebnikov promoted a Government of Time, at various times the “Society of 317”, “Martians”, “Presidents of Planet Earth”; this organisation would live out his utopian proposals and brings about the revolution in human consciousness and society he was developing.
The first of the panels in this supersaga deals with the creation myth(s) of the Oroches. The second panel, among other things, has ‘The Gods’ deliberating over Achilles’ fate.
The Gods Har! Har! Har! Nee! Nee! Nee! Nay! Nay! Nay! The meter of the Iliaddetermines the fate of the Myrmidon.
([…]High above they discuss him in Homer’s words: Andra moi enepe, Mousa…”
The snowy menagerie, heads bowed, take counsel to determine the hour of his death. It must come sooner or later.) […]
(Above on Olympus, they have cast heartfelt words into the balance, a passionate judgment on Achilles’ life and death[…])24
The use of gods as determinative figures for the fate of humans is a common classical device. In Khlebnikov, this becomes a recurring image, although the nature of gods remains ambiguous. Khlebnikov understands them only as representatives of the laws of time in operation, not entities in themselves. It is important to note that “The meter of the Iliad determines the fate of the Myrmidon” – rhythm is the key to his destiny. Part of Khlebnikov’s theorising is cyclical/wave based: it is a short step from understanding destiny as a mathematical equation, to understanding that same equation in wave terms, and from there to defining it in linguistic-rhythmic terms.
Panel Three exemplifies the pan-Asian consciousness that Khlebnikov is trying to establish, as “Son of Otter thinks about India on the Volga.”25It contains a narrative concerning the meeting of the Russian and Arabic worlds around the Caspian in the period prior to the twelfth century. Panel Four consist of a Cossack prose-narrative. The Cossack (romanticised)-ideal in Khlebnikov functions as a rebel-type, and Khlebnikov associates himself with the Cossack tradition as he constructs a hero-myth around himself.
The setting of Panel Five is the Titanic. This event is reminiscent of the Battle of Tsushima, in that it is a victory of the Sea/Fate over humanity. One of the ways this malevolent aspect of destiny is generated is through establishing a juxtaposition of normality and fatality.
Lined at the ropes that rail the deck,
childlike figures lean to look
at irridescent spray, at water
curving in the sea’s blue light.
The glassy shallows beneath us
and these shore-hugging gulls are signs
like flutterings of fate, they seem
to say: we have not yet come far.26
The figures of “children”, the “irridescent spray”, the “sea’s blue light”, all carry positive signification; they are associated with peace, tranquillity, a stable state of affairs. The second stanza undermines this with “shore-hugging gulls”: their tendency towards shore is a negative indicator about the open sea. Furthermore, they are “signs”, singled out as having particular meaning – “they seem / to say: we have not yet come far” – a warning against the stability and assurance of the passengers, who assume that having come a little way, they will be safe to travel the whole way.
Fate comes in ordinary disguise,
a footloose figure we rarely recognize,
who often bursts upon us in
the middle of an uneventful day.
“Vengeance is mine, I will repay” –
we rarely think of that, perhaps we must –
though usually the storm is overhead
before we see the lightning scar the sky27
The figure of “Fate”, personified here, is “disguise[d]”, “[un]recognize[d]”, and unexpected. Fate is totally “ordinary”, appearing “in the middle of an uneventful day”. Fate exists in the midst of ordinary life, unrecognised except when the disguise is dropped. This is particularly apparent in the second stanza. The biblical quotation of the first line, from Romans 12:19, associates a divine element with this malevolent aspect of fate: as before, Khlebnikov uses a traditional attribution of a personal will influencing Destiny. The three lines that follow point again to the ignorance in ordinary life of this malevolent aspect – people living ordinary lives are surprised by tragedy when it appears, even though it was always in their midst.
In the face of this ignorance, Khlebnikov ponders his own vocation:
How to erect the edifice of poetry
in the petrifying glare of snakey meanings?
