Thursday, February 02, 2006

Blasphemy by example

(Being an impious and irreverent attempt to report on the cause of New Zealand's only trial for blasphemous libel).

Stand-To: Good Friday Morning, by Siegfried Sassoon:

I’d been on duty from two till four.
I went and stared at the dug-out door.
Down in the frowst I heard them snore.
‘Stand to!’ Somebody grunted and swore.
Dawn was misty; the skies were still;
Larks were singing, discordant, shrill;
They seemed happy; but I felt ill.
Deep in water I splashed my way
Up the trench to our bogged front line.
Rain had fallen the whole damned night.
O Jesus, send me a wound to-day,
And I’ll believe in Your bread and wine,
And get my bloody old sins washed white!

For publishing this poem, the editor of the Maoriland Worker, John Glover, was charged with blasphemous libel - an offence carrying a penalty of up to one year's imprisonment. After a short deliberation, he was acquitted - but the jury added a rider that "similar publications of such literature ought to be discouraged".

(Sources: The King v. Glover [1922] GLR 185; Siegfried Sassoon, Stand-to: Good Friday Morning,