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December 4, 2022

Better to Reign

after 'Fall of the Rebel Angels'

by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

So Lucifer, that force

that never stops trying

to undo the fabric of creation

never stops trying to break

that divine universe of order

never stoops to obeisance

of its captain and creator.


In the divine plan

in the face of eternity

can his stubborn perversity,

his destructive persistence

be explained?


Numinous envious Lucifer,

once numbered among

the angels above,

who fell from grace

in a paroxysm of envy,

an excess of vitality,

his gigantic wings still

flailing as he fell,

carried by the will of God

to that place below, still spiteful,

still sinning against the light, still

with his cohorts of translated fiends,

burning, glorious, spitting fire,

ready to challenge eternally

God and his works.


By any stretch, a rebellion

from the start

doomed to failure.

Who fights with God?


And for what?

In the dutiful waiting-room

of creation who cares

what's at the core?

Good or bad, light or dark,

the tyranny of the womb remains,

rolling out all things perforce,

pouring out a sea of forms

tireless creator

indifferent to their destinies.


What's really at stake here

in this rebellion of the angels?

In this unnecessary doubling of the frame,

in this Manichean complication?


In our proprietary Christian myth,

we hear the music of God

and the good angels

already celebrating;

the preordained war is over

before it started.


What chance did Lucifer have?

Look at Bruegel's painting,

the fall of the rebel angels;

in its premise

in the landscape itself

a foregone conclusion.


God's gentle voluminous angels

go about their business,

abstractedly beating down

the rebellious foe, caught in the act,

a horde of fanciful creatures, mutants,

a hybridized crawling, flying, whirling

patchwork of half-human, half-beast

half-plant, half-assed whatnots

unready for the fray,

looking as frightened as fish

in a dangerous aquarium.


And there is Saint Michael,

leading the fight from on high,

a skinny fantoccio

in drab cutout armor

thoughtfully swatting away

at this colorful garden

of slapdash monstrosities

this cabinet of curios

less suited to fight

than provide amusement

and a light workout for

the Heavenly Host.


Bruegel the Elder, Bosch as well

shared a sly and secretive

sense of humor,

a sense of balance

about the Four Last Things.

It shows in their work,

especially this Fall

of the Rebel Angels,

its emphasis on how strange

and silly evil can look

and good dull and detached

in the midst of primal battle;

the two sides

supposedly fighting it out

for the greater glory of God,

His sanitary minions somehow

maintaining His dignity

against a foolish fearful troop

of willful grotesqueries,

a surreal crew

popping out in all directions;

rebel angels limned

not at all as angels

but as stand-ins, placeholders

for humanity or worse,

the whole world gone to a hell

of ingenious contraptions

to better illustrate our vices,

our weaknesses, our failings

and perhaps God's ultimate failure

to keep us safe.


Well, it all ends,

one way or another,

in art, in life,

and leaves us thinking

there's much to be said

for Heaven and Hell.

We like the idea

we have someplace to go

after here, so why not

light-filled and sky-high

billowing or, worse luck,

down in the dark

and tortured cockeyed till

the end of time?


Bruegel the Elder and Bosch

painted both kingdoms

to perverse perfection.

There they are,

my blue heaven

with saints and angels

peeping out of a paradise

bizarre as the Tower of Babel

and a hell as full

of crazy dislocations

and false shapes

as a Lenten carnival.


As far as Lucifer's

heroic desperate rebellion

he never had a chance in hell,

so to speak,

his only chance

and as his only chance

there he ended.



© the author

by Jack D. Harvey


Jack D. Harvey’s poetry has appeared in Scrivener, The Comstock Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Typishly Literary Magazine, The Antioch Review, The Piedmont Poetry Journal and elsewhere. The author has been a Pushcart nominee and over the years has been published in a few anthologies. He has been writing poetry since he was sixteen and lives in a small town near Albany, New York. The author is retired from doing whatever he was doing before he retired.


His book, Mark the Dwarf is available on Kindle: 

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