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This phrase originates in the First Epistle to the Corinthians; chapter 13, verse 12, of the generally accepted order. I have irritated several of the people on this site, and many more outside of it, by insisting that, even taken solely as a work of literature, the Bible is one of the best, if not the best, works of prose in the world; and this is one of its very finest pieces. The immediate context is as follows (in the King James translation, a remarkable achievement in its own right):

...whither there be prophecies, they shall fail; whither there be tongues, they shall cease; whither there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. [9]For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. [10]But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. [11]When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. [12]For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

The rest of this chapter is a pæan to the greatness of charity, often translated in later English editions as love — which is inferior for various reasons which we won't go into now; but here the text breaks off and becomes something rather different; a strange, nearly ominous prophecy. This parallels the older moment, another of the Bible's best parts, in the Book of Job, where God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, and instead of giving any answers, replies to Job's questions with a barrage of questions of His own; questions which go to prove only that Job knows little or nothing; that he knows, as Paul has it, in part. But one of these questions is more than just dismissive:

Where wast thou when [...] all the sons of God shouted for joy?

This does tell us something, something startling and profound: that, despite Job's suffering and doubt, when the sons of God beheld the world in the morning light of creation, it was a joy unto them — and why this should be, the origin of this other joy, is clearly something that Job knows nothing about.

That is: there is a great secret. We do not know this secret: but we will know it. In the Old Testament, that last part, the promise, is left implied, a groping thing; but in the New Testament, Paul says it outright. We, too, are the sons of God: and one day we will shout for joy.

* * *

I am not the only one whom this passage has struck with singular power; on the contrary, it seems to have been equally effective these whole two thousand years. Any number of books are named after it, or make reference to it (as for instance Horselover Fat's A Scanner Darkly); uncountable sermons, speeches and addresses have made use of it. It is a treasure in Greek, in Latin, and also in English. It is good for everything, and every occasion, from the physicist who intones it on discovering a new particle, to the schizophrenic muttering it while taping an incoherent screed to an outdoor fuse-box.

Through a Glass, Darkly
George S. Patton, Jr.

Through the travail of the ages,
Midst the pomp and toil of war,
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star.

In the form of many people
In all panoplies of time
Have I seen the luring vision
Of the Victory Maid, sublime.

I have battled for fresh mammoth,
I have warred for pastures new,
I have listed to the whispers
When the race trek instinct grew.

I have known the call to battle
In each changeless changing shape
From the high souled voice of conscience
To the beastly lust for rape.

I have sinned and I have suffered,
Played the hero and the knave;
Fought for belly, shame, or country,
And for each have found a grave.

I cannot name my battles
For the visions are not clear,
Yet, I see the twisted faces
And I feel the rending spear.

Perhaps I stabbed our Savior
In His sacred helpless side.
Yet, I've called His name in blessing
When after times I died.

In the dimness of the shadows
Where we hairy heathens warred,
I can taste in thought the lifeblood;
We used teeth before the sword.

While in later clearer vision
I can sense the coppery sweat,
Feel the pikes grow wet and slippery
When our Phalanx, Cyrus met.

Hear the rattle of the harness
Where the Persian darts bounced clear,
See their chariots wheel in panic
From the Hoplite's leveled spear.

See the goal grow monthly longer,
Reaching for the walls of Tyre.
Hear the crash of tons of granite,
Smell the quenchless eastern fire.

Still more clearly as a Roman,
Can I see the Legion close,
As our third rank moved in forward
And the short sword found our foes.

Once again I feel the anguish
Of that blistering treeless plain
When the Parthian showered death bolts,
And our discipline was in vain.

I remember all the suffering
Of those arrows in my neck.
Yet, I stabbed a grinning savage
As I died upon my back.

Once again I smell the heat sparks
When my Flemish plate gave way
And the lance ripped through my entrails
As on Crecy's field I lay.

In the windless, blinding stillness
Of the glittering tropic sea
I can see the bubbles rising
Where we set the captives free.

Midst the spume of half a tempest
I have heard the bulwarks go
When the crashing, point blank round shot
Sent destruction to our foe.

I have fought with gun and cutlass
On the red and slippery deck
With all Hell aflame within me
And a rope around my neck.

And still later as a General
Have I galloped with Murat
When we laughed at death and numbers
Trusting in the Emperor's Star.

Till at last our star faded,
And we shouted to our doom
Where the sunken road of Ohein
Closed us in it's quivering gloom.

So but now with Tanks a'clatter
Have I waddled on the foe
Belching death at twenty paces,
By the star shell's ghastly glow.

