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Favourite atheistic poems
02-14-2017, 07:45 AM (This post was last modified: 02-14-2017 10:05 AM by FilmFlaneur.)
Post: #1
Favourite atheistic poems
My three favourite atheistic poems are each very different, although interestingly, they all originate from the nineteenth century.

The first is from Thomas Hardy, who I believe was a life-long atheist:

God's Funeral

I
I saw a slowly-stepping train --
Lined on the brows, scoop-eyed and bent and hoar --
Following in files across a twilit plain
A strange and mystic form the foremost bore.

II
And by contagious throbs of thought
Or latent knowledge that within me lay
And had already stirred me, I was wrought
To consciousness of sorrow even as they.

III
The fore-borne shape, to my blurred eyes,
At first seemed man-like, and anon to change
To an amorphous cloud of marvellous size,
At times endowed with wings of glorious range.

IV
And this phantasmal variousness
Ever possessed it as they drew along:
Yet throughout all it symboled none the less
Potency vast and loving-kindness strong.

V
Almost before I knew I bent
Towards the moving columns without a word;
They, growing in bulk and numbers as they went,
Struck out sick thoughts that could be overheard: --

VI
'O man-projected Figure, of late
Imaged as we, thy knell who shall survive?
Whence came it we were tempted to create
One whom we can no longer keep alive?

VII
'Framing him jealous, fierce, at first,
We gave him justice as the ages rolled,
Will to bless those by circumstance accurst,
And longsuffering, and mercies manifold.

VIII
'And, tricked by our own early dream
And need of solace, we grew self-deceived,
Our making soon our maker did we deem,
And what we had imagined we believed,

IX
'Till, in Time's stayless stealthy swing,
Uncompromising rude reality
Mangled the Monarch of our fashioning,
Who quavered, sank; and now has ceased to be.

X
'So, toward our myth's oblivion,
Darkling, and languid-lipped, we creep and grope
Sadlier than those who wept in Babylon,
Whose Zion was a still abiding hope.

XI
'How sweet it was in years far hied
To start the wheels of day with trustful prayer,
To lie down liegely at the eventide
And feel a blest assurance he was there!

XII
'And who or what shall fill his place?
Whither will wanderers turn distracted eyes
For some fixed star to stimulate their pace
Towards the goal of their enterprise?'...

XIII
Some in the background then I saw,
Sweet women, youths, men, all incredulous,
Who chimed as one: 'This is figure is of straw,
This requiem mockery! Still he lives to us!'

XIV
I could not prop their faith: and yet
Many I had known: with all I sympathized;
And though struck speechless, I did not forget
That what was mourned for, I, too, once had prized.

XV
Still, how to bear such loss I deemed
The insistent question for each animate mind,
And gazing, to my growing sight there seemed
A pale yet positive gleam low down behind,

XVI
Whereof, to lift the general night,
A certain few who stood aloof had said,
'See you upon the horizon that small light --
Swelling somewhat?' Each mourner shook his head.

XVII
And they composed a crowd of whom
Some were right good, and many nigh the best....
Thus dazed and puzzled 'twixt the gleam and gloom
Mechanically I followed with the rest.

It is a subject which, although at first sight might be expected to be full of mourning and unrelieved gloom, is buoyed somewhat by the poet's final apprehension of a "small light -- swelling" even if this positive appearance is seen by only a few.

Next is Matthew Arnold's famous, but still powerful Dover Beach, with a far more wistful, sentimental even, recognition that the metaphysical tide is going out, presumably threatening to leave much of that which he values high and dry:

Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Agaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.


Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Great closing lines, I think. There is a memorable setting of this verse by Samuel Barber.

Neither the remorse or gloom of the two above match the intensity of Gerald Manly Hopkins' so-called 'Terrible Sonnets'. Hopkins was an earnest Jesuit priest who suffered with doubt and uncertainty throughout his life, a sense which culminated in a handful of dark sonnets in which, while still a believer, his lack of faith threatens to overwhelm him (and the reader). Hopkins died meaninglessly, of Typhoid, shortly after.

NO worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing—
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief’.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

There's something Shakespearian, when the dramatist is at his most ruminative, in these lines.

There are of course works which celebrate atheism and the intellectual freedom it can bring. But something in me prefers depressing verse, in which the existential anguish of a faltering faith is made plain.
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02-14-2017, 07:51 AM (This post was last modified: 02-14-2017 07:51 AM by PeterPants.)
Post: #2
RE: Favourite atheistic poems
nice, can you pop some bolded titles at the top of each poem so we can see where they start and finish at a glance? thanks Big Grin

~~~

when we enter a discussion on matters of discordance, we should search for truth not victory, In this manner we always win, there are no losers.
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02-14-2017, 11:23 AM
Post: #3
RE: Favourite atheistic poems
Done, although Hopkins' has no formal title.
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02-14-2017, 11:27 AM
Post: #4
RE: Favourite atheistic poems
Thanks Flim Big Grin

I'm not sure i entirely agree with the overall tone Tongue but they are lovely nonetheless.

~~~

when we enter a discussion on matters of discordance, we should search for truth not victory, In this manner we always win, there are no losers.
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