Klaus Bung: Burnt Offerings
Length: 160 lines
Optional footnotes
E-mail: klaus.bung@tudo.co.uk
Written 21 July 1998

Miguel Serveto de Tudela, 1511-1553

Klaus Bung:
Burnt Offerings

Deus, in adiutorium meum intende.
Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina. [1]

Miguel Serveto of Tudela
thought too deeply about
Baptism and the Holy Trinity.
He corresponded with Calvin.
[2]
Calvin issued a fatwa against him:
"You just dare to come and see me in Geneva,
and I promise you will not leave my bloody town alive."
Serveto did not believe his fellow searcher for truth.

But it befell that some of his letters to Calvin
fell into the hands of the

Inquisitor General at Lyon.

Sur le pont de Lyon
on y mente, on y mente,
sur le pont de Lyon
on y mente tous en rond.[3]


cheerfully chanted the innocent children.

Miguel was arrested, his books
were confiscated, during his trial
he wisely escaped.
He was found guilty
in his absence and burnt in effigy
by the Catholics.

"A pen for Serveto, a penny for Miguel!",
cheerfully called the innocent children.

Thinking he would be safe in Geneva,

because effigies were allowed neither there nor in Mecca,
and therefore couldn't be burnt
(they insist on the Real Thing Coca Cola)
and considering himself
a pen-friend of Johnny Calvin,
he made his way to Geneva
looking forward, in vain,
for the Red Cross to protect him.
He was a visionary, far ahead of his time.

The Calvinists tried (and succeeded)
him for heresy

and found him guilty,
because he had
cleverly concocted a doctrine
about the Spirit of God
so good that it upset
all the parties, Papists
and Calvies alike. 
Therefore it must
have been the truth,
or very close to it.

If he had gone
from Geneva to Constance,
he would have been burnt by the Pope there
together with Hus. 

It never occurred to him
to go to Ulster and get himself shot
by the two parties at once.

They all did it and do it or would
do it if only they could:
Catholics and Protesters: I think
they deserve one another, they stink
each in his own peculiar way. 
While most of Serveto's colleagues
were friends with one of these
parties and were burnt by the other, if only
in effigy,
Serveto managed
to needle them both.
The hunted heretic was
on the run for much of his life,
had only his pen for to prick with,
and he lacked the two chairs
that are commonly needed
for sitting between them.

In Geneva the ecological movement
had taken root.  Oecolampadius,
or Johann Huszgen or Home as he is homely known,
Patron of Friends of the Earth,
and balding chauvinist Hansgen Calvin[4]
wanted his scalp, his head,
not his ashes,
to reduce global warming, they said,
which at the time was progressing
at an alarming pace, Joan of Arc
had lit the spark,
what with bitches
burnt as witches,
here Jan Hus
there Spanish Jews.
Illuminations turned Europe
into a Blackpool, flames flaring,
bin of ashes, black pool of blood,
buggers[5] burning like candles
to honour this threefool'd schizo-
phrenic man-
made God.

Would one had used the waters
of the Jordan,
of all baptismal fonts and all rivers
to put out these blasphemous fires!

On 27 October
in the Year of the Lord 1553,
the hunted Serveto,
man of ancient Tudela, city of Benjamin,
of Juda Ha-Levi and wise Ibn Ezra,
servants of God all,
was burned alive.  I detest

this cruel mode of punishment.  It depletes
our forests
and the stench of burning flesh
Auschwitz-like
pollutes the atmosphere.
The crucifix was
a much more civilised mode
of execution - only two
pieces of timber, that's just one tree
per victim.  The cross can even be
recycled.  Just imagine
how many more thinkers
can be executed that way
at less cost
to the environment and
to the pious tax-payer!

But, after St Jesus, St Peter
and kilted St Andrew, of course,
nobody was worthy
of being killed in that manner.
Only sometimes
Yugoslavian women these days
are nailed to the cross of the bed.

If only we could rid ourselves of
our addiction to that mad phrenic construct
The Truth,
that Moloch[6], King of Shame.

Would that we could
like Herod the King kill all prophets
before they can train disciples!

And AIDS on both their houses![7]
Deus, in adiutorium meum intende.

Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina.

