DESTRUCTION OF THE BUDDHAS IN BANIYAM
by Henry Weinfield
—to my son Paul
In Baniyam, Afghanistan
The lovely Buddhas stood so high
That almost reaching to the sky
They overlooked the woes of man
(It must have been the scultpors’ plan)
With perfect equanimity,
Thus imaging for those who die
That there is something greater than
The violence and cruelty
That add to suffering and pain
(Which, plausibly, they might restrain),
thought to entertain—
That all our strivings are in vain.
They might have been constructed by
Greeks, who, coming in the van
Of Alexander’s victory,
With the passing years began
To orient their artistry
(Spirit struggling to be free)
To the wise passivity
Of those who long had farmed the plain
And mountain pass—with whom again
They would have joined their ancestry.
For Baniyam was, and would remain,
A vital crossroads in the chain
Of outposts linking China and
The whole Mediterranean,
Along the famous Silk Road in
The first few centuries C.E.
The cannonballs of Genghis Khan
In the thirteenth century
Would fall upon them thick as rain:
They still kept their serenity.
Aurangzeb and his murderous clan,
In the seventeenth, would try
To burn them to the ground. Thereby
He left behind the filthy stain
Of bigotry, which shall remain,
But did not mar their dignity.
Even the British, lusting for gain
And what is called hegemony
In the nineteenth century,
Although they never would refrain
From making quiet Baniyam
A battlefield, yet in the main
Could not destroy them utterly.
A new millennium began,
And also in Afghanistan,
Ruled as it was by the Taliban.
The people lived in poverty;
Incessant war had bled them dry;
And Soviet and American
Money had done what money can
To make their lives a misery.
The ruling ideology
Required a religious enemy;
And so what neither Genghis Khan,
Aurangzeb, nor the British crown
Had yet accomplished, soon was done.
The lovely Buddhas standing high
And almost reaching to the sky
Were blasted down—by TNT.
Some reckon their destruction an
Not only for Afghanistan
But for the world, and I agree:
The Buddhas that in Baniyam
Once overlooked the woes of man
With perfect equanimity
Are gone, and will not come again.
But there are those who would maintain
That in their absence they remain
Present, and to the inner eye
In Baniyam still standing high
And almost reaching to the sky.
Copyright © 2005 by Henry Weinfield.