Poetry appeals more directly to the whole person than prose does. It stimulates our imaginations, arouses our emotions, feeds our intellects and addresses our wills. Perhaps this is why poetry is the preferred mode of communication of the prophets, whose purpose depends on capturing the attention of the listeners and persuading them their message is urgent. — Tremper Longman III, quoted by Tom Grosh
Is there anything better than a good mail day? In yesterday’s mail, I received a new pair of glasses, a 2-pack of David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner stickypads, and my new copy of W. H. Auden’s book-length poem The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue, edited with a foreword by Alan Jacobs. It was a very good mail day, indeed.
One of my high school English textbooks included Auden’s “The Unknown Citizen,” which led me to seek out more of his poetry, and he soon became my favorite poet. Looking back, I have to wonder how much I even understood, much less appreciated, his clever, difficult, and formal verse when I was so young. My senior picture from high school shows me posing next to three books: Auden’s Selected Poems, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and…(sigh) Catcher in the Rye. I suppose I’m lucky that only one of these books now embarrasses me.
It wasn’t until several years later that I began to appreciate Auden’s “countercultural” place as a poet: his attention to form and meter, his adult conversion to Christianity, his archaic understanding of the poet as public spokesman for society. As I began to read and think about “Christian poetry” (my masters is in Christianity and the arts), Auden became more interesting to me, as well, because he exists in a kind of “no man’s land” of religion and art. Those who celebrated his early leftist politics and gave him fame as a poet didn’t know what to do with his conversion to Christianity and his radically changed theology. Meanwhile, his homosexuality and fairly difficult aesthetics make him a difficult artist for many Christians, despite his connections to the well-loved Inklings. (Auden was an early champion of Tolkien as a writer, and he credited Charles Williams as a major spiritual influence.)
I’m very much looking forward to reading The Age of Anxiety. Not only was it Auden’s last book-length poem — I’ve read only small selections in the past — but it also deals extensively with religious themes, particularly how one should respond to the modern world. The place of religion in the contemporary world is a major theme of two of my other favorite poets — T. S. Eliot and Richard Wilbur. Somehow, it seems appropriate that an ancient-yet-contemporary artform like poetry should deal with a subject like that.
But enough about me. Who are some of your favorite poets?