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Christian -- Ambrose Bierce

CHRISTIAN, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired
book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who
follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with
a life of sin.
(Poem #924) Christian
 I dreamed I stood upon a hill, and, lo!
 The godly multitudes walked to and fro
 Beneath, in Sabbath garments fitly clad,
 With pious mien, appropriately sad,
 While all the church bells made a solemn din --
 A fire-alarm to those who lived in sin.
 Then saw I gazing thoughtfully below,
 With tranquil face, upon that holy show
 A tall, spare figure in a robe of white,
 Whose eyes diffused a melancholy light.
 "God keep you, stranger," I exclaimed. "You are
 No doubt (your habit shows it) from afar;
 And yet I entertain the hope that you,
 Like these good people, are a Christian too."
 He raised his eyes and with a look so stern
 It made me with a thousand blushes burn
 Replied -- his manner with disdain was spiced:
 "What! I a Christian? No, indeed! I'm Christ."
-- Ambrose Bierce
        (from 'The Devil's Dictionary', under the 'pseudonym' G.J.)

Note:
  G.J.: Father Gassalasca Jape, S. J., one of the many pseudonyms Bierce
  attributed the verses in the Devil's Dictionary to.

Today's poem expands upon a far-from-original idea, true, but it does so
uncommonly well. Bierce's verse is scalpel sharp and scathing; it performs,
furthermore, the difficult feat of pulling no punches while simultaneously
avoiding the least trace of heavyhandedness. Similarly, the fact that the
reader can see the ending coming robs it of very little of its impact - the
sheer precision and vividness of the writing gets the point across
admirably, far more than the twist in the ending does.

Links:

  Biography:
    http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Biographies/Literary/Bierce.htm

  The Devil's Dictionary:
    [broken link] http://rabi.phys.columbia.edu/~matmat/html/devils.html

  Bierce poems on Minstrels:
    Poem #148, "With a Book"
    Poem #320, "Rimer"
    Poem #400, "Elegy"
    Poem #735, "Decalogue"
    Poem #879, "The Mad Philosopher"

  "Decalogue", in particular, makes an interesting companion piece to
  today's poem.

-martin

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