How to make clear the dominion of numbers,
make them accessible noon and night?28
The parallelism of this stanza places “the edifice of poetry” alongside “the dominion of numbers”, revealing the close association between number and word in Khlebnikov. The “dominion of numbers” expresses the rule of number, as the Laws of Time in the world. The making-clear of this is the act of proclamation, the erection of “the edifice of poetry”. The context and battlefield of this proclamation is “the petrifying glare of snakey meanings”. Petrification, the turning of living things to stone, signifies a state of death: life is the proclamative act of poetry concerning numbers, whereas death is silence leading to ignorance – the continued dominion of uncontrolled numbers. The agents of this threatened petrification are “snakey meanings”. The adjective “snakey” refers to several things: in conjunction with “petrifying glare” it refers to the medusa; independently it suggests a certain ambiguity, a “slipperiness”, pertaining to meanings. Meanings, in the ordinary sense of language as signification, obstruct clear proclamation, because proclamation requires a focus on language, not on signification.
Building on this sense of purpose, he continues:
We will seek out the dice-throw of wars,
the dice-throw of wars, unknown to earth,
and with the blood of war will splash
the painted faces of heaven’s vault.
Still we live on, true to our rhythms,
and wars themselves are harmonies;
Number moves into the place of religion
and takes on the helmsman’s task – 29
Here Khlebnikov turns the focus of his destiny-search to war. Khlebnikov’s attitude to war changes over time and can be contrasted with the militarism of his Italian contemporaries. While his early attitude can be described as militant pan-Slavism, by the time of “Otter’s Children”, just prior to the War, a shift in attitude has occurred. By the end of the War, Khlebnikov has become overtly pacifist; he adopts the attributes of a Time-warrior, making war on war, as can be seen in some of the later poems. The suggestions of this are present in these stanzas. War is characterised by “dice-throws” – another traditional image of destiny, this one owing perhaps more than a passing debt to Mallarmé. The workings of destiny in this case are “unknown to earth” in two senses: they are neither known by anyone, nor known by all; Khlebnikov seeks both.
The seeking out of these “dice-throws” signifies an understanding of their workings, and knowledge of their operations. Equipped with this knowledge, they “with the blood of war will splash / the painted faces of heaven’s vault”. The “blood of war” signifies the life force of which it is deprived. Symbolically, this will be “splash[ed]” on “heaven’s vault”: heaven’s vault is the realm of the gods and therefore of destiny, and this is a sign of the overthrow of the rule of destiny.
“Still we live on” signifies the continuance of life after this assault on heaven, with such a life being characterised by self-authenticity, “true to our rhythms”. Khlebnikov sees individual lives as determined by rhythms, in the same way as the cycles and movements of history: in “Self-Statement” he calls for people to keep exact journals of when things happen in their lives, including times, so that a science can be built for the Laws of events in individual lives. “Rhythms” here echoes the meter of the Iliad that determines Achilles’ fate: poetry and pattern (number) are joined once again. This is borne out by “wars themselves are harmonies”: such an assertion is made against the idea that wars are discordances. Khlebnikov conceives of wars not as eliminable aspects in a utopian dream30, but an essential part of the Laws of Time, therefore his desire is to limit their tragedy, to build a “shield”. The role of “Number” usurps that of “religion”, both having their function as “helmsman”, as the dominant interpretative paradigm steering the course of humanity by explaining the workings of destiny.
The third section of Panel Five, “Disaster among the Icefloes”, presents a different aspect. It opens with two preliminary comments, followed by a long speech by ‘The Cliff’:
Tell the old overseer I am one with
the men in the fields. We are the same.
I will attack his majesty again,
and clatter my chains in his face.
I reckon him as next to nothing,
and would still try to accomplish
what I almost did[…]
I hang here like a stony corpse
chained to the darkness of this rock
because I tricked away his bright idea
and stole the intellect he promised31
The cliff-figure defines himself in solidarity with “the men in the fields”, and in opposition to “the old overseer”, “his majesty”, who is representative of divinity. His claim is that he will “attack[…]again”, an indication that he has attacked once before. The result of that previous attack is that he is currently “chained to[…]this rock”. The Promethean motif is clear, though this time his first “attack”, his theft, is “the intellect he promised”. The Cliff’s speech is followed by a Chorus of People who challenge the “almighty thunderer”, and identify this intellect as “reason’s fire”, drawing the Promethean parallel more closely; the same identification of “the fire of intellect”32is made in “Lightland”. As the scene progresses, he is freed, but the scene shifts to the sinking of the Titanic:
What iron horror! What a fatal lesson!
