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God’s Finger on Whittaker Chambers

My baby miracle so dear
Smeared oatmeal on her face;
I saw her perfect seashell ear,
Curving like a vase,
The pinkest little fiddlehead,
In spiral like a scroll.
How could blind chance, inert and dead,
Make such a pretty bowl?

My little Ellen is my heart
That crawls in human shape.
How could this masterpiece of art
Be just a baby ape,
Just random carbon molecules
Assembled here by chance?
Such bland beliefs are fit for fools,
I gathered at a glance.

This bubbled up against my will;
I shooed the thought away.
Such anti-Communistic swill
Could lead me far astray.
For if her ear was by design,
Then Who was the Designer?
Design must mean a Hand Divine;
No other hand is finer.

Through all that time, the thought remained
As little Ellen grew.
My faith in Godlessness grew strained;
God slowly changed my view
Through Ellen’s ear, which He designed,
And now the angels sing—
I left the Communists behind;
I follow Christ my King.

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Poet’s Note:

Whittaker Chambers (1901-1961) was a Communist spy in the United States from 1925 to 1938.  He became a Christian as a result of many incidents such as this over the years, detailed in his autobiography Witness (1952).  In 1933, when his wife Esther (also a Communist) learned that she was pregnant with this same daughter, they had planned to have an abortion, because Communist activists were supposed to forgo raising children, and this was one of the most intense times in his career as a Soviet spy.  However, they decided against it, as he details in the same autobiography:

“My wife ran over to me, took my hands, and burst into tears. ‘Dear heart,’ she said in a pleading voice, ‘we couldn’t do that awful thing to a little baby, not to a little baby, dear heart.’

“A wild joy swept me. Reason, the agony of my family, the Communist Party and its theories, the wars and revolutions of the twentieth century, crumbled at the touch of the child.”

With nothing but the natural moral law written on every human heart to guide them, they decided to let their child live.  Had they gone through with ending Ellen’s life, what a loss it would have been for everyone.

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Joshua C. Frank works in the field of statistics and lives near Austin, Texas. His poetry has also been published in the Asahi Haikuist Network.


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28 Responses

  1. Anna J. Arredondo

    Joshua,

    I enjoyed your poem, as well as your poet’s note. Thanks for opening this little window into this man’s history — makes me want to go read his autobiography!

    Reply
  2. Brian Yapko

    Josh, I am both moved and impressed by this wonderful poem. In fact, it’s a poem with a highly important message which ought to be widely shared. The very idea of a Communist atheist finding his way to a belief in God is instructive and inspiring. I love to hear such stories (C.S. Lewis comes to mind) and the more such stories are disseminated the better.

    As you know, my favorite poetic forms involve dramatic monologues — where the poet takes on the subject and speaks in the first person. Here is an example of why this form can potentially work so well. If, as the poet, you had written a third-person, detached description of the change in Mr. Chambers’ point of view it would have been uncompelling. But when you do it as a first-person narrative, we get into his head and heart and we can understand how he comes to think and feel the way he does. In this case, it’s very effective, and well-supported by a skillful use of language and meter which seem to match the character of the speaker. Very well done indeed!

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Brian! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ve been quite impressed myself by your first-person poems starring all kinds of speakers. I chose this method for the reasons you describe. I agree that these need to be heard by as many as possible, which is what led to me writing this.

      Reply
  3. Margaret Coats

    The perfection of form in this poem reflects the loveliness of the subject–whether that be little Ellen’s ear or the conversion of a communist. Ballad stanza is usually quatrains, but here you join two ballad quatrains as an eight-line stanza, with each of the four stanzas expressing a coherent portion of thought. Most effective structure! Within the poem, I especially like the quatrain at lines 9-12, and the descriptive lines 5-6. Those two lines qualify as a splendid iambic heptameter line, for anyone who likes to think ballads are truly composed in iambic heptameter.

    I’m glad you included the snippets from the Whittaker Chambers book. It suggests his prose has literary quality to make it worth reading, as well as a great conversion story.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Margaret! It’s nice to hear that you like the structure, and that this poem and my notes have led you to be interested in his book. Your favorite lines in this poem are also mine. I wrote them imagining what a man would think looking at his beloved baby daughter.

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Long ago, I may have read a portion of the book, as well as other articles on the Hiss/Chambers case, in my grandparents’ stacks of The Readers’ Digest. As you may know, that is (or was) a monthly collection of pieces condensed from the most interesting and popular magazines of the day. I don’t recall seeing the book “Witness” among their hardbound Readers’ Digest condensed books, but the grandparents only got those when there was a special sale. Anyway, that is the way I learned about Chambers. You would have thought he was important enough for a mention in high school history courses, or in a TV documentary that I would certainly have watched, as I loved spy shows. By the time I was in college, my history interests had gone overseas and far back in time. Your poem does the good work of bringing the man and his perspectives back to attention, for me and for others, I hope.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        There was a TV documentary about the Hiss-Chambers case in the 1970s, but it was completely skewed to be pro-Hiss, and to ignore the vast body of evidence that proved Hiss to be a Communist agent. The documentary tried to paint Chambers as an untrustworthy and mentally unstable man.

