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 … [Read more...]

Poetry Sunday: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Most connoisseurs of poetry have heard of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a collection of poems originally written in Persian and attributed to the eleventh-century poet and polymath after whom it is named. The various translations of the Rubaiyat have given the English language some of its most enduring verses and images (most notably "a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou"). And yet, how many people know the distinctly freethought sentiments of this famous poem? Today's Poetry Sunday will … [Read more...]

Poetry Sunday: Away, Melancholy

Today's Poetry Sunday features the British poet Stevie Smith. The Literary Encyclopedia calls her "one of the most important female British poets of the twentieth-century, and the most original voice to emerge from the 1930s". Stevie Smith was born in 1902 in Hull (her birth name was Florence Margaret Smith; she acquired the nickname "Stevie" later in life). Her poetry was much shaped by her personal life: her father abandoned his family before she was three years old, and her mother died when … [Read more...]

Poetry Sunday: In Westminster Abbey

Today's poem was one I first read in Christopher Hitchens' The Portable Atheist. This is slightly odd since its author was not an atheist himself. However, this poem is a biting little satire of prayer, one whose point is all the more valid for having been made by a believer, and as such, it makes for a good entry in this series. John Betjeman was an English poet who lived during the twentieth century. He studied at Oxford, where he ultimately left without obtaining a degree. While there, he … [Read more...]

Sunrise at Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight, The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits; on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. Come to the window, sweet is the night air! I was originally going to post the poem "Dover Beach", by the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold, as the next installment of my Poetry Sunday series. Arnold was Professor of Poetry at Oxford and was said to be one of the three great Victorian poets, … [Read more...]

Poetry Sunday: Ozymandias

Today's Poetry Sunday features one of the classics of Western literature, written by one of its greatest and most fearlessly freethinking poets. Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in 1792 and wrote at the zenith of the English Romantic period. In 1811, while enrolled at Oxford, Shelley and his fellow student T.J. Hogg published a pamphlet titled The Necessity of Atheism (a title that's given much inspiration to others). This was a major scandal, and when Shelley refused to recant, he was expelled. … [Read more...]

Poetry Sunday: The New Colossus

To commemorate the Fourth of July, here's this month's Poetry Sunday. American readers will likely recognize today's poem immediately, as well they should: it's engraved on a plaque mounted on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. But what may not be as widely known are the freethought sympathies of the poet. Emma Lazarus was born in 1849 in New York City, the daughter of parents who were descended from generations of Sephardic Judaism. But according to the Jewish Virtual Library, "the Lazarus … [Read more...]

Poetry Sunday: Fern Hill

For my northern hemisphere readers, the full flush of summer has arrived. In honor of the season, I've picked an appropriate poem for this installment of Poetry Sunday: the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas' idyllic, evocative hymn to nature and childhood, "Fern Hill", from his 1946 collection Deaths and Entrances. Born in 1914, Dylan Thomas was named in honor of his uncle, a Unitarian minister. He moved to London in 1934 and that same year published his first volume of poetry, 18 Poems, which was highly … [Read more...]

Poetry Sunday: Design

This month's Poetry Sunday features another classic by a famous poet who's already made an appearance: Robert Frost, the skeptical New Englander whose work has become iconic of the American experience. Frost's views on God are complex. In some of his letters, he calls himself "an old dissenter", "secular till the last go down", and said there were "no vampires, no ghouls, no demons, nothing but me". In others, he expresses belief in and even fear of God, whom he usually identifies as the … [Read more...]

Poetry Sunday: Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Today's Poetry Sunday features a few selections from the American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Wilcox was born in 1850 in Wisconsin and soon acquired renown as a poet, becoming well-known for her writing by the time she graduated high school. Her poems were resolutely plain and optimistic, and though her simple, sometimes singsong verse was often scorned by critics, during her lifetime she was immensely popular among the public. Among the best-known quotes from her poetry are "Love lights more … [Read more...]


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