Religion & Poetry
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Six poems about religion are analyzed one by each of the following Millay Hopkins ...... More...
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Six poems about religion are analyzed, one by each of the following: Millay, Hopkins, Fenton, Hughes, Levertov, Jeffers.
Poetry and the Divine In the paradox of contemplation of the divine the sticking point isnot so much whether God exists a tiresome preoccupation as whether God isworth the trouble if extant One important reason is the problem of evil as articulated in the writings of many philosophers and poets If God beGod he is not good if God be good he is not God Another reason is theambiguity the unreachableness of divine presence and agency in theworld more generally That is
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"Crow's First Lesson." Modern Poems: A Norton Introduction. In any case, here is one poet determined notto be just a puppet of God. New York: W.W. One important reason is the problem of evil,as articulated in the writings of many philosophers and poets, If God beGod he is not good; if God be good he is not God. The couplet that closesthe sonnet expresses the shift from perfect destruction to the creativeprinciple, which has the image of a new nest of bird's eggs out of whichthe new universe will be formed. "To a Calvinist in Bali." Modern Poems: A Norton Introduction. Another reason is theambiguity, the "unreachableness," of divine presence and agency in theworld more generally. Thus, the whole effect is to acquiesce in faith despiteevidence that the faithless achieve much benefit, but to remain troubledbecause faith seems to bear no fruit for the just. Yet he appears to lamenthis own poor creative literary powers to create "one work that wakes" (l.13). Ed. Jeffers's biography includes the information that hewas opposed to U.S. That turn of phrase altersthe sense of the poem, bringing in a critique by God of those who blame Godfor not fixing their lives. 6 3- 4.Millay, Edna St. Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair. That is because God is, ultimately, unknowable byhuman beings. Norton, 1989. 16). Ed. New York: W.W. "To a Calvinist in Bali" Because the text provides no context for this poem, the reader isobliged to bring some history and understanding of a situational oxymoron.The first stanza characterizes the Calvinist (Puritan) as stentorian moralobserver of the world, one of the "elect" whose earthly fate reflects theultimate fate of his or her soul. The poem contains interrogation,meditation, humility before the creation, and finally an invocation andpathetic plea. Poetry and the Divine In the paradox of contemplation of the divine, the sticking point isnot so much whether God exists--a tiresome preoccupation--as whether God isworth the trouble if extant. 245-247.Fenton, James. Inwhat amounts to a rewrite of a passage from Jeremiah, the poet questionswhy others who are wicked prosper when he, a decent and hardworking fellow,is so often struggling. New York: W.W. 57.Hughes, Ted. The tropicalclimate is oppressive (one can almost picture the missionary decked out ina Puritan Thanksgiving costume explaining life to the natives), but thepoet is drily suggesting that the sacrifice of comfort can be offered up asa kind of atonement. He asks whether God, whom he considers a friend,could be any more obstructionist toward what he desires than an enemy wouldbe. Conclusion As a group, the poets represented here are not naïve prayer writersbut rather examiners of humanity's ambiguous connection with the God-situation. "Song for Ishtar." Modern Poems: A Norton Introduction. Why renewal might be thought of as somewhatunlikely is indirectly suggested by the date of the poem, 1937, a time whenworld war was looming. Vincent. 11-12). Even Fenton's highlystructured rant courts contingency, and the secular tradition of thoughtthat is to be contrasted with traditional ideas of God--existentialism--isitself nothing if not contingent in its presentations. The second stanza characterizes the lush,exotic, and sensuous tropical setting of Bali, which could not be moreantithetical to cold Boston, Massachusetts, or damp and gloomy Bristol,England. One hopes thesecond meaning does not triumph, but the doctrine of the "elect" does notin general bode well for the persons who encounter those who espouse it. A reasonable inferenceis that God's creative intent is suffused with good, hence that God isgood. God alters the poet's notice of Hislimp human handshake, commenting that he would "have thought [thathumanity's] would be firm as a rock" (l. Describing humanity as a "diet of worms" ispunning on the church's 16th-century assembly against Martin Luther and theultimate fate of all buried organic matter. It may mean that the missionary's difficult livingconditions will somehow reinforce his faith and enable him to offer hisdiscomfort to God, or it could mean that the poet thinks the missionary isabout to go around fixing everything that good Christians think is wrongwith