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Bierce, Technology, Satire and Sarcasm

Ambrose Bierce had a difficult life in many respects, which may have been what gave his written works such a darkly satirical outlook. Best known for his highly sardonic 'The Devil's Dictionary", he was also known for his writings about the U.S. Civil war - both fiction and non-fiction based on his experiences and observations. Thes stories and accounts are singularly graphic in describing the human carnage, desctruction, and senselessness of war.

Bierce also wrote a fair number of horror stories - not much of a stretch considering his war stories. What fewer people know is that he was a persistent poet, writing short verses and epigrams regularly to capture his opinions - and frequently skewering his contemporary poets, authors, politicians, and other public figures.

I've just added 30 selections from one of Bierce's collections, Shapes of Clay, http://theotherpages.org/poems/bierce02.html   which contains a wide range of works, All written with his distictive outlook and "wait for punchline" style. Technology, http://theotherpages.org/poems/bierce02.html#technology  whose title refers to the terminology used in a particular profession, is a good example.

Whle they were written over a century ago while Bierce was living mainly in San Francisco, much of the pieces are highly relevant today amidst our widely opposing political opinions, financial shnanigans, and societal issues. I think Bierce would hold his own against any smug talking head of the present day. The short epigrams in particular are very potent in their critique. The Builder is typical:

A Builder

I SAW the devil--he was working free:
A customs-house he builded by the sea.
"Why do you this?" The devil raised his head;
"Churches and courts I've built enough," he said.

One of Bierce's most characteristic works is Freedom from The Cynic's Work Book, published three years later in 1906 which was one of the earliest poems included in our collection:

Freedom

FREEDOM, as every schoolboy knows,
Once shrieked as Kosciusko fell;
On every wind, indeed, that blows
I hear her yell.

She screams whenever monarchs meet,
And parliaments as well,
To bind the chains about her feet
And toll her knell.

And when the sovereign people cast
The votes they cannot spell,
Upon the lung-impested blast
Her clamors swell.

For all to whom the power's given
To sway or to compel,
Among themselves apportion heaven
And give her hell.

Kosciusko (Tadeusz Kościuszko), by the way, a Polish military strategist and general who was instrumental in the American Revolutionary War, 'fell' while battling for Polish independence two decades later. What I did not know unitl recently, was that he survived and battled on through diplomatic means for Polish identity and soverignty. He died in 1817 in Switzerland.

--Steve

I SAW the devil--he was working free:A customs-house he builded by the sea. "Why do you this?" The devil raised his head; "Churches and courts I've built enough," he said. One of Bierce's most characteristic works is Freedom from , published three years later in 1906 which was one of the earliest poems included in our collection:FREEDOM, as every schoolboy knows, Once shrieked as Kosciusko fell; On every wind, indeed, that blows I hear her yell.She screams whenever monarchs meet, And parliaments as well, To bind the chains about her feet And toll her knell.And when the sovereign people cast The votes they cannot spell, Upon the lung-impested blast Her clamors swell.For all to whom the power's given To sway or to compel, Among themselves apportion heaven And give her hell. Kosciusko (Tadeusz Kościuszko), by the way, a Polish military strategist and general who was instrumental in the American Revolutionary War, 'fell' while battling for Polish independence two decades later. What I did not know unitl recently, was that he survived and battled on through diplomatic means for Polish identity and soverignty. He died in 1817 in Switzerland.--Steve

 

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