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?
About the author:
The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.
William Harris says
You may also want to explore the work of Auden’s disciple, Robert Hayden.There is the precisely etched feeling of “Those Winter Sundays” and then the sheer experimentalism of works like “Runagate, Runagate.” A great African American poet.
Micheal Hickerson says
William – thanks for the recommendation. I love “Those Winter Sundays,” and own a copy of Hayden’s Selected Poems, but I haven’t dug into them very much.
Tom Grosh IV says
Beautiful quote 😉
Exploring the work of David, Solomon, and Jeremiah in Old Testament Historical and Poetic Books (David Dorsey, Evangelical) is stirring in me a desire to take a class in Hebrew, to dig into more of the imagery of God’s Word to His people.
Outside of Scripture, I’ve been enjoyed the work of “sub-creators” such as Wendell Berry, John Donne, T.S. Eliot, John Newton, St. Francis of Assisi, St. John of the Cross, John & Charles Wesley.
I should give more attention to digging into G. K. Chesterton, George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, AND W.H. Auden (TY for the reminder), just to name a few — without mentioning my interest in early Christian literature (e.g., Gregory of Nazianzus, John of Damascus). “No man is an island, entire of itself” (John Donne) Maybe I should seek (or form) a poetry reading/discussion group to enjoy these writings in community.
Won’t the new heavens & the new earth be such a wonderful place of poetry, music, and creative discourse offered fully to the Lord 🙂 How beautiful are the glimpses in the broken creation. How hard to stop giving praise even as I look out the window!
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge. . . . — Psalm 19:1-2
Joel Scandrett says
Gerard Manley Hopkins!
“I’ll not, carrion comfort despair, not feast on thee . . .”
T.S. Eliot. Human kind cannot bear very much reality.
Caroline Weber, author of the memoir “Surprised By Oxford”, does a literarily and spiritually astute blog for the literary minded in the Kingdom at pressingsave.com. She still has her Oxford fastball.
Micheal Hickerson says
Dave, thanks for that link. I’m checking it out right now!
Here’s another vote for T.S. Eliot, and especially the things he wrote after his conversion – I only understand perhaps a third of the symbolism of his “Ash Wednesday”, but that helps make it the perfect restorative in those seasons when I’ve let the analytical side of my faith overwhelm the mystical. (“…And pray to God to have mercy upon us / And I pray that I may forget / These matters that with myself I too much discuss / Too much explain / Because I do not hope to turn again / Let these words answer / For what is done, not to be done again / May the judgment not be too heavy upon us…”)
Tom Grosh IV says
Rachel, I concur with you regarding “Ash Wednesday.” When Mike posted, I was inspired to take a few minutes to review several of T.S. Eliot’s pieces, including “Ash Wednesday.” How apt for Lent.
FYI: This morning I checked out “The Poetry Archive” and listened to “The Journey of the Magi,” “Extract from the Four Quartets,” and “The Wasteland” http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoet.do?poetId=7069.
Micheal Hickerson says
“Ash Wednesday” is indeed a wonderful poem, though I actually prefer “The Hollow Men.” Eliot wrote those two poems on either side of his conversion (“Hollow Men” before, “Ash Wednesday” after). Personally, I think it’s disappointing that so many high school and college students read only “The Waste Land,” because the spiritual and cultural crises exposed in “The Waste Land” are developed and resolved in “The Hollow Men,” “Ash Wednesday,” and the Ariel poems (“Journey of the Magi,” “Song of Simeon”, etc.).
BTW, I agree with your point about symbolism and analysis. We’re so often think of language as a tool to be used to “say what we mean,” but in poetry, language is an artistic medium. It’s a different mode of thinking.
I would have to say A.E. Housman. Its strange but deeply personal. As a High School student I became friends with a double amputee Korean war vet. This older man was the biggest single encourager of my literary talents, meek as they might be. He presented me with a Folio edition of Housman’s Shropshire Lad. I will never take it for granted.
I absolutely love George Herbert. The Temple is full of poetry which interconnects thematically and linguistically, sometimes across distances of 50 pages or more. And it’s beautiful. I love John Donne as well – so dramatic and so witty. I like Auden a lot, and early American poet Edward Taylor. Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet cycle is surprisingly funny. I’ve only read Petrarch in translation, but his imagery always strikes me as a deep well. Hopkins is magnificent.
Joe Whitchurch says
Great ones mentioned above. Let me toss in the name of Amy Carmichael. Gutsy stuff.
Thomas B. Grosh IV says
Joe, Thank-you for mentioning Amy. I have “Amma: The Life and Words of Amy Carmichael” (Elizabeth Skoglund. Baker, 1999) in my ‘to read pile.’ Have you read this piece? If so let me know if it’s a good introduction. If not, let me know if you have another recommendation.
William Harris says
Let me suggest a few more modern poems/poets for consideration.
A fine poem is Donald Hall’s The Day I Was Older. More touching is his book, Without, where he wrestles with the death of his wife (and poet) Jane Kenyon.
Another American poet worth knowing is Kate Ryan, and especially her book The Niagara River. The poems are short but packed. E.g. Japanese Foot Chart:
Another very interesting poet is the Polish Nobel laureate, Wislawa Szymborska. She is at once witty and by turn bitterly sharp. Read carefully one can hear her Christian (Catholic) belief shining through. Some samples:
The opening to Classifieds:
Or this from Nothing Twice
This is a poet well worth exploring, especially if you have a philosophical bent.
Lili-Marlene Rose says
T.S. Eliot: Ridiculous the waste sad time stretching before and after