Bali. "God, a Poem" Fenton's meditation on God is in the nature of a minor blasphemy thatturns into a paradoxical lament on the moral (more exactly amoral)condition of man. Another aspect of this set of poemsis what has to be taken as an ethos of contingency. They are left to postulate and consider God's behavior, ifany, but whether they are hostile to the idea of God or eager to expresstheir faith, God as a concept, being, creative principle, or providentialpresence remains elusive. "Song for Ishtar" In this brief poem, Levertov takes up the theme of divine creation andpresence in human experience in a somewhat playful way, by describing aquasi-sexual interlude with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. / This is the hawk that picks outthe stars' eyes" (l. New York: W.W. Or it could mean something even more subtle. A reasonable answer would be that the poet is not somuch concerned with God's existence as with the abundance of evidence thatGod is Almighty, immutable, and indifferent to His own Creation, including(or especially) humankind. Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair. Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair. 1. Would Almighty God have to "try" anything? Norton, 1989. Next in the line of religious relevance is what God is trying to getCrow to learn, as word, concept, and command: Love. Moreover, Man and Woman seem fated tostruggle both together and separately and again struggle with God.Moreover, it is apparently irreversible; that partly explains the cursingand weeping. If human beings can consider God a grave disappointment and not worthyof faith, God can return the favor, thank you--and does, when echoing thepoet's initial complaints against Him. Another aspect of God's emotional reaction may be that Heunderstands, ironically enough, that, after all, although evil will emergeout of human behavior, evil can still in a way be laid at the foot of God.Another (wryly-expressed) consequence is that guilt (and perhaps sin) hasalso emerged with humankind, its first experience being had by Crow. The overall sense of the text is that humanexperience is fragile and that humans, the experience, and where theexperience occurs are fungible, equally inconsequential to the agent ofcomplete destruction whose only concern is itself. 1 ). Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair. "Robinson Jeffers." Modern Poems: A Norton Introduction. 28). Norton, 1989. Norton, 1989. Ed. Ed. 733.Jeffers, Robinson. The subject appears to be the existence of God, which thepoet more or less rejects as unlikely. "Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord, If I Contend." Modern Poems: A Norton Introduction. Of the lot, those who invoke the Christian tradition are at theextremes of devotion (Hopkins) and blasphemy (Fenton) in their treatment ofGod, or more exactly of the conventions of worship and discourse thatdominate popular imagination about God. New York: W.W. It is difficult not to conclude that the couplet is--and is meant tobe--unconvincing, or at least less convincing than the elaboratedestruction that precedes it. A key to thepoem's meaning is the couplet "She is a sow / and I a pig and a poet." That"couples" divine and human experience, with the poet declaring herself madein the image of God, then asserting herself against the divine in theuniverse by biting back after being almost devoured, then by, as it were,mixing it up with the divine in the messiness of ordinary existence, heredescribed as "the black of desire." Although that can be interpretedsexually, such an interpretation tends to limit the potential meaning. Norton, 1989. Thatis because the human being's assertion of will speaks to a certainindependence and a determination to be in dialogue with God, even ifsometimes confused by it and even if the modern poet must reach back 3, years or so to a goddess of a dead civilization that was, not incidentally,hostile to the ancient Jews. Hopkins is the most devout, orperhaps the most naïve, as he is praying for poetic inspiration much theway baseball players pray for victory. Ed. 15-16). The act of blinding thestars is a paradoxical image of cosmic finality. "Shiva." Modern Poems: A Norton Introduction. "Crow's First Lesson" Ted Hughes's short poem on the creation of humankind has the conceitof God extending Himself in order to improve what has already been created.By the time the poem has ended, the poet has exploded the idea that God isalmighty yet manages to lay evil at the foot of God--not because God isevil but rather because it is clear that the Creation, including God'screatures, has a mind (or anyway a will) of its own. The omnipotence of Shiva is portrayed in the very ubiquity with whichthe hawk covers and destroys everything in heaven and earth, "Nothing willescape her at last, flying nor running. 3. In that stanza, it seems that the Calvinist is uneasy in thesetting, a feeling confirmed in the third stanza when it appears that theCalvinist, who is a servant, is possibly a missionary sent to Bali toconvert the Balinese from their Hinduