It was a tough time,
The weather unpredictable, the animals recalcitrant,
Better times we had known, but also worse.
We waited on lettuces and beets like pages at a joust
Each competing for some fertile inches from the putrid soil
A victory to celebrate in a hollow time.

The virus raged in an unpolluted clime.
A false dawn as our everyday lives went on
What’s a virus, over all the others we had won?
The virus had gone, and left us in its wake
We did not know whether it’s sire
Or grandsire would make idiots of us all
Our schools reduced to online avatars
And the crackling radio as we struggled
To keep all we had prized together.
A few lone voices struggling to connect
Across a vast wasteland and wilderness
That was not measured in miles,
But by now desolate sites
Once grand and proud, which lie abandoned,
And in ten thousand years will be as the tops of the waves of the sea from on high
A flash of white and then no more.

Empires rise and fall
An average age of an empire seven thousand years.
But by all measures, we had done our turn.
What is seven thousand in four billion
Less than one tenth of a second in the 24 hours of our planet?
And for each of us, our pithy lives are measured in a one thousand of a second.

I had hope, I had studied the Classics, Gibbon, Livy, Cicero.

It’s a phase,
How long for Rome to emerge after Romulus and Remus?
We will get through this.
Empires rise and fall.

But the skies remained dark.
What little there remained of electricity, silicon chips and RAM
And the Cloud retreated into caves, but like all things
Dissipated,

The life ran out and then countless memories, images, videos, generations of whole lives were erased,
A Holocaust.

I was there. I saw it and bore witness to it all.

I fought to keep the last spark of electricity awake
That kept a grandfather’s birthday alive,
The birth of a daughter long since died
A lover’s kiss in the moonlight,
The rosy-fingered sun rise and the feel of the dawn,
Sea on the sand, and the chirping of the crickets
And everything which made our world a wonderful place.

I saw the memory banks drain as the energy flowed away for ever.

My son, he knows some Shakespeare and Eliot
I think that he likes it, but I also worry that he says it to humour me.
Our few books are running thin and wearing out,
Some hang from strings and I have to scribble over the text in charcoal.
I fear that my grandchild will not know who Shakespeare was
Or any other wonderful author who helped civilise and frame our world.
Our great libraries are hollow carcasses
Looted to burn books in mid-winter.
I reached one freezing night for a pile of comics

And in the New York library I found a Gutenberg, one of three.
I kept it for a year and swapped it next winter for half a rotten deer
To feed my family

Sic transit gloria!

Yesterday, my son asked me
Who was Homer? I studied Classics but could not find a copy of his work.
He was a great author, I explained kindly, who wrote of a mighty war a long time ago.
Aha, he said, like the video game we had,
Not the simple version but the pro.

I wish that 7,000 years did not mean one thousandth of a second
I am sure that there was so much more we could have done
I don’t think that we will even be a minor footnote for our planet.
My sadness is not for me, my family and my friends who will all be gone within 75 years at most.

I just wish that we had been better custodians of that which breathes life, our earthly host
Earth, our precious, wonderful and unique world.
Gaia, we got it wrong, we were the virus
COVID-19, was the way to get rid of us.
And your footnote, our swan song.
Hush now, the whirr of the generators is coming to an end,
The internet long gone and no more emails to send
The sun will rise in the East and the dawn be the same
But of all that we made, virtually nothing will remain.

There’s a silence that’s beginning to descend
As Mother Earth begins the process to mend.

Empire rise and empires fall
Our time has come and gone
For once and for all.

by Winston Ginsberg
(I, 1981-85)

© 2020 Winchester College

Winchester College Society, Donovan's, 73 Kingsgate Street, Winchester, SO23 9PE
Registered Charity no. 1139000