The Atheist Pantheist

A remarkable day of connections on an abnormally warm afternoon this March.

Last year, I had a snatch of a song nagging at me. I was able to hear the guitar part for the bridge in my mind's ear, but that's all--no verse, no chorus, just that heavily syncopated guitar lick. Of course it stuck anonymously without surcease and would not leave me in peace. It sort of sounded like Led Zeppelin, or maybe Foreigner, but some poking around on YouTube got me nowhere. I ran it by a younger acquaintance, singing it out in da-da-da's to a bit of drumming on sofa arms. She thought it seemed familiar too but was unable to peg it.

It was just like Poe's Tell-Tale Heart:
It grew louder --louder --louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! --no, no! They heard! --they suspected! --they knew! --they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony!
Somehow I was finally able to put the song out of my mind, chalked up as a lost cause.

So, taking advantage of the unseasonable weather, I went for a walk in the woods today. As I trudged alone, pondering what the point of anything is, a poem started to come to mind. What began the meditation was admiring the threadbare oaks (though the pin oaks, as is their wont, hadn't dropped their leaves over the winter) and basswoods, surprising two beautiful deer, hearing a hairy woodpecker, seeing a blue jay harass a gray squirrel (yeah!) and thinking how interconnected everything is for those who have eyes.

Bit by bit over the course of several miles the poem fell into place. A few mental corrections, a few false starts, a few backtracks, and by the end of the hike I had it all in place. From memory. Not bad for one so addled by a dissipated life.

No great surprise, I guess: it was Percy Bysshe Shelley with his gorgeous Love's Philosophy.
The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the Ocean,
The winds of Heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
in one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?
See the mountains kiss high Heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?

--Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1820
What is it about this guy who so represents the importance of intellect as the legitimate basis of love?

So anyway, on the drive home I recited it again and again. Thinking of its meaning, for sure, but also reveling in its music. And then the fourth line struck a nerve:
"With a sweet emotion."
Sure enough, a quick check on the Web shows that the song which drove me up the wall last year is Sweet Emotion, by Aerosmith.

But wait, there's more! Once deciding to write this up, and while checking the publication date for Shelley's exquisite poem, I bumped into a cross-reference that blew me away.

Seems he wrote a tract while still in college, entitled The Necessity of Atheism. Even better, he was booted from Oxford for doing so. Sounds worth looking into, I thought. Upon reading a little more, I found Shelley stated,
There Is No God. This negation must be understood solely to affect a creative Deity. The hypothesis of a pervading Spirit co-eternal with the universe remains unshaken.
And there we are, the circle of today is complete. An atheist pantheist. Again, from the poem above:
All things by a law divine
in one spirit meet and mingle.
The same thought has often occurred to me. Note particularly how Shelley invokes "divine" and "Heaven" (twice in the piece). He makes it clear that these concepts are independent of sodden belief.

From these and other clues, I deduce that Shelley was assuredly a formalist, too. As the clincher, I draw your attention to "What is all this sweet work worth..." Note the word "work." Only the formalist works (creates); the Platonist merely accepts.

Next installment: The Ultimate Squash Match

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