Moaning everywhere, and nearer,
everywhere, My God, to thee, as ocean avalanches
over all. By what justice? By what law?33
Despite the emancipation of reason, nothing stops destiny here. The final two questions encapsulate the search for meaning in the course of history. Khlebnikov’s project is to seek out “By what law?” – to find the Laws of Time; such an answer will still leave the moral question “By what justice?” unanswered.
Panel Six contains a long dialogue between Hannibal and Scipio, the Carthaginian and Roman generals. They discuss Karl Marx and Charles Darwin in a particularly negative way, and dismiss with scorn their deterministic theories of economics and natural selection. The scene “depicts Son of Otter’s soul”, a figure identified as Khlebnikov in the previous panel. The two speakers are joined by a hagiology of Khlebnikovian Futurism, Cossacks and intellectuals, all rebels against tyranny in one form or another. In Khlebnikov they find a peace and fulfilment. This sort of martyrology is common throughout the poems: as Khlebnikov establishes a tradition for himself, actively engaging in canon building.34
Samko, a Cossack and one of these saints, says:
The victim, I, of different streams of time
My timepiece ticked before the clock of the stars.
People are ruled by clocks:
scales tilt, the cup of doom sank toward me
I fell through the fault of the stars.35
His identification as a “victim” places him in a stream of martyrs within Khlebnikov’s canon. The force of victimisation is “time”, “the stars”, both signifiers of destiny’s activity. The statement that “people are ruled by clocks” firmly asserts the rule of number in the world.
The final speech of the supersaga comes from “Voice from within the Soul”, the voice of Khlebnikov. The final section states:
here all great minds delight in ease
and equal conversation.
Souls of heroes, I salute you;
see my sorrow, comfort me.
You and I are kin: one mind, one heart.
We can no longer stand a race apart.
(They sit down to debate in a grand assembly)36
Khlebnikov completes his construction of a pan-Asian consciousness by absorbing the “souls of heroes” into himself. It is a great assembly of “kin”, although he has singled out “great minds” to “sit down …in a grand assembly”. In a letter to Viacheslav Ivanovich, in 1912, he writes:
I have sometimes thought that if the souls of the great departed were condemned to wander about the world, they would find themselves wearied by the nothingness of most of the people in it, and would be forced to choose the soul of one man as an island, a place of rest and reincarnation. And in this way the soul of one individual might become an entire assembly of great spirits.37
Khlebnikov positions himself as this island, this “assembly of great spirits”. This is a kind of assimilation of heroic virtue into the Khlebnikovian persona. In undertaking what he presents as a heroic assault on the tyranny of Destiny, Khlebnikov actively builds a persona with distinct prophetic and hero-rebellious elements. This is seen clearly in this final section, as Khlebnikov takes on the past, and offers himself as the final or last rebel in this succession.
“Night in the Trenches” (1919) adds new dimensions to the conception of destiny. It particularly associates the assault on Destiny with the Bolshevik revolution, as well as positioning it in traditional Christian terms as a conflict with God, who is the Will behind Destiny.
The narrative structure of the poem is built on an early battle in the Civil War, from the perspective of a Red infantryman. Several aspects enhance this basic narrative: the soldier dreams, Khlebnikovian speeches of Lenin are interspersed, the ghosts of the past take the field, while silent stone women look on.
Driving out the chanting monks
from their ancient holy choir,
the powers that be converted it
to classrooms for the art of war.38
The real effects of the revolution on religion were exactly that “Number moves into the place of religion / and takes on the helmsman’s task”, as “Otter’s Children” predicts. The accommodation39of the past is its destruction, seen here in the driving out of the monks. Religion for Khlebnikov is a structure that explains the workings of destiny in a fatalistic way: God’s hand moves unseen to create the world He wants. It is a disempowering view of destiny, a destabilising factor. The alternative is to exalt Will over Destiny, to depict Destiny as a force, a set of laws, open to the manipulation of Will. If Number is the paradigmatic interpretative scheme for Destiny, then it will lead to the rule of Will over Destiny. For that to happen, any suggestion that Destiny might rule Will as an order of creation, rather than as a matter of fact, has to be eliminated: religion must be purged.
