Monday, November 27, 2006

Poetry

I am in love with words. I am amazed at how the human mind can wrap itself around ideas and express them.

My college English students like to think that nobody writes poetry any more and that nobody can understand it. That’s not true, I always tell them. People everywhere are closet poets; they write down their lives in private ways, telling their emotions. I can see by their eyes that many of the students do it too, but peer-fear keeps them from admitting the truth! Here’s a link to a lot of poetry, if you’d like to sample it.

I can identify with what Tim Challies wrote about poetry, in his blog:

As I've thought about words, I've thought about the power of words used in poetry (and song, for what is song but verse set to music?). While I love prose and spend some time out of every day engaged in creating it, there is something about poetry that grabs my soul. There is quality in poetry that allows so much to be said in so few words. So often I can hold onto a line of a word or a poem in a way that just is not possible with prose. A memorable piece of prose may be several sentences or paragraphs. A memorable piece of poetry may be only a few scant words. And yet often the poetry seems to say so much more. John Wain said "Poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking." Something in poetry just stirs the soul in a way prose cannot, just as there is a beauty inherent in dancing that is missing in walking.

I love a poem with ideas clothed in beautiful images. One of my favorites is “The Passing of Arthur” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The best part is near the end of the long poem (469 lines) when Sir Bedivere sees that he will be the only survivor of the “last weird battle in the west”—even King Arthur has been mortally wounded and is being taken away to the Isle of Avilion. The old way of life when people lived by their ideals is passing away. Bedivere is alarmed; he cries out,

Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?

Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?

For now I see the true old times are dead,

When every morning brought a noble chance,

And every chance brought out a noble knight. . . .”


Arthur struggles to answer him:

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfills himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world. . . .

Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice

Rise like a fountain for me night and day.

For what are men better than sheep or goats

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer

Both for themselves and those who call them friend?

For so the whole round earth is every way

Bound by gold chains about the feet of God. . . .”


I think Tennyson, through King Arthur, was exhorting the people of Victorian England not to fall away from their faith in God. It was a time of great change—not only because of industrialization, but also because of the proclamations of science and the writings of Charles Darwin. I believe these ideas are applicable to our lives today. More things are accomplished by prayer than we can imagine; therefore, we must keep a fountain of prayer rising to God always.


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