A Hymn for the Godless
(After listening to a recording of poems by
Gerard Manley Hopkins)
Once, God and Kate Ni Houlihan* were one.
I know Truth, negating Truth, as drought,
Old prayers I’d known, mere talking to myself,
Whimperings in the dark. The priests lied.
And still the sternly sifting natural magic
Of living, ageing, ceasing, dying, fills
Tenuous life with dread and with dismay
At inexorable final cutting down:
Dead folk on leave in the one Elysium,
Time-Speck, that grapples with eternity,
Mind, that must, in time, cease to think,
Roiling sub-mind that will lose all self-recall,
Feeling, that will cease to feel, to know,
Seeing, that one day will no longer see,
Warmth, inconservably turning icy cold,
Awareness, knowing it rots into oblivion,
Sentience, drowning in the Almighty Dark;
Alone, adrift in pitiless space,
Limed in Time’s rough, blood-bespattered wind,
Feeling, knowing, baffled, yearning, alive,
Living and growing that is, too, a dying,
We bide, and wait for Light and Time to stop.
We dream, drink from the opium-pot of ages,
Breed sly enslaving priests, secrete dim lies,
Spin dialects of sheltering denial,
Break knowing into segments, blind, discrete,
Rig crass tat-markets in parodic god,
Astrology, tarotry, occult dross:
Cocaine for the people! Fond old tales of God,
Man-made in man’s own image, doppelganger
Of a human-kind that does not know itself.
What can they know who go out fearing, hoping,
Who booze their lives in meek delirium,
Who dare not look out into Time and Space
And know what it says to us of what we are?
There is no other life, no other Elysium,
Nothing, whatever you might like to think,
Beyond a brief encampment at Death’s brink.
Everything wears away, will cease to be,
Too soon my time is gone and I am done;
Life, an ice floe in a warming sea
On a world that will crash into the sun!
To face reality with seeing eyes,
To fix with lucid gaze encroaching Night;
To dare to know where it is you are, and what;
To live within the maw of Death and sure
Annihilation, and not fall to Despair
Or self-betrayed dehumanizing lies;
To walk, always alone, stalked by Death,
And not be overawed or Death-infected,
Or spend life dreaming of an afterlife,
Or make, by a single hour, a premature
Surrender to Death's hypnotizing power;
To build within intrinsically blind
Meaningless lives expanding human meaning,
Beyond mere pitch of light, although you know
That there is not, nor can there be, ever,
More than short staring back with life-lighted eyes
Into lowering, all-conquering, endless night.
*Caitleen Ni Houlihan, one of the many
other names for Ireland