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.

And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o'er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.

So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more.

There are days the letter begins like today that make me feel so alive...
those mornings when you walk outside and the world seems to have been washed in one color,
the afternoons when both the sun and the moon make their presence known in your sky,
the nights when you allow your chaos to dissipate like the wispy smoke of a dying candle--when you put not only your body but the rest of you to sleep, even if only for the dreamtime.

but the rest of the page sits blank

Last night, undressing for my bath, I saw the children of my clumsiness. Waiting for the tub to fill, I drew sloppy fins and elaborate, graceful tails...
I watched as the ink lifted from the violet smears across my skin to leave faint trails in the water before it disappeared, then closed my eyes and thought of miracles false and true. I thought randomly of orphans, doorknobs and thistles. The thoughts, though, always end up with you...
as children, drinking imaginary tea from plastic cups, discussing our futures, then growing up but never, we swore, apart. Some things, sadly enough, we can not control.
And so here we are. (here i am, wishing you were here)
Always the letters came--from you...
innermost secrets, hopes, dreams, outrage at injustice. These things I kept to myself, instead sending you whimsy with sketches and poems or lyrics in the margins.
The visits were less frequent. There were always excuses, of mutual fault, for why we didn't get together more often. The excuses doubled when it was time to say 'goodbye'--one more glass of wine, one more cigarette, just listen to this first...

Moving again--this time, it's me. I always called you the packrat, storing emotions in things, but here I was, going through drawers and ten years of letters I had tucked away. I saw you, in words, through several relationships, two carwrecks and four moves. I saw the the two year gap in postmarks from when we had lost touch. And when I wondered what you might have of me in words, all I could think of was regurgitation of inserts from my cd collection, stickers and the explanation of an occasional trinket. I never told you about Dallas, about being cut out the back of my Jeep, about who I was or how I changed each year. I never told you how important your letters, your friendship was to me.

That night, I started a letter. We
had not spoken in months. I couldn't
watch you self-destruct and I couldn't help.

You wouldn't let me.

I thought of all the times we'd wondered if we were too much or not enough for this world and there came a day were I felt like I was just enough, that we were both just enough. I had intended to finish that letter, but never did and now, with so much to say, all I have is 'remember when's to fill the rest of the page.

I will remember forever the last time I saw you,
as you stayed on, for just a bit longer just a bit.
Yes, I will remember the last time I saw you smile.

And when I signed 'love, angel'
I wonder if I ever knew you at all.
(i think of her still in reds)

The station is busy, but not packed. I hurry for my train - Platform 7 - with a driven purpose of catching my fast train home. My path crosses that of another likeminded soul and barely do I hear his muttered apology for our collision as I pass.

"Sorry, mate."

The clock ends in a number less than three minutes before the express will depart. I hurry onwards and head past the first train on the platform. Boarding the second train I find myself smiling, gratified, at the unusual sight of so many available seats.

The day has been long, spent half at a birthday celebration with friends whose company I love dearly, half with one single friend with whom conversation flowed easily and without brook or dam. I stow my rucksack and sleeping bag and sink into the welcome blue fabric embrace of First Capital Connect. When I get home I must remember to shave, and to put my boxer shorts in the laundry through a wash for the coming week.

The train leaves the station, underfull, and I take stock of my surroundings; the day has been too long to read the Philip K. Dick I have in my bag1. I turn my head to look around the carriage; across the empty aisle I am struck by the tired face of a young woman, travelling alone.

She doesn't meet my gaze as I glance downwards over her body, and see that her chest lies hidden beneath loose clothing - somewhere betwixt a a party outfit and travel clothes, a dark blue blouse partly covered by a black shirt meant for a boy. The shirt is too large for her, and with whimsy I suppose that it might be some artefact of an old relationship or friendship, these black cotton threads left behind long after the man is gone.

I look again at her face, blinking to focus in the night. Her eyelids flutter with the train's thrumming as it carries us homewards. Her forehead is high, and her hairline the wrong shape. Involuntarily I glance again downwards at her chest. Do the loose folds hide a reality or create an illusion? I turn away from the girl and look out into the black night as the signposts of a small town rush up and past. Finding nothing to hold me I turn back into the carriage.

Our eyes meet, and I cannot look away. Her mottled cheeks do not redden; I feel no embarrassment, though it is plain she knows I have been looking at her. She and I have seen each other on this train many times before; staring at each other through a window's glass, darkly.

1Actually, it was The Father Thing.

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