Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Janet's Sonnet: The Atheist in Doubt

"...But Milton and Chaucer were Christians, there was no denying it. And while the early Greeks mercifully were not, they were most certainly not atheists either; even Euripides, deny them how he might, could not keep the gods out of his plays. The whole of theater was religious in its origin - rotten at its core, her father said gloomily, which was why he preferred the Romantic period, when nothing of the slightest interest was done in English drama. But Janet had been reading the medieval and Renaissance poets, and then Milton. It was not their arguments that oppressed her, on the rare occasions when they troubled to make any. It was the sense that the whole intricate, solid philosophy, stretching for centuries in both directions, infusing life like a strong light, taken for granted and used in a hundred ways for symbolism and imagery and situation, as clear and real as Tolkien or Eddison's worlds, that weighed her down with a sense of indefinable doom. Evans had made it clear to anybody who would pay attention that Milton had not been of the Devil's party.

On a particularly dreary Wednesday afternoon, Janet flung her astronomy text to the floor, dug her journal out of the bottom drawer of her desk, and sloshed over to the library, where she found a deserted padded room at the bottom and resigned herself to her fate.

This winter shrills its dirge self-satisfied,
And all is black, or grey, or ragged brown,
And all the world in rags its bread has cried,
And begged the gates of that unheeding town
Men once called heaven. Such a time as this
Must make our reasoned doubt a certainty:

We see the universe just as it is,
Not veiled by miracle of bud or tree.
But even while I watch the senseless sky
Cracked hideous in the water at my feet,
Dread rumors crowd me, dark forebodings; I
Remember, as improbable as spring
To this abyss where Night and Chaos meet,
The star, the cup, the cross: that tale's ending. "

from Tam Lin
by Pamela Dean
pg. 245-248


Elliot said...

Yeah, it must be rough for a really doctrinaire atheist to study certain authors, playwrights, etc. Milton, Chaucer, Dante, Spenser, Johnson, Donne, Herbert, Traherne, Eliot, Auden, Christopher Fry... even Shakespeare and Tom Stoppard can't make up their minds. And what's a fantasy author to do? Gaiman can shout about how Susannah Clarke and... who was that other one? That older fantasy writer... anyways, about how they are the true greats of fantasy, but you can tell he's making an effort not to look in the direction of Tolkien, Lewis and Wolfe...

Elliot said...

So I get the impression that Tam Lin is really, really autobiographical in some ways...

Anonymous said...

I'd rather see a doubting atheist, than a sure christian, I suppose.

Anactoria said...

Hmm. I'm not sure about autobiographical; but close to heart, yes...

Mary Anne Mohanraj: ...Let's move on to Tam Lin (still my favorite). What were you trying to do with that piece?

Pamela Dean: Initially, to retell the "Tam Lin" story. As I went on I realized that I was also writing a love poem, with jokes, to my college, and ultimately to the study of English literature.

That's from the Strange Horizons Interview:

Anactoria said...

"I'd rather see a doubting atheist, than a sure christian, I suppose."

Ha. Same here.

I wonder why?

Probably because people who are totally secure in everything they believe are... how to put this... annoying?


Elliot said...

How about someone who's a doubting agnostic on odd-numbered weekdays, a doubting Christian on the even-numbered weekedays, and a hedonistic pagan on weekends? (Except for the third weekend of every month, when he's a mystic ninja?) ;-)

Anactoria said...

That would be acceptable.

Confusing for the said person though, of course.


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say annoying - I just despair of my own attempts at remaining open-minded in the face of the searing absolute.