Poetry Sunday: Thanksgiving

I haven’t featured any compositions by the freethinking poet Philip Appleman lately, so with this edition of Poetry Sunday, I intend to address that. This is an especially lovely piece by Prof. Appleman from the November 2007 edition of the FFRF’s newsletter Freethought Today, one I’ve been wanting to reprint on Daylight Atheism for some time. Whom can an atheist thank for the good fortune in their life, if not a deity? This poem suggests an answer to that question.

Philip Appleman is the Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the Department of English at Indiana State University, the author of seven volumes of poetry and numerous fiction and nonfiction books, including the widely used Norton Critical Edition, Darwin. His poetry has won many awards, including a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Friend of Darwin Award from the National Center for Science Education, and the Humanist Arts Award of the American Humanist Association. His work has been published in Harper’s Magazine, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times, and elsewhere. His latest book is New and Selected Poems, 1956-1996.


O let us give thanks for the glorious spasm
that spurted atoms on an endless quest
for the far edge of everything, let’s
praise the ancient heave and buckle,
the burn, blister, and boil
that birthed our blue-green planet,
be grateful for the lucky spark
that seasoned our primal soup,
and honor the ultimate sacrifice
of the creeping pioneers
who dragged us up onto dry land.
Let’s be thankful for the heroism
of all those fallen fathers
who bequeathed to us these novelties,
our clever arms and legs,
thankful too for the company
of moles and manatees, sloths and seals,
horses and hedgehogs – and thankful for
the monkeys, gibbons, and gorillas
who once upon a time set off
on gambles of their own, aping our long,
long hunger, vines
choking trees to reach the sun,
predators lurking at water holes.
Now, somewhere out there, the atoms race on,
still searching for the edge of everything,
but here, snug in our tundra and grassland,
our forest and savanna, let us thank
the furry ancestors who brought us
along this way, and now stay at our side
as we press on to some great adventure
just beyond our dreams.

Other posts in this series:

Weekend Bonus Music: Hard Believer
Atlas Shrugged: The Rapture of the Capitalists
New on the Guardian: Beyond Debating God’s Existence
Alabama Speaking Recap
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Christopher

    Giving thanks to our pre-human ancestors for our existence is essencially giving thanks to causality for arranging the gene pool in the proper manner that would allow humans to evolve – and thanking causality is completly pointless as it neither knows about out it or cares. Instead, why not give your thanks to something tha’s capable of appreciating it?

    On that note, I give thanks to my compatriots, my family (both by blood and by my own say so), my mentors past and present and my dogs for making my existence as as rich and full as it is today.

  • Cerus

    Lovely poem, it’d cause a lot of my religious friends to point and say “SEE! SEE! They worship nature! It’s a religion! La La La lala…”

    It’s unfortunate really, to be unable to express any thoughtful appreciation of nature without getting labeled a nature “worshipper”, how can I explain the difference to people with such a narrow viewpoint?

  • Peter N

    Cerus wrote, “It’s unfortunate really, to be unable to express any thoughtful appreciation of nature without getting labeled a nature “worshipper”, how can I explain the difference to people with such a narrow viewpoint?”

    First, I would refuse to be put on the defensive. Ask them to define this “worship” they mention. Can they really explain what it is, and what it’s for? Why does the all-knowing, all-powerful creator and destroyer of universes care about their flattery? Can they persuade you that their worship is being perceived by their deity at all?

    The difference is that appreciation is a feeling you hold in your own heart — you know it’s real, as much as any of your feelings are real. “Worship” can only mean anything if there is a mind on the receiving end.

    – Peter N.