Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Miguel de Unamuno's Prayer of the Atheist

The existential angst of Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) is evident in his novels, essays and poems. Along with Søren Kierkegaard, he is regarded as a Christian Existentialist, something he would probably find ironic! Unamuno learned Danish in order to read Kierkegaard’s work in the original language. In addition to Danish and his native Basque, he mastered 12 other languages.

A central metaphysical problem for existentialists involves alienation from self. Because others exist in the world I can take a third-person perspective on myself. This reveals the extent to which I am alienated from my being, because an objective sense of who I am can be revealed only by the Other. This is the problem with which Miguel de Unamuno struggles in the following poem.

La oración del ateoMiguel de Unamuno y Jugo

Oye mi ruego Tú, Dios que no existes,
y en tu nada recoje estas mis quejas,
Tú que a los pobres hombres nunca dejas
sin consuelo de engaño. No resistes

a nuestro ruego y nuestro anhelo vistes.
Cuando Tú de mi mente más te alejas,
más recuerdo las plácidas consejos,
con que mi ama endulzóme noches tristes.

¡Qué grande eres, mi Dios! Eres tan grande
que no eres sino Idea; es muy angosta
la realidad por mucho que se espande

para abarcarte. Sufro yo a tu costa,
Dios no existente, pues si Tú existieras
existiría yo también de veras

Prayer of the Atheist
Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo

Hear my supplication Thou, non-existent God,
and in thy nothingness gather these my complaints,
Thou who never leavest poor men
without consolation of deceit. Thou resisteth not

our plea and our yearning thou seest.
When Thou from my mind withdraweth,
I remember again the pleasant tales
with which my nursemaid sweetened my sad nights.

How great Thou art, my God! Thou art so great
that Thou art nothing more than an Idea, it is a narrow
reality the more it expands

to embrace Thee. I suffer on thy account,
non-existent God, since were Thou to exist
I also would truly exist.

(Translation: Alice C. Linsley)


Anonymous said...

Funny isn't it. Human beings, weak and fragile, love to blame. Even when we don't believe in God, He still gets blamed.

Sweet Virago said...

When my daughter died at age 16, I said I did NOT believe in God anymore! I already was agnostic, but the very idea that a god could allow such things to happen was too much. I was SO angry! I HATED God. I chose to not believe in God! Then, later, I had to ask myself, "if you hate God, then you must believe God exists! No one can hate something or someone that does not even exist!"

Twenty-two years later, I am back to believing that God is more like a 'collective goodness in the sky' than anything else!

Alice Linsley said...

Unamuno was always Quixotic. As with the last words of Don Quijote himself: "Pancho, Traigame mis armas!" Unamuno, as with Quijote, was ever striving against what doesn't exist and that, paradoxically, is to recognize that something DOES exist.

Alice Linsley said...