(21 July 1998)

Instructions for printers

New paragraphs have been marked by indentations, to distinguish them from accidental page breaks. (otherwise when a new page starts one cannot know whether there is a paragraph break [blank line] at this point). In the final printed version (magazine or book) these indentations can be removed.

-  The words 'The Truth' have been deliberately centered and should stay in this position.  This is NOT a paragraph mark.

- Come, Mephastophilis, let vs dispute againe!

Note for stupid readers of this poem
(Not for publication)

Burn the blockheads. If they are too wet for burning, try to bloody enlighten them.

The following remarks are not for publication.  These are my own notes concerning "criticisms" received from naive readers. The same readers also complained about the existence of footnotes.

Reader wrote: I was confused by the line breaks for 'schizo - phrenic man - made god' because they made the flow jump and it was harder to read and interpret the meaning...I had to read that part twice....

Klaus Bung replied:

re line breaks there; re having to read repeatedly.  that was very much the purpose of the breaks; it produced ambiguities and emphasised a link with another part of the poem (near the end, where "phrenic" recurs). schizo = split; phrenic = brainy; schizo-phrenic = split brain;

  1. schizophrenic God = Trinity, one God in three Persons (Serveto had offended in the area of dogma); I implicity make the trinity a mental disease rather than a lovable or cosy divine mystery.
  2. phrenic man: brainy man, and too proud of his brains and his absurd inventions... hence all the slaughter of heretics (I also attacked the creation of "Truth" in the poem about My Worst Phobia, now called "His second week in Office".)  "phrenic" occurs twice in the poem and I draw attention to the importance of this word by putting it here to the beginning of a line in an unnatural (uncosy, startling) way.
  3. schizo = split; therefore, as in concrete poetry, the line is split and the word is split
  4. man-made God. I am asserting that God is not a Given that can be studied, and yet we now argue about His nature as if he were, whether he is like this, or like that (the debate in which Serveto participated and for which he died).  But that we have created this god in our brains and now we argue about him as if he were outside our brains, an objective entity. You get this meaning, rightly, when you read it as if there were no linebreak. 
  5. man /new line/, made God.  This is the inverse to God who has become man (for instance in Jesus).  I assert that (a) "Man made God" and (b) in another meaning of the same words "that Man has been made into God", i.e. God has been created in the likeness of man, not the other way round, as the bible says.  If God appears so absurd, it is because WE are so absurd, our thinking is so absurd, and yet we are so proud of it that we dare kill people in the phrenic (pun with "frenetic? also intended at end of poem) arrogant belief that we are so clever. I AM GLAD YOU PICKED OUT THESE LINES.  They are startling and the philosophical essence of the poem is contained in them. I hope I have not bored or annoyed you with this lengthy explanation. (Shall I attach it as a footnote?)

Notes for translators


These notes are not meant for publication.  They are intended to help translators, especially those coming from very different cultures.  However, if a magazine editor wants to publish any of them in conjunction with the story or use them to write an introduction, she is welcome to do so.

[1] Make haste, o God, to deliver me: make haste to aid me, o Lord. (Psalm 70:1 [King James] = Psalm 69:1 Vulgata). To be prayed by Benedictine Monks at the beginning of services and at the beginning of any monastic enterprise. return

[2] Marlowe: Dr Faustus, 641 return

[3] On the bridge of Lyon people are lying all over the place. return

[4] Latin calvus, calvinus = bald; French chauve = bald.  Calvin, Chauvin and Cauvin were Latin and French variants of the same name. return

[5] bougre: name given to the Cathars, the southern French heretics return

[6] Leviticus 18:21: And you shall not let any of your children be sacrificed in the fire to Moloch. return

[7] Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, 3.1:102. These lines tie up the whole poem by bringing in the most popular case of useless quarrel between two parties equally at fault, and we curse them equally.  It also takes up the theme of fire which now goes from the title "Burnt Offering" right through the poem, since the Mont Argues and Carp Ulets were both burning together in Purgatory (Dante, Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, 6:106-108: "Vieni a veder Montecchi e Cappelletti ...  color giĆ  tristi, e questi con sospetti" = Come and see the Montagues and Capulets, the ones with depressed looks on their faces and the others sighing in anguish), while the monks (or the victims)  pray in divine Latin for divine aid and yet allow their concentration to be distracted by their love for diabolical disputes. The poem peters out with a cry or chant wafting up on the clouds of burning incense. return