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That Anything Should Be in Existence at All
Alfred Noyes, The Unknown God
The modern world was not alive to the tremendous Reality that encompassed it. We were surrounded by an immeasurable abyss of darkness and splendor. We built our empires on a pellet of dust revolving around a ball of fire in unfathomable space. Life, that Sphynx, with the human face and the body of a brute, asked us new riddles every hour. Matter itself was dissolving under the scrutiny of Science; and yet, in our daily lives, we were becoming a race of somnambulists, whose very breathing, in train and bus and car, was timed to the movement of the wheels; and the more perfectly, and even alertly, we clicked through our automatic affairs on the surface of things, the more complete was our insensibility to the utterly inscrutable mystery that anything should be in existence at all.
- Alfred Noyes, The Unknown God (1934)
A short story:
I’ve had this quote since I was around 19 or so years old—one of the many I’ve saved, and certainly one of my favorites. The imagery it conjures up, the thoughts it provokes, and the reflection it encourages, all in the space of less than 140 words, is really quite remarkable.
That one line always got to me: the utterly inscrutable mystery that anything should be in existence at all. I can’t remember now if it’s a thought that routinely took over my mind already before I read this or as a result of it but, at any rate, it does. It really is a mystery why anything should exist at all.
The funny thing is, as much as I cherished this quote through the years, I never once looked into who Alfred Noyes was or where the quote was even from until I knew I wanted to post it to Substack. Turns out he was a highly prolific writer of poems, short stories, and plays. The Unknown God was something of a spiritual biography, detailing his conversion from agnosticism to Catholicism.
I found a copy of the book online and located the quote to make sure I had my details for the post correct and continued reading the subsequent paragraph. That’s when I knew I had to order a paperback copy for myself.
Like spoiled children, we did not appreciate customary gifts, even though they were bestowed on us by stranger powers than were dreamed of in the Arabian Nights. The fruits of Aladdin's orchard were only precious stones. Ours were alive and we took them for granted. If it had been ordained that Spring should visit us with her leaves and flowers for only one short week in a thousand years, the world would wait for her approaching loveliness as it has never waited for emperor or king. We should look upon her opening buds as though the heavens were indeed up-breaking through the earth. Millions would be profoundly moved then as hitherto only the few have been moved—by the miracle of beauty. We should walk in wonder and awe—religious awe—through our fields and woods; and an apple-bough in blossom would seem to us, then, the amazing spiritual revelation it really is, an exquisite earthly form, a shining hieroglyph, issuing from an absolute Mystery and organized in an intelligible pattern, to express and symbolize for finite minds the perfect Beauty of that eternal world where all “these flowers as in their causes sleep.”
I eagerly await the Amazon truck.
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