My Old Kentucky Homesite

In Kentucky, We Call It “Litta-chur”

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/07/2010

April is the cruelest month — unless you’re a poet.

Limerickers, clerihewists, haikuans, parodisiacs, doggereleers, and versifiers of all kinds, have good reason to celebrate, for we are now well into National Poetry Month.

What does that have to do with atheism, you might well ask? Basically, nothing, except that some of our language’s most celebrated poets were skeptics. Herewith, a small sampler of excerpts:

Percy Bysshe Shelley
How calm and sweet the victories of life,
How terrorless the triumph of the grave!
How powerless were the mightiest monarch’s arm,
Vain his loud threat, and impotent his frown!
How ludicrous the priest’s dogmatic roar!
The weight of his exterminating curse
How light! And his affecting charity,
To suit the pressure of the changing times,
What palpable deceit! — but for thy aid,
Religion! but for thee, prolific fiend,
Who peoplest earth with demons, Hell with men,
And Heaven with slaves!

Matthew Arnold
“Christ,” some one says, “was human as we are;
No judge eyes us from Heaven, our sin to scan;
We live no more, when we have done our span.”

Algernon Charles Swinburne
Since man, with a child’s pride proud, and abashed as a child and afraid,
Made God in his likeness, and bowed him to worship the Maker he made,
No faith more dire hath enticed man’s trust than the saint’s whose creed
Made Caiaphas one with Christ, that worms on the cross might feed.
Priests gazed upon God in the eyes of a babe new-born, and therein
Beheld not heaven, and the wise glad secret of love, but sin.

Emily Dickinson
“Faith” is a fine invention
When gentlemen can
But microscopes are prudent
In an emergency.

Edgar Lee Masters
And it will be some centuries before it becomes an accepted understanding
That Jesus had no mind capable of doing good for the world.
While possessing power to put Socrates and men like him aside
So that they could do little for the world.
That this has been so and is yet so is just as mysterious
As the so-called problem of evil can be to any mind.
For no one can explain why Athens, which was indeed a city set upon a hill,
Did not last forever for the benefit of all climes and peoples;
And why Jerusalem, a village of demons and camel dung,
Became the shrine of the world
Whereto men make pilgrimages to see the place where Jesus died for men.
While few are interested in the jail where Socrates gave up his life
Rather than surrender his freedom to think.

Langston Hughes
Go ahead on now,
You’re getting in the way of things, Lord.
And please take Saint Gandhi with you when you go,
And Saint Pope Pius,
And Saint Aimee McPherson,
And big black Saint Becton
Of the Consecrated Dime.
And step on the gas, Christ!

Don’t be so slow about movin!
The world is mine from now on —
And nobody’s gonna sell ME
To a king, or a general,
Or a millionaire.

Robert Frost
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth —
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth —
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall? —
If design govern in a thing so small.

Also on the atheo-poetic front: Despite its blatantly anti-theistic content, and largely due to the votes of my readers (for which I’m grateful, although not eternally), my poem “Horton Hears an Evangelical” has been named the winner of the Silly Poetry Contest.


10 Responses to “In Kentucky, We Call It “Litta-chur””

  1. This is precisely why you should be teaching an English course so that you can cleverly introduce atheist propaganda! Seriously, great choices, and ones I’m sure won’t be addressed in classrooms throughout Jesusland during Literature Month, or any other month. Oh, and congrats on the poetry win.

    When I took creative writing in college (like decades ago), a frequent assignment was to take a poem and rework it but maintaing the original format, much like what you did with Horton. I had a couple of religious kids in my class who would turn great pieces like above into Jesus poems, so I would try to do the opposite for the sake of balance. I wish I still had it, but I did a variation of Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins which caused a stir. It went something like ‘Glory be to God for crippled things’ and ended with a ‘Fuck him’. Not such a good piece for the atheo-poetic front since it exemplifies the straw man position the religious put forth for atheists as angry god haters, but I was young and giddy over the chance to say “fuck” aloud in a classroom.

  2. Philly:
    This is precisely why you should be teaching an English course …
    And precisely why no one in Kentucky would ever hire me to do so.

    It’s amazing when you realize just how many icons of literature turn out to be neither politically nor religiously correct. Yet, their writing continues to be pigeon-holed into textbooks written to be as uncontroversial as possible.

    Saying “fuck” aloud is one of life’s great pleasures. Religionists should thank their god for giving us that word — and the act to go with it. (Although Yahweh was very coy about wising up his creations. “Hey, kids, go play. But whatever you do, don’t DON’T DON’T eat the DEE-licious fruit on that tree.” The Hebrew who invented that particular deity made him sound like either a naive asshole or a parent who was too embarrassed to come right out and teach his children the facts of life.)

  3. John Evo said

    “What does that have to do with atheism, you might well ask?”

    Why… no, I don’t. Since when did this blog go hell-bound heathen on me?

  4. Evo:
    Good point. I guess I had it in mind that it was time for me to announce — yet again — that I don’t believe in any gods. Since I find myself living in an intellectual trench (translation: Kentucky), I feel the need to make my position clear at least once a week.

  5. the chaplain said

    I guess Governor Bob McDonnell didn’t know that April had already been set aside for national recognition of something. He declared April as Confederate History Month in Virginia. Then again, being big on states’ right and all, he probably doesn’t want to have anything to do with a national month of anything (except, probably, prayer). Since I’m not inclined to blend the two occasions and spend the month reading poems extolling the wonders of the Confederacy, I’ll give my attention to some other, better poems. Maybe I’ll pick up an Italian-language edition of The Inferno when I’m in Italy. That will keep me busy for the entire month (and more).

  6. Chappy:
    There’s a nice dual language version of The Inferno published by Oxford. The copyright date for the emended edition is 1948, so it’s a little old-fashioned, but I’ve found it to be reasonable. For each canto, the text on the verso page is the Italian terza rima and there’s a prose translation in English on the facing recto; a few pages of notes and commentary follow. My understanding of Italian is minimal (hence, the necessary translation), but my speaking accent is pretty good I’m told. So it’s great fun reading the euphonious original aloud.

  7. I liked the Langston Hughes poem. Simple enough even for a semi-literate like me (I did all my schooling South of the Mason Dixon line). Then I saw Chappy’s comment on Governor Bob and thought of the irony of him being a forgotten nobody a century from now, while Langston Hughes lives on.

  8. Postman said

    Excellent, Larry. Someone can read that Shelley bit at my funeral once I’ve shuffled off.

  9. Des:
    The Langston Hughes quote is only an excerpt from a longer poem, which also features this:

    Christ Jesus Lord God Jehova,
    Beat it on away from here now.
    Make way for a new guy with no religion at all —
    A real guy named
    Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME —
    I said, ME!

    Gub’ner Bob (who originally forgot to mention that the Confederacy was a society built on slavery) would be madder’n a alley cat at a dog’s convention if he knowed that he was prolly gonna make less of a impack on hist’ry than a Neee-gro Comm-yoo-niss.

  10. Postie:
    You’d better mention that in your will. If you don’t, your survivors instead might decide to comfort themselves by singing “Amazing Grace” or “Kumbaya.”

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