by guest blogger BroKen
This article comes out in my local paper this evening. Since it mentions some of you, I thought I should post it here, too.
Some friends and I have been engaged in an online debate with an atheist. It’s not a debate really. We try to reason. He mostly rants. One of the points we’ve tried to make him see is that human beings need some external standard for things like morality, ethics, justice, love, even beauty.
So, I thought of a poem by Robert Frost that I memorized in High School. It expresses this human need. The poem made no sense to me when I learned it, but over the years I’ve found keys for interpretation. Here it is along with some keys.
O star (the fairest one in sight)
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
It is difficult to understand things that are high above us. Other things (like clouds) come between and interfere. Darkness is not a fit metaphor of this difficulty since Light shines in darkness.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone, repeat.
Say something! And it says, “I burn.”
Why does mystery turn into pride? It made no sense until I was reminded that “becomes” can also mean “makes attractive” as in, That color becomes you. So, the lack of understanding makes marvelous things more majestic.
The poet gets frustrated by the complete silence of the star. The silence is broken by two words which echo what Moses heard at the burning bush. Is that enough? The poet doesn’t think so.
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
My atheist friend is all about the scientific understanding of things. He thinks science demonstrates that we don’t need God. Robert Frost knows better. Even though science is helpful (“does tell something“), it cannot supply what we need (“strangely little aid“).
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
“Keats’ Eremite” refers to a sonnet by the Romantic poet who wished he could remain in a moment of bliss with his lover. He wanted to remain constant and unchanging as a star he called “nature’s patient, sleepless eremite.” (An eremite is one who has left human society to focus on spiritual growth; a hermit.)
The poet has run out of questions, so now the star does the asking.
It asks of us a certain height,
so when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
Ever been there? Criticized unjustly, or justly but without grace. Or lauded until it goes to your head. Humans almost always go too far!
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.