With my studies at BCS presently revolving around Dante, Petrarch, Beroul and Donne, I figure it is as good a time as any to write about poetry on the blog. Add to this the fact that Pastor Piper gave a sermon on poetry (his craft of 50 years) in chapel at school this afternoon, and I feel ready to spill a few words on the subject. My aim in this post is to more-or-less distill Piper’s message in my own cursory defense of poetry. In another post, I’ll give you the story behind the curious phrase, “The Wind and I.”
Poetry is a way of seeing. More than that, it is a way of experiencing. It is description (often praise), ordered in a special way to both awaken and intensify an experience of (often a delight in) whatever the poem is about. Good poets carefully employ the tools of metaphor, assonance, rhyme, meter and the like in an often-laborious effort to move their readers. We might say that the most exquisite prose has an effect like poetry precisely because poetry, more than prose, has a unique capacity to help us see and savor — to help us gut-level experience — the world as it is in all its fullness.
Life really is wondrous. God is not only present in our world; He is active and Self-revealing. The Old Testament psalmist poetically says that the heavens “declare” the glory of God, adding that “in them [God] has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy” (Psalm 19:4-5). Can you picture this? The brilliant, dawning sun, joyfully racing across the sky in pull-out-all-the-stops, Eric Liddell fashion? Perhaps the sun, as much as that Scottish missionary, believes that it too was made for a purpose. Perhaps it feels God’s pleasure when it shines. I don’t know. I mean, the sun is just a burning ball of gas, right?
While the sun is as much a burning ball of gas for today’s heliologist as it was for David, it isn’t “just” anything. The sun is simply incredible, and poetry will tend to say so. As far as ascribing a strict personality to the sun goes, I think Ra and Apollo have run their measly pagan courses (easy pun intended). Nevertheless, I think the poetry of Psalm 19 should influence our view, our experience, of the sunrise. The wonders of solar chemistry need not outshine the wonders of solar allegory. It seems that the sun, as well as other poetic features in nature, exists in part to instruct and encourage the people of God. The sun is like a joyful bridegroom. Jesus, as our Bridegroom, endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). He is like the sun. Or, the sun is like Jesus. When Hebrews 12 admonishes us to lay aside every weight and sin and “run with endurance the race that is set before us,” we may each think to ourselves, —like the sun, who is strong and joyful, expectant in the hope of the heavenly Marriage awaiting him.
I speak of joy, and in my own poetry, this feeling is a common thread. But life is not always joyful. More often than not, it is confusing and pitiful. We could complain with the poet Job: “One dies in his full vigor, being wholly at ease and secure, his pails full of milk and the marrow of his bones moist. Another dies in bitterness of soul, never having tasted of prosperity. They lie down alike in the dust, and the worms cover them” (Job 21:23-26). Things are not as they should be…or as they will be. For believers, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly…” (Romans 8:22-23). Just as poetry intensifies our experience of good things, poetry intensifies our experience of evil things. And this is valuable. For what great effect can the cross of Christ, that result of inestimable evil and fount of inestimable good, have on us if we do not deeply and truly experience both?
There is more to be said, as always, but I hope this flavors a foundation for the poetry you’ll find on this blog.