And Now I Lay Me Down

A radio programme I listened to a few days ago, about the life of Blaise Pascal, reminded me that I had written a poem in which “Pascal’s Wager” makes an appearance.  Pascal (1623-62) was a French mathematician, physicist and philosopher, chiefly known, these days, as the author of the “Pensees” – an acknowledged literary/philosophical classic.  His “Wager” is a metaphysical argument that goes, briefly, as follows: We don’t know if God exists or not.  Nevertheless, we can ask the question “Is it better to believe in the existence of God, or not?”  Pascal’s answer: “If God exists, then it is clearly better for us to have believed in God; infinitely better, given the prospect of eternal bliss for believers, and eternal damnation for non-believers.  If God does not exist, then we lose nothing by our mistaken belief.  So belief is the dominant strategy; it can win, and cannot lose.  The wager is infinity to nothing.”

There are, of course, many criticisms of this argument, which I do not intend to discuss here.  My poem “And Now I Lay Me Down” came about when I started asking myself why , on going to bed at night, I had started remembering the prayer my mother had taught me to recite, as a child.  The “Wager” is alluded to because it deals with primary thoughts and fears that I had categorised and parcelled-up as “child-like” and presumed I had forgotten about long ago.

AND NOW I LAY ME DOWN:

And now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray The Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray The Lord my soul to take.

“Now I want you to listen.  Say after me . . .”
I whispered it, dutifully, every night.
Like confessing sins; obligatory, right.
Thirty two syllables; four lines of eight.
A way to avert an unnameable fate.
An incantation; a magical spell.
As long as I uttered it, all would be well.
Later, much later, scales fell from my eyes.
Holy baloney!  A tissue of lies.
The scorn, the arrogance, of teenage years.
No longer a child; no more childish fears . . .

Thirty two syllables; four lines of eight.
Osiris assesses the soul by weight . . .

Fifty years or more, lying dormant in my brain.
Now, unbidden, they rise up again.
The rough magic of childhood has been abjured.
But Pascal’s Wager: shouldn’t one be insured?
Lame joke; dark humour, pitched against my plight.
Child-like again, in the dwindling light;
fearing the impending, unending night.

 

 

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