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Poetry Journeys With Us

Author: Fr. Ryan Service

Picture: ThoughtCatalog, Pixabay

Poetry Journeys With Us

In these unprecedented days, many have turned to poetry for comfort and inspiration. Fr. Ryan Service explores three poems which reveal God's place in our world.

Poetry is as old as humanity.

We know from Scripture that God inspires poetry as part of His Word. Just think of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, where a beautiful poem unfolds describing a “time for everything” with a “time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.”

It’s not that God confuses us with rhymes or riddles, but that His word is expansive, creative, dynamic and all reaching.

Here, I suggest three poems that journey with us as we move towards a "new normal".

Poetry As Prayer

Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001) offers a poem here that grows out of the Christian tradition of praying for the dead. While many poems narrate a personal bereavement, Jennings prays for anyone who has died “unknown” to her.

Her words are strangely apt as she remembers all who have died whose remembrance is “left undone” with “[n]o epitaph, no poppy and no rose”. She almost speaks directly into our time as we experience loss globally and personally, where families cannot be at the bedside of loved ones, funerals are limited, and deaths are statistics. Despite the numbers she says “all…have a place” in her remembrance. 

Poetry And Nature

If social media posts are anything to go by, our lives have become greener. Pictures of fields, rivers, animals, and skies replaced pictures with people.

How often have we noticed the skies in lockdown? When before we never had the time, we suddenly had more time to sit and watch the world as it grew smaller around us.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) is widely known as a nature poet and his poetry also includes the perspective of children. This sonnet brings the two together.

Wordsworth sees power in nature as manifestation of creation’s divine spark. Watching the sunset is a “holy time” leaving the speaker lost for words: “quiet as a Nun / Breathless with adoration”. While the sun sets, the speaker is attentive to the presence of the “mighty Being” who is “awake” – a wonderful contrast between the sleeping sun and God who ‘never sleeps’.

The girl with the speaker is not lost in thought at the beautiful sunset. Why? For Wordsworth, it’s because the child “liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year.” The child does not need sunsets to be in the presence of God because childhood innocence represents a different relationship with God that the adult world forgets: “God being with thee when we know it not”.

Rather than mourning lost innocence, the poem invites us to seek what is restorative in reaching the divine.

Poetry And Family Life

Grace Nichols (1950-) wrote this poem during lockdown. She describes our current contradiction: how we are more in touch than ever, but without touch. She praises our “web of togetherness” and communal acts “of gratitude” for “all our care-workers” with “orchestras of pots/ and pans and hands”.

Nichols uses an unusual image with her “daughters’ faces / surfacing on the small sky of my mobile”. Perhaps we have not been as attentive to nature as we expected. Or perhaps our world has become more virtual, so much so that our phones are like skies. Movingly, Nichols is willing to “trade” the “virtual world” for the “simple harbour of a hug.”

These three poems, spanning three centuries, are only suggestions. If they don’t speak to you, find other voices, other poems. If you can’t find that voice, be that voice and write your poem.

After all, it’s a Godly tradition.

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