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!
“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.
“Faith” is a fine invention
When gentlemen can see —
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.
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.
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.