Religious Consolation

by John Updike

One size fits all. The shape or coloration
of the god or high heaven matters less
than that there is one, somehow, somewhere, hearing
the hasty prayer and chalking up the mite
the widow brings to the temple. A child
alone with horrid verities cries out
for there to be a limit, a warm wall
whose stones give back an answer, however faint.

Strange, the extravagance of it—who needs
those eighteen-armed black Kalis, those musty saints
whose bones and bleeding wounds appall good taste,
those joss sticks, houris, gilded Buddhas, books
Moroni etched in tedious detail?
We do; we need more worlds. This one will fail.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “

  1. almostclever

    DAMN! That last line!

  2. THIS line:
    “A child
    alone with horrid verities cries out
    for there to be a limit, a warm wall
    whose stones give back an answer, however faint.”

    LOVE me some good poetry.

  3. Pierre

    All worlds will fail as long as we believe that this world will fail, for we premise our thought and emotions, the very ground of our life, on paradox, on a basic rift between body and mind or body and soul, between man and the world. One may not reach dawn save through the path of night. Only in supreme desperation and disillusionment will the wings of dawn flutter. Religion, as every myth and metaphysical philosophy, must be constructed to fail. It is in this sense that Nietzsche said that “hope is the worst of all evils.”

    Maybe the poem’s author meant it as a cynic comment against religious consolation; I’m not really sure.

    • What is interesting to me is that John Updike was a practicing Christian and yet this poem could be written from the viewpoint of a non-believer. Religion serves many purposes to humanity, one of which is offering something better than this world full of suffering and injustice. Generally, when someone dissects the constructs of religion and reduces it to a mere invention based on human longing and the need for a type of ultimate escapism, that individual (generally) would often be looking at this idea from the refuge of disbelief. Yet Updike recognizes the artificiality of religion but still continues to believe.

      • Pierre

        Perhaps he realizes that he cannot live without illusion. The need to something to hold on to is so great that it practically becomes a tidal wave, erasing anything that stands in its way. Coupled with a certain degree of “honesty” about one’s need, and one weaves the web as a spider its own. But, from where I stand, science, for all its objective methods, did not do much better. Its very objectivity gives it away. Its objectivity wants really to extricate individual responsibility and agency just as much as the old faith wanted to make the individual an instrument of God’s will. God’s will became Science’s law. In both approaches something is very fishy. Should we choose to learn and go from here, both approaches and their failure would be highly instructive.

        You sound like a kindred spirit and I very much liked your blog. I shall add you to my own blogroll in hope for future conversations. 🙂

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