Can you recommend an apocalyptic text to read on stage?
December 17, 2012 3:02 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some good armageddons. I'm MCing an End-of-the-World poetry reading on December 21st and I want to read a few short passages from apocalyptic texts. I've already settled on the Book of Revelations and Ragnarök, but I'd like to cast a wide net and find some non-Western and/or non-religious/mythological descriptions of the end times. Can you recommend a good doomsday for me to read?
posted by Kattullus to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
These are all "Western" but:
The Ray Bradbury short story "The Nine Billion Names of God"
Selections from Nevil Shute's "On the Beach"?
Dialogue from Raymond Briggs' "When the Wind Blows"?
posted by runincircles at 3:38 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Western apocalypses are just fine, as long as they're not mythological or religious (e.g. literary and scientific descriptions of the end of the world could work).

"The Nine Billion Names of God" is by Arthur C. Clarke.
posted by Kattullus at 3:55 AM on December 17, 2012

Do the armageddons have to be "big?"
At the end of Everything Matters a comet hits the Earth. [this is not a spoiler] It's told from the viewpoint of someone who's known the precise date of this his entire life and has a somewhat objective acceptance of it as a beautiful thing, as he huddles in bed with his family.
posted by Su at 4:08 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No, the armageddon can be of any size.

Oh, and in case my previous comment is unclear, I could use mythological or religious end times descriptions, as long as they're non-Western.
posted by Kattullus at 4:10 AM on December 17, 2012

Second Coming by Yeats
Fire and Ice by Frost
posted by TrarNoir at 4:59 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

McCarthy's The Road does a fine after-the-end:
Dark of the invisible moon. The nights now only slightly less black. By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.

People sitting on the sidewalk in the dawn half immolate and smoking in their clothes. Like failed sectarian suicides. Others would come to help them. Within a year there were fires on the ridges and deranged chanting. The screams of the murdered. By day the dead impaled on spikes along the road. What had they done? He thought that in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime but he took small comfort from it.

They began to come upon from time to time small cairns of rock by the roadside. They were signs in gypsy language, lost patterans. The first he'd seen in some while, common in the north, leading out of the looted and exhausted cities, hopeless messages to loved ones lost and dead. By then all stores of food had given out and murder was everywhere upon the land. The world soon to be largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes and the cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell. The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and the dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyons with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them silently as eyes. Out on the roads the pilgrims sank down and fell over and died and the bleak and shrouded earth went trundling past the sun and returned again as trackless and as unremarked as the path of any nameless sisterworld in the ancient dark beyond.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:14 AM on December 17, 2012

posted by runincircles at 5:21 AM on December 17, 2012

Some T.S. Eliot? The Hollow Men? The Waste Land has some pretty apocalyptic passages and lots of parts that are fun to read aloud.
posted by purpleclover at 5:23 AM on December 17, 2012

"World War Z" is written in the form of interviews with survivors of a zombie apocalypse. There are many passages there which are the ruminations of the survivors.

And it's"Revelation", dangit. There is no book of "Revelations". :)
posted by DWRoelands at 5:32 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might do some research about religious eschatology. The above page links to further information about Buddhist, Islamic, and Zoroastrian ideas about the end of days, if you're interested in "non-western" ideas.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:52 AM on December 17, 2012

The Boomer Bible this chapter
posted by hortense at 6:22 AM on December 17, 2012

"I will open one of my six mouths, and I will sing the song that ends the Earth."
posted by Scienxe at 7:20 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

"The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down
with the kid, the calf, the lion and the fatling together, and the
little child to lead them. Slayer will not know him, and he will lead her
into Hell. The Master will rise and the Slayer will die." - Pergamum Codex, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
posted by teleri025 at 7:32 AM on December 17, 2012

Just read this: videos of the Brahma Kumaris Hindu sect, that believes that the end times are upon us.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:51 AM on December 17, 2012

The Sermon of the Seven Suns. Budda's vision of the end of the world.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:52 AM on December 17, 2012

I wish I knew the play well enough to make a specific recommendation, but something from Marisol might work. I also seem to recall some interesting passages from the end of A Canticle for Leibowitz -- I'll try to remember to look them up tonight.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:56 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The text many people based their interpretations of the Mayan calendar on is called Leyenda de los Soles.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:02 AM on December 17, 2012

This Hopi legend reminds me of many other tribal stories where the world used to be great, got really shitty, but gods or spirits destroyed it well and thoroughly so it could start over again. Otherwise known as Flood Stories.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:14 AM on December 17, 2012

I recommend Neil Gaiman's The Day The Saucers Came. I read it at my wedding and it was a tremendous hit.
posted by naturetron at 8:18 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

"When Worlds Collide" (book, wylie&balmer) has awesome descriptions of both a near-miss and a full impact of the earth running into a planet twice the size of jupiter...the full-impact event is witnessed by space refugees headed for a moon of the usurper world...if you can find a 2-book volume with 'After Worlds Collide,' get that...great depiction of what happens to a civilization who's world is cast into deep space by a passing star...

the wikipedia page for "anoxic event" will keep you awake for a few nights...also try "permian extinction"

How To Destroy the Earth" is a pretty thorough catalog of favorite is 'total existence failure'
posted by sexyrobot at 8:38 AM on December 17, 2012

Best answer: You have to read popol vuh:

The whole end of the world thing is supposedly from mayan mythology, so you might as well use it.
They came into being, they multiplied, they had daughters, they had sons, these
manikins, woodcarvings. But there was nothing in their hearts and nothing in
their minds, no memory of their mason and builder. They just went and walked
wherever they wanted. Now they did not remember the Heart of Sky.
And so they fell, just an experiment and just a cutout for humankind. They
were talking at first but their faces were dry. They were not yet developed in
the legs and arms. They had no blood, no lymph. They had no sweat, no fat.
Their complexions were dry, their faces were crusty. They flailed their legs and
arms, their bodies were deformed.
And so they accomplished nothing before the Maker, Modeler who gave them
birth, gave them heart. They became the first numerous people her on the earth.

