Tuesday, May 15, 2012

learning to enjoy Christian poetry (what I'm reading: Lit! and A sacrifice of praise)

When I say the word "poetry", how do you feel? Be honest!

I'm sure some of you love poetry. Some of you probably find it boring or bewildering. But perhaps you're like me: you'd like to like poetry, but you don't know quite how to read it or where to start. I'm thinking of you as I write today.

I love reading, but I've always found it hard to appreciate poetry. I read too fast, and it's difficult to slow down and let the words sink in. That's starting to change, thanks to bloggers like Ali and Nicole. I've also been inspired by Tony Reinke's encouragement to read Christian poetry to kindle spiritual reflection.

One of the few things my son Ben wants to do when he has a migraine  is to listen to me read, so once or twice we've read poems together. Some are from our old copy of The Norton anthology of poetry, others from A sacrifice of praise, an anthology of Christian poetry. If you want to get to know and appreciate Christian poetry, this is a wonderful place to start (I bought it Reinke's recommendation in Lit!, the book I've been blogging through recently).

Where do you turn when you want to read a Christian poem to your son? My first choice was God's Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), an English Catholic poet. This poem echoes uncannily in my mind, no doubt because my mum used to quote from it, especially the last two lines: she was an English teacher, and is far more poetry-buffish than me.

Like every poem, if you want to enjoy this, try reading it slowly and out loud. Read it again. Read it to someone else. Let the images sing to you of how God's glory still shines from his crushed and broken world. I want to commit this poem to memory so, next time I watch the sun rise over our back verandah, I'll remember how, in and after darkness, "the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings".

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


Gordon Cheng said...

Triffic poem Jean.

If you want an argument for poetry from the perspective of time management and efficiency, then reading the poem at (say) a quarter of the speed you read the chapter of a book still results in

a. More ideas communicated in and absorbed within a shorter period of time.

b. Lessons in conciseness for our own communication, thus helping those who listen to or read our words.

c. A slowing of pace which puts us in the right frame of mind for the next task on our 'to do' list.

Therefore, even obsessive time management freaks—of whom I'm sure I know none ;-) — should read a poem a day.

Jean said...

I've never seen reading poetry as a method of time management, Gordo! :D

But I am enjoying reading more poetry. So many beautiful poems! I love the way they communicate so much in such a short space and so much more wonderfully than prose.

Catherine said...

I enjoyed this post Jean! I have to say though (in response to Gordon's comment) that reading poetry is not efficient for me. Sometimes it feels like those 3D pictures (that dates me!) that look like a lot of fuzz but if you gaze in just the right way for an age you see a new picture inside -- once you do, it's pretty awesome. And maybe it gets better the more you do it - you get your 'poetry eye in', so to speak. And poems hit harder than prose because they're succinct - kind of like a mental (emotional?) espresso!

I'd be keen to hear more about the poems you find to read to your kids!

Jean said...

Yeah, it's not so efficient for me either. But I do enjoy it. I love the way it brings great truths sweeping into my thoughts and emotions. I have to work for it, though! Probably lack of practice.

The only reason I didn't promise to share more poems is that I'm never sure I can live up to my blogging intentions! But I would love to share more poetry. So thanks for the encouragement. For children and those of us who need help reading poetry! ;)

Might write a post about a couple of books I've found good for reading poetry to kids. One is AA Milne though, so that's pretty obvious.

Love Jean.