Caliban in the Coal Mines

GOD, we don’t like to complain;
We know that the mine is no lark.
But — there’s the pools from the rain;
But — there’s the cold and the dark.

God, You don’t know what it is —
You, in Your well-lighted sky —
Watching the meteors whizz;
Warm, with a sun always by.

God, if You had but the moon
Stuck in Your cap for a lamp,
Even You’d tire of it soon,
Down in the dark and the damp.

Nothing but blackness above
And nothing that moves but the cars …
God, if You wish for our love,
Fling us a handful of stars!

~Louis Untermeyer

The Christian answer is that God does know what it’s like down in the dark and the damp, but the protest of the miner Caliban remains unanswered because he can’t hear answers tossed down from bright, warm places of elevated comfort and security. What Christians call the Incarnation (the Word or life-giving truth of God made human flesh and blood) means God down here with us, living in our conditions with our limitations, feelings, and pains.

If my reaction to Untermeyer’s poem with its irreverent Caliban is to take offense and argue that God has already come down into suffering and shame worse than his in the mines, then the question becomes, I think, “Why are the Calibans of this world still stuck down in the dark and the damp where they continue to make wealth for the prosperous up in the warmth and brightness?”

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