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3rd and 21st Century Woman

March 14, 2012

“The Thunder, Perfect Mind” & “I’m a Bitch”

In 1945 a sealed earthenware jar of papyrus codices was found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. It had been buried in about AD 350 when the texts it contained, mainly gospels which had failed to make it into the New Testament, were proclaimed heretical.

It also contained this poem, The Thunder, Perfect Mind, probably written in cosmopolitan Alexandria a hundred years or so before it was buried. It could have been yesterday.

Here’s an extract. Full text here.

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
and it is my husband who begot me.
I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband
and he is my offspring.
I am the slave of him who prepared me.
I am the ruler of my offspring.
But he is the one who begot me before the time on a birthday.
And he is my offspring in due time,
and my power is from him.
I am the staff of his power in his youth,
and he is the rod of my old age.
And whatever he wills happens to me.
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the voice whose sound is manifold
and the word whose appearance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name.

[…]

For I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am shame and boldness.
I am shameless; I am ashamed.
I am strength and I am fear.
I am war and peace.
Give heed to me.

I am the one who is disgraced and the great one.
Give heed to my poverty and my wealth.
Do not be arrogant to me when I am cast out upon the earth,
and you will find me in those that are to come.
And do not look upon me on the dung-heap
nor go and leave me cast out,
and you will find me in the kingdoms.
And do not look upon me when I am cast out among those who
are disgraced and in the least places,
nor laugh at me.
And do not cast me out among those who are slain in violence.

But I, I am compassionate and I am cruel.
Be on your guard!

Do not hate my obedience
and do not love my self-control.
In my weakness, do not forsake me,
and do not be afraid of my power.

Although only translated in the 1970s, it has already featured in Prada adverts, in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, and has inspired many songs. I wonder if Alanis Morisette had read it when she wrote I’m a Bitch. 

I hate the world today
You’re so good to me, I know
But I can change
Tried to tell you
But you look at me like maybe I’m an angel underneath
In a sentence sweet

Yesterday I cried
Must have been relieved to see the softer side
I can understand how you’d be so confused
I don’t envy you
I’m a little bit of everything
All rolled into one

I’m a bitch I’m a lover
I’m a child I’m a mother
I’m a sinner I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I’m your hell I’m your dream
I’m nothing in between
You know, you wouldn’t want it any other way

So take me as I am
This may mean, you’ll have to be a stronger man
Rest assured that, when I start to make you nervous
And I’m going to extreme’s
Tomorrow I will change and today won’t mean a thing

[chorus]

Just when you think
You got me
Figure out the seasons all ready changing
I think it’s cool, you do what you do
And don’t try to save me

[chorus]

I’m a bitch, I’m a tease
I’m a goddess on my knees
When you’re hurt
When you suffer
I’m your angel undercover
I’ve been numb
I’m revived
Can’t say I’m not alive
You know I wouldn’t want it any other way

For some reason Alanis Morisette never recorded, or even sang, I’m a Bitch. Meredith Brooks made it a hit.

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