Again there comes a humiliation, destruction, and demolition. The manikins,
woodcarvings were killed when the Heart of Sky devised a flood for them. A
great food was made, it came down on the heads of the manikins,
A man's body was carved from the wood of the coral tree by the Maker,
Modeler. And as for the woman, the Maker, Modeler needed the pith of reeds
for the woman's body. They were not competent, nor did they speak before the
builder and sculptor who made them and brought them forth, and so were
killed, done in by a flood.
There came a rain of resin from the sky.
There came the one named Gouger of Faces: he gouged out their eyeballs.
There came Sudden Bloodletter: he snapped off their heads.
There came Crunching Jaguar: he ate their flesh.
There came Tearing Jaguar: he tore them open.
The were pounded down to the bones and tendons, smashed and pulverized
even to the bones. Their faces were smashed because they were incompetent
before their mother and their father., the Heart of Sky, named Hurricane. The
earth was blackened because of this: the black rainstorm began, rain all day,
and rain all night. Into their houses came the animals, small and big. Their faces
were crushed by things of wood and stone. Everything spoke: their waters jars,
their tortilla griddles, their plates, their cooking pots, their dogs, their grinding
stone, each and everything crushed their faces. Their dogs and turkeys told
"You caused us pain, you ate us, but now it is you whom we shall eat.:" And
this said the grinding stone" "We were undone because of you
Every day, every day,
in the dark, in the dawn, forever, because of you.

This was the service we gave you at first, when you were still people, but today
you will learn of our power. We shall pound and we shall grind your flesh.,"
their grinding stones told them.
And this is what their dogs said, when they spoke in their turn:
"Why is it you can't seem to give us our food? We just watch and you just keep
us down, and you throw us around. You keep and stick ready when you eat,
just so you can hit us. We don't talk, so we've received nothing from you. How
could you not have known.? You did know that we were wasting away there
behind you.
"So this very day you will taste the teeth in your mouths. We shall eat your".
And the dogs crushed their faces.
"And then their tortilla griddles and cooking pots spoke to them in turn:
"Pain! That's all you've done for us. Our mouths are sooty, our faces are sooty.
By setting us on the fire all the time, you burn us. Since we felt no pain, you try
it. We shall burn you," all their cooking pots said, burning their faces.
The stones, their hearthstones were shooting out, coming right out of the fire,
going for their heads causing them pain. Now they ran for it, helter-skelter.
They want to climb up on the house, but they fall as the houses collapse.
They want to climb the trees, but they're thrown off by the trees.
They want to get inside caves, but the caves slam shut into their faces.
Such was the scattering of the human work, the human design. The people were
ground down, overthrown. The mouths and faces of all of them were destroyed
and crushed. And it used to be said that the monkeys in the forests today are a
sign of this.
They were left as a sign because wood alone was used for their flesh by the
builder and sculptor. So this is why monkeys look like people, they are a sign of
a previous human design, mere manikins mere woodcarvings.
posted by empath at 10:18 AM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

There are (at least) three armageddons-type-events in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series of books. I think two of them are even in the original radio series, if you feel like playing out a recording (Vogon fleet destroys the Earth; stars go out one by one at Milliways).
posted by vasi at 12:41 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

penny-arcade's version .
posted by Freen at 1:44 PM on December 17, 2012

seconding Restaurant at the end of the universe (Milliways) from Hitchhikers recommendation.
posted by titanium_geek at 2:51 PM on December 17, 2012

Perhaps the ending of "One Hundred Years of Solitude"? Quote (SPOILER) below.

It details the destruction of the town of Macondo at the precise moment a character reads a document describing said destruction:
At that point, impatient to know his own origin, Aureliano skipped ahead. Then the wind began, warm, incipient, full of voices from the past, the murmurs of ancient geraniums, sighs of disenchantment that preceded the most tenacious nostalgia. [...] He was so absorbed that he did not feel the second surge of wind either as its cyclonic strength tore the doors and windows off their hinges, pulled off the roof of the east wing, and uprooted the foundations. [...] Macondo was already a fearful whirlwind of dust and rubble being spun about by the wrath of the biblical hurricane when Aureliano skipped eleven pages so as not to lose time with facts he knew only too well, and he began to decipher the instant that he was living, deciphering it as he lived it, prophesying himself in the act of deciphering the last page of the parchments, as if he were looking into a speaking mirror. Then he skipped again to anticipate the predictions and ascertain the date and circumstances of his death. Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mires (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia (remember he was the son of Mauricio Babilonia and Meme Buendia) would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:06 PM on December 17, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all! What I ended up reading, besides an original poem, was verses 8:10-13 from the Book of Revelation in Faroese, a guide to what to do in case of a nuclear explosion from the 1985 Icelandic phonebook, and the section from the Popol Vuh starting "there came a rain of resin from the sky" to "every day, every day, in the dark, in the dawn, forever, because of you" which I translated into Icelandic.
posted by Kattullus at 2:01 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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