36 Arguments for the Existence of God

36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein

Book: 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rebecca Goldstein
Hearing it by this distant northern sea
    The Sea of Faith
    He whispered in that charged hush that could rise to the rafters of a crowded undergraduate lecture hall, and had no difficulty now projecting to the farthest reaches of the seminar room.
    Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world
    Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams
So various, so beautiful, so new
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night
    It was such an astounding rendition, the last stanza recited at an accelerated pace, quickened with a kind of arcing, aching desperation. Just as the eternal note of sonorous sadness had always been there in the waves’ pounding, even before the poet had heard it, so, too, the rhetorical urgency of that last stanza had been in the poem, only Cass had been deaf until this moment.
    Jonas Elijah Klapper himself seemed unspeakably moved, to the point of prostration, by his own performance. He placed his right elbow, swathed in the brown suede patch ornamenting the dusky tweed, onto the table and buried his furrowed brow into his fleshy open palm.
    And from that forlorn posture, his face hidden from sight, he sent forth a query.
    “‘Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.’ Why the ‘melancholy’? Why the ‘long’? Why the ‘withdrawing roar’?”
    His voice was so weakened that he could barely muster the rolling
that he had elocuted to perfection moments before.
    A sustained and uneasy silence followed the withdrawing roar. The lack of a response stretched itself out, until the silence itself seemed like a metaphysical presence that had quietly crept in and taken a seat at the seminar table. Even Gideon Raven stared down at the gnawed fingers of his left hand, which were playing keyboard on the left thigh of his crossed legs.
    Cass was amazed by the vacancy that had suddenly invaded the room. Though Cass’s understanding of the poem had been immeasurably deepened by the professor’s recitation, no great insight was required to answer the question on the table. Obviously, Professor Klapper had thrown it out just to get the ball rolling.
    And there sat Jonas Elijah Klapper, his outspread palm still cushioning his mighty brow. The very sunbeams splattering on the grainy wooden table seemed to tremble with the tension. They were all, even the sunbeams, letting Jonas Elijah Klapper down; and in letting Jonas ElijahKlapper down, they were doing nothing less than disappointing the whole of Western civilization, its faith, its literature, its values.
    Could Cass, callow as he was, allow this to happen? He knew that, among all the people in that breathlessly strained room, he was, without a doubt, the least qualified to speak. He included here the toothsome undergraduates, who had probably been studying poetry longer than he, who was, after all, only an importunate petitioner from pre-med.
    Cass felt physically incapable of maintaining his silence, not only because of Jonas Elijah Klapper, and all he stood for, but also because of how “Dover Beach” had laid its palpating finger on the something soft and inchoate inside him, the thing he hardly dared to call his soul. Just like the lyrical narrator, he, too, had been paddling around oblivious on the surface of a sea of faith that he had presumed was infinitely benign, only to submerge his ears below the waves and hear the eternal note of sadness, like the mermaids singing each to each that Alfred Prufrock says he had heard once—no, maybe not like Prufrock’s mermaids—and to wonder,

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