22 January 2010

Poetry and our life in God

Philosophy vs. Poetry.  This is one of the great intellectual rivalries in the western world.  We're supposed to believe that philosophy offers clarity and precision, while poetry offers obfuscation and imprecision.  Or, philosophy offers sterile analysis, while poetry offers enriching beauty.  I always teach my literature students that poetry, in the pursuit of truth, works to exhaust the imprecision of language, thus approaching precision by negation.  The paradigms of American poetry--Whitman and Dickinson--shows us two radically different poetical means to the same truth-seeking end.  Whitman says it All in order to get to closer to Everything.  Dickinson says as Little as possible to lead us to More than we can comprehend.

Fortunately, for both theologians and poets, there is very little enmity between theology and poetry.  God's most beautiful Self-revelation is given to us in the poetry of scripture.  The Church's poet-theologians--Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, et al--demonstrate that the imprecision of poetic language is sometimes the best means for bringing us to a divine end.

Franz Wright, son of the famous American poet, James Wright, is one of this country's best Catholic poets.  He demonstrates that it is possible (and desirable) to compose poems of faith that eschew sentimentality and conventional imagery.  Wright's life-long battles with drug and alcohol addiction, depression, apostasy, suicide, and nihilism aren't sugar-coated in his poems.  They stage the scene for God's light to brighten.

“My Peace I Leave”

The next life will be darker than this so
we must prepare
a light.

Help me change.
Here on my knees
in the hell of my
on its cold star,

Because if we say we are your followers
while in reality walking in darkness
we lie and do not live
according to the truth and so
I won't lie, and I will live
according to the truth, acknowledge
I mostly live cut off
and walk in darkness.

Help me,
I still need to know

there is a place,
the temple still stands,
the unknowable

this infinite

Help me find
the horizontal
portal, the misplaces
book, which is


The world didn't give me this
word, but

the world cannot take it away--

Franz Wright, Wheeling Motel, 2010

Follow HancAquam ------------>

No comments:

Post a Comment