No God [poem by Agnes Neale]

[Editor: This poem by Agnes Neale was published in Shadows and Sunbeams (1890).]

No God.

“The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.” — David.

Is there no God? Go out upon the ocean
When the storm-king strikes with his angry fist
The tiny rippling waves of blue and purple,
That lately gentlest zephyrs swept and kissed.
See His wild racers shaking off their bridles,
And tossing their white mains in fury high,
As in their madness they would burst all bound’ries,
Flinging defiance at the lowering sky.

But, over all, above the wrack and riot,
Above the wreck of ships and treasures lost,
Above the howling, shrieking rage and turmoil
Of maddened waves by angry winds uptossed,
A word falls like a star from out the heavens,
Only a whisper, still and soft and low;
Only a whisper, but a word Almighty —
“Thus far, no further, shall thy proud waves go,”
And all the racers, in their might and fury,
Feel the strong hand checks the bridal reign;
And cowed, and beaten back, with angry moanings,
They slowly sink to peace and rest again.

Is there no God? Go track the midnight splendor,
Look up from earth, poor offspring of earth’s sod;
Go, trace those countless worlds in all their windings,
And then say, if you dare, “There is no God!”
Who wrought the brilliant glory of the heavens?
Who, with unrivalled skill, unwearied care,
Created all those worlds of wondrous beauty,
And then with matchless patience set them there?

Who gave to each its own appointed orbit?
Who through the network’s vast intricacies
Worked with an eye so keen, a touch so faultless,
That not one single world its way should miss?
Ages and ages have passed dimly o’er us,
The earth, then young, has now grown old and grey,
And yet the bright perfection of their order
Has never yet been marred in any way.

Still do the stars march on their nightly journey,
The planets show themselves like points of light;
Still is the old command observed unbroken —
“The sun shall rule by day, the moon by night.”
O wondrous pageant of majestic beauty!
O fields unlimited, by man untrod!
Ye utter no uncertain voice, but loudly
Declare in clearest tones, “There is a God!”

Is there no God? Go lift the slender harebell,
The modest daisy, and the primrose pale;
The queenly rose, the tiny shrinking violet
That hides itself in every shady vale.
Dissect one flower, and mark the slender twinings
Of veins and arteries in each petal fair;
View well the whole, the delicate perfection,
Work and design alike are perfect there.

There is no flaw or failure. All is beauty;
Beauty without one blemish or one stain,
The lovely blossoms bear no spot of earth-soil,
Though in the earth so long the germ has lain.
No God! Go walk the forest in its beauty;
Pace up and down those leafy emerald aisles,
Where on the soft cold carpet spread beneath you
The golden sunbeams dance in flickering smiles.

Here’s a cathedral nobler far than any
That man has reared through eighteen hundred years;
Its living roof waves in the summer breezes,
Kissed by the sun, washed by night’s balmy tears
Here stretch long dreamy aisles of solemn beauty —
Chancel and transept, pillar’d walls, and dome,
Artistically far more proud and stately
Than any sculpture found in Greece or Rome.

And in the night, when the star-lamps are burning,
And God has breathed his silence on men’s hearts,
When the winds sob and wail their miserere,
And every leaf to quivering music starts.
See where the lightning blazes through the heavens,
Cleaving the black cloud with his flaming sword;
Hear how the raging thunders roar and bellow,
Their pealing praises to the thunder’s Lord.

There is no God! Who reared that wondrous temple,
That noble stately structure we call man?
Who bade him live, and multiply, and conquer,
When the first era of our time began?
Who wrought that curious frame of bone and muscle,
And fashioned every part with faultless skill?
Till man burst from His hand, a thing all perfect,
And instinct with the power to do and will!

There is no God! Who gave the eye its beauty?
Who caused the wonder of the subtle brain?
Who made that complex mesh of nerves and fibres
By which we laugh for joy or weep for pain?
“There is no God!” the fool keeps on repeating,
Did man then spring from nothing out of nought?
Was there no force, no over-mastering power,
That to perfection earth’s first wonder brought?

There is a God! Each time we love we own it,
For love could owe its birth to God alone;
There is a God our breaking hearts acknowledge
When under grief’s fierce lash our spirits moan.
There is a God! Throughout the vast creation,
From realm and regions man has never trod;
From rolling planet worlds, and burning mountains,
Bursts with one voice — “Ye fools, there is a God!”

Agnes Neale, Shadows and Sunbeams, Adelaide: Burden & Bonython, 1890, pages 15-18

Editor’s notes:
The quote given at the start of the poem, “The fool hath said in his heart there is no God”, regarding King David, is from Psalm 14:1 in the Bible: “To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”

chancel = the section of a church containing the altar, usually enclosed by a lattice or railing, for the use of the clergy and sometimes the choir

cleave = to split, part, or divide, such as by a cutting blow by an axe or sword, especially along a natural line of division, such as along a grain line in a piece of wood; to cut off or sever; to forcefully pass through or penetrate, such as through air, forest, or water (may also mean to adhere, attach, cling, or stick, to someone or something; to be emotionally devoted to someone; to adhere, or follow loyally and unwaveringly, to a person or cause)

main = the high sea, the open ocean [in this poem, “main” may also have a double-meaning, with reference to the manes of horses: “See His wild racers shaking off their bridles, And tossing their white mains in fury high”]

o’er = over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)

own = confess; admit or affirm that something is true

wrack = wreck, wreckage, especially a wrecked ship; something destroyed, or a remnant thereof (such as a shipwreck, or a piece of wreckage); collapse, destruction, or ruin (as in the phrase “wrack and ruin”)

zephyr = a breeze from the west, especially a gentle breeze (from Zephyrus, or Zephyr, god of the west wind in Greek mythology)

Old spelling in the original text:
ye (you)

[Editor: Changed “An in the night” to “And in the night”.]

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