I sent a team of scientists, specialists
in superstition, to excavate the hermits’ caves;
their scalpels laid the relics bare40
Part of Lenin’s program of disestablishing religion was to expose superstition – the miraculously preserved bodies of saints, the power of relics. Religion is seen as subversive, because it advocates an allegiance to something other than the State, and its most vulnerable aspect, provability, is attacked.. Khlebnikov situates Lenin’s actions as something of more significance:
I swear by horseflesh I’ll succeed –
I am the mousetrap, not the mouse.
I swear by horseflesh, you’re my witness,
that from its hinges I will tear –
though even God should bar the way –
the gate to that Red edifice
where I will have my say.41
The mousetrap and the mouse – one to catch the other. Lenin proclaims himself the mousetrap – a thing designed to trap and capture, possibly kill – the mouse. The identity of the mouse is not made explicit here, but the vow he makes points strongly to certain possibilities. It is a vow to enter, with violence, “that Red edifice”. The context of a Red versus Muscovite White battle suggests a strong political dimension to the image: entering the seat of power, “where I will have my say”. There is more to it than this, however, the suggestion of God barring the way, while perhaps hyperbolic, takes on more substantial overtones in the context of the assault on religion. Lenin is declaring a war on God, because God is situated as the being who asserts that Destiny rules over Will, not Will over Destiny. The Russian Orthodox Church exemplifies the belief that God is in control, humans are essentially out-of-control beings, and the failure to realise this leads to self-assertion and self-reliance: the characteristics of sin. To rebel against Destiny is to rebel against God, through self-exaltation, or Will-to-power. The links to Nietzschean thought are nowhere more clear than here. To side against God is to assert, with Nietzsche, that God is a lie; because if He is not, then to pit Will against Destiny is a futile enterprise. To assert that God is a lie, that the whole Western Tradition is built out of lies and weakness, requires one attempt the creation of Good and Evil anew. Bolshevism is an attempt to do that on a political level, to reinterpret the past and create the future. Khlebnikov takes on the Nietzschean project in a much fuller way: he does not restrict himself to a socio-political approach, but attempts to use poetry to change the relationship of humanity to world itself. It is enough to see here that the attack on God is in all three cases an elevation of the human to the central place.
“Where I will have my say” is the key defining clause for the “Red edifice”. Politically, it refers to the position of power, that what is said is what will be; not the “say” of free speech, but the “say” of absolute authority. Linguistically, to “have one’s say” is to shape reality. The freedom to speak is the freedom to shape the world and oneself through speech acts. This is a power more pervasive and determinative than any political power. In context, to “have one’s say” means more than either of these two, it is to replace God, to assert that one’s own words should replace the Logos of the universe. In theological terms this is to assert oneself as the Christ-figure, which raises the question: if Destiny is defined in terms of God’s Will, how does the substitution of another personal Will for his change the basic rule of Destiny over Will? The parallel Khlebnikov builds with the Bolshevik revolution suggests a less than optimistic answer.
That’s the song that someone sang.
An old soldier growled: Wasn’t their grandfather’s fate enough for them?
“Well, all you’re gonna get yourselves –
the old folks know, it happened once before –
is a pile of pine-plank coffins.42
Khlebnikov’s growing opposition to war is apparent here, with this passage following a battle song that asserts the indulgence of present happiness in the knowledge of tomorrow’s death. The end of war is always death, and Khlebnikov continues to react against its futility. His position is a difficult one: like most of the futurists he avows pacifism, yet supports the revolution; he takes on propaganda jobs later on. This is perhaps bound up in the fatalism that views war as ineradicable, only controllable. The tension of this position, and the problems of the association of Khlebnikov’s project with the Bolshevik revolution, continue throughout the poems.
“War in a Mousetrap” (1919), the second of the supersagas, utilises the image of mouse and mousetrap as a central theme. It consists of twenty-six sections written mainly better 1915 and 1917, though compiled under this title in 1919. It reflects both Khlebnikov’s poetic technique as well as his anti-war theme, a reflection of his drive to assert human will over destiny.
The first section offers an overview of Khlebnikov’s project:
5 Where the ragged fields of dawn
are plowed by the horsemen of centuries,
I ordered a crow to fly
and said in passing to the sky:
“Do me a favor, heaven. Die!”
10 Later I got a better idea –
always looking for bigger laughs –
I smashed the matchbox race of men
and started reading poetry.
Planet Earth was an easy fit
15 in the dark curve of a madman’s mitt.
Follow me now! What’s there
To be afraid of?43
The setting of the “fields of dawn” and “the horsemen of centuries” immediately opens up a certain frame of reference – time and history. The genitive “dawn” modifying “fields”, while connoting an image of dawn, actually denotes the fields as being at the beginning of a time-continuum, and echoes the cliché “dawn of time”. The “horsemen of centuries” are not of a particular moment, but of the long march of time. While the horsemen “plow” the field of time, it is not clear what they might be preparing the field for; however, the field has been made “ragged”, it is in a sense “ravaged” by the passage of centuries.
This is an extended yet compact metaphor: the field is the world, and it has been ravaged by the effects of time, which are the agents of Destiny. Khlebnikov’s response comes in the following lines. He “ordered a crow to fly”: the crow, in a European context, is an omen of death and war. In section three, he writes, “and after the raven of Poe – / ravens fatten at the battle by the Kalka”44. Since he doesn’t develop the image further at this point, it seems reasonable to assume that the crow is used as a warning, a harbinger whose message is “Do me a favor, heaven. Die!”, a declaration of war against heaven, and the Destiny which has created the “ragged fields of dawn”.
That “Later I got a better idea” holds true is contentious. Rather, this “better idea” is a continuation by other means of the prior section. The basis of this “better idea” is the search “for bigger laughs”. This playfulness, laughter and mocking, is something that is almost essentially Futurist in the Russian context – a laugh at the establishment, a subversive play.45
Another typically Futurist phrase follows. The violence of “smashed” is a reflection of the violence of the Futurist project. In order to do violence to language, to engage in thoroughgoing defamiliarisation, one must engage in a “smashing” of the familiar order. This is the “matchbox”, an image of weakness and conformity. It is the world to be destroyed, and the instrument of such destruction is “poetry”, because poetry represents, the violence of a revolution against heaven.
The final four lines of this section envisage this revolution as the “catching” of “Planet Earth”. The poetry that destroys matchboxes, the death of heaven, leads to this point – the control of Planet Earth. The sense of this control is not any sort of political structure, but what it has been all along, the victory of Will over Destiny. In this sense, Planet Earth is only a plaything, like the universe, something controlled through the rule of Number. In such a world, there is nothing “to be afraid of”, because control is absolute – the Will of humanity dictates the course of history.
The trumpets never squealed a signal for defeat:
“Your comrades, your brothers and sisters, have fallen.”
I’ll never be proof against your power –
the cruel equation sings its song.46
These lines, from section eight, must be contextualised against section seven, as well as the whole supersaga. This context is war: all of “War in a Mousetrap” is pervaded by images of war, its futility, its minutiae, and its personal effect on Khlebnikov’s life. That context is transformed in this passage, where the silence of the “trumpets”, neither sounding for victory, nor “squealed[…] for defeat”, is a testimony to the overwhelming nature of this defeat. The address of the second line implies a deep sense of solitude, an isolated figure standing against an overwhelming force. The third line reinforces this total loss, it is against a “power” which can never be defeated. This “power” is “the cruel equation”, which is the rule of number and of Destiny. Khlebnikov fights not against flesh and blood, but against the very force of Destiny, “the cruel equation” itself. That it “sings its song” must be read against the silence of the trumpets – on the field of sound, it is Destiny that holds sway, without answer from the people. This could be read as a moment of despair by Khlebnikov, an acknowledgment of the unattainable nature of his project. He recognises in the face of his losses that his war is futile, but to admit this would be to admit that the whole project is a lie, Destiny is in control, and rebellion is ultimately futile. Alternatively, it could be read as a limiting factor in his war, that he never intends to overpower Destiny, but merely to “build a shield that fits”47. The third alternative is to read this as a moment of despair, but not a determining one: not an admission of failure, but a moment of weakness.
Within Khlebnikov’s writings there is a close association between Destiny, War and Death. The workings of Destiny are seen in the devastation of war – war is Destiny malevolently, mischievously, capriciously, at play with the lives of humanity. Though Khlebnikov does not appear to make explicit any views he has regarding an afterlife, he may have taken up any one of a number of ideas from the thought-systems with which he was acquainted. What he does make explicit is his disapproval of untimely death, such as the death of young men, the desperation of the starving48. Khlebnikov links his crusade against Destiny with a crusade against War and Death. This is why the mouse in the mousetrap is both War and Destiny.
Sections nine and ten foreground death. Section nine:
My arm accidentally knocked away
a scythe, sister to the darkening raven.
I clawed my way across a bridge
of piled-up footsoldiers’ bodies.
The murderers sobbed beneath the waves
where they listed, like willow planking.
Death sat combing
her virulent hair
and like swarms of gnats, expendable lives
did what they could to attack her.49
This passage demonstrates what Riffaterre calls the overdetermination of meaning. Overdetermination of meaning refers to the way poetic texts consist of variations of an invariant. The variations serve to fix the invariant, a sort of linguistic triangulation. “[S]cythe”, “raven”, “bodies”, “murderers”, “Death” – there is no alternative reading of the figure here. The picture is more complex, of course: it is Death in her unassailability, with the last two lines intimating the hopelessness of attacking her. What is of even more interest is that Death operates as a reverse-Rusalka image. Literally, the rusalka is an undine-figure associated with rivers and streams in Russian folklore; typically, she was characterised negatively, as responsible for drownings. One particular way of portraying her was sitting by the riverside combing water from her, an image that occurs in some of the latter pieces. The rusalka does appear in “Night in the Trenches”, but in a capacity clearly tangential to the main theme. The function of the rusalka in the other pieces is as a pre-rational, anachronistic figure, pointing to transrationality. Death, as a reverse-rusalka, “who combs the corpses from her hair”50, is the figure of the rational ordered world, the world subject to Destiny, the world ravaged by “the horsemen of centuries.”
Yesterday I whispered: “Coo! Coo! Coo!”
And flocks of wars flew down to peck
the grain from my hands.
Unclean, a demon loomed above me
plumed with slabs of stone,
dangling a mousetrap from his belt
and destiny’s mouse from his teeth.
“Mouse-catcher!” I shouted, “Grief!
Why keep destiny clenched in your teeth?”
He answered: I am the Destiny-hunter,
Bone-Breaker by the will of numbers.” 51
The “flocks of wars” builds on the references to ravens throughout this supersaga. The speaker’s feeding of them implies the taming of them – the taming of wars. The appearance of the demon is at first ominous, his description designed to effect fear; however, the demon is never portrayed as actively threatening, which undermines any suggestion that he is opposed to the speaker. In fact, his portrayal as one who hunts, and has captured destiny, one who rules “by the will of numbers”, can perhaps be read as an alter-ego for Khlebnikov, as prophetic speaker.52
The depiction of destiny as a mouse is a poetic disempowerment – Fate no longer looms as an impressive figure to be assaulted, but as a diminutive animal, scampering for safety, and it is only a matter of time before Fate is caught.
How many centuries have I had to wait
for this discovery: the sky-blue enemy
and dark familiar puffs of smoke?
I have shut myself up under lock and key.
You have abandoned me, gods:
wings no longer shiver on your shoulders,
you no longer look over mine as I write.
We drown in filth, drag blind humanity
in tangled nets behind us.
We were children once, we were children –
we are a priesthood now, and wear your wings.53
Here the usurpation of godhead is made plain. The speaker has “shut [him]self up under lock and key…for this discovery” – an image of the patient scholar, an explorer in the realms of the mind. His search is for a truth to use against “the sky-blue enemy” – the enemy of the heavens. The shift from winged gods to wearing wings, from children to priesthood, marks that discovery. The gods no longer observe him, no longer rule – they have left. The discovery is the rule of numbers, the Laws of Destiny: because these are what permit the rule of Will over Destiny, and allow the gods to be dispensed with, religion has served its time. Humanity becomes the divine, people are masters of their own destiny. The completion of this revolt is seen in section twenty-four, “Blessed is Planet Earth, when it shines / here on my little finger!”54– as in the opening passage, Planet Earth is diminished, no longer an immense object, but a plaything, under control.