        One thing about the left — they will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER admit guilt about anything, or cease to defend their own. This why you can still hear insistent bleats from left-liberals about how innocent Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, and Harry Dexter White were. When in simple fact, they were all Communist traitors.

      • Margaret Coats

        The documentary must have appeared during my military and student years, when I didn’t want to spend the money for a television set, or drag the thing with me every time I moved. How little I missed! Thanks for the important reminder, Joe.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        I also hope it brings him back to attention for a lot of people.

        As for the Hiss-Chambers case, is it really a surprise that the liberals defend Communists and smear Christians, when they’re just a new, improved kind of Communist themselves?

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    Chambers’ autobiography “Witness”” is one of the most important books of the twentieth century. It was a fitting crown to Chambers’ legal triumph in the Alger Hiss case, where he exposed the stench of Communist espionage in the Roosevelt administration. Like his wife Priscilla and his brother Donald, Alger Hiss was a major Communist asset in sending government secrets to Stalin. Chambers — at great risk to his own life — exposed this treason.

    There are a few remaining idiots on the left today who still defend Hiss, but no serious historian of the period now questions the man’s guilt, which was independently confirmed by the Venona transcripts. Hiss would have been shot for treason if it hadn’t been for the statute of limitations.

    In today’s climate of tightly controlled left-liberal “journalism,” none of the facts about Hiss would have been allowed to come to light. But back then we still had some real journalists.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Yes, his life was very interesting and very important for us to know. I, too, would like to see some real journalists once again.

      Reply
  5. Norma Pain

    This is a really lovely poem Joshua. I love the descriptions of Ellen’s perfect little seashell ear, like a little fiddlehead. Such a good-news story too. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      You’re welcome Norma! As I mentioned to Margaret, I wrote that description by imagining what a man would think looking at his beloved baby daughter.

      Reply
  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Joshua, I have always wondered how anyone could think that the breathtaking wonder of a baby, with its tiny perfect form, could “Be just a baby ape, / Just random carbon molecules / Assembled here by chance…” Your words describe perfectly the foolishness of such a thought. I once heard someone say that looking into the face of a baby is the nearest one ever gets to seeing God. Your powerful poem reinforces this statement and the miracle of human life shines from every beautiful line. Through Whittaker Chambers’ eyes you have given us that glimpse of God he saw in the miracle of his daughter’s “perfect seashell ear, / Curving like a vase, / The pinkest little fiddlehead, /In spiral like a scroll.” A beautiful description.

    To my mind, Communism is a religion that is in direct opposition to Christianity. Such is the potency of your poem, I believe your words will have the same effect on others as the miraculous design little Miss Chamber’s ear had on her father. Josh, your poem is superb and in these godless days where children (born and unborn) are at great risk, this superb poem is begging for a wide audience.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Susan! I also wonder how anyone can have children and continue to be an atheist. There is no rational explanation for the absolute, total, sacrificial love a parent has for his child; Darwinism simply can’t explain that, and that’s what I wanted to capture. That’s a wonderful line, that “looking into the face of a baby is the nearest one ever gets to seeing God.” I hope this poem has a similar effect on people as you say.

      Absolutely, Communism is a religion in direct opposition to Christianity. The Catholic Church has repeatedly spoken out against Communism, and Communism has been violently anti-Christian from the earliest days when Karl Marx claimed that “religion is the opiate of the masses.” It’s all about making all people equals when they are naturally not equal, and since there’s no way God can be equal to man and still be God, they naturally want to get rid of God.

      I would love to get this to a wide audience. Anyone reading this could help by spreading it (and my other work) as far and wide as possible.

      Reply
  7. Monika Cooper

    “I went back to my wife who was no longer only my wife but the mother of our child — the child we all yearn for, who even before her birth, had begun, invisibly, to lead us out of that darkness, which we could not even realize, toward that light, which we could not even see.” Whittaker Chambers in Witness, page 327.

    This poem traces that movement, out of darkness, toward light: “that light, which we could not even see.”

    Reply
    • Monika Cooper

      More and more, I see kingship, the Kingship of Christ above all, as the great counter-power to communist lawlessness.

      As the last line of your poem proclaims.

      Reply
  8. Shaun C. Duncan

    Nice work, Joshua. The poem works wonderfully on its own, but I appreciate the additional perspective your note offers.

    “Faith in Godlessness” perfectly encapsulates the fragility of materialist belief in the face of human experience and brings to mind a half-remembered remark by Peter Hitchens that atheism is a decision and not a product of reason.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      …the fragility of materialist belief in the face of human experience…”

      Remember what military chaplains always say: “There are no atheists in the trenches.”

      Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Yes, “the fragility of materialist belief in the face of human experience” is well said. That’s how I got away from it: I grew up, went out into the world, and saw it as it is rather than as the liberals taught me it was. Mr. Chambers’ perspective, though wildly different in the details, is essentially my own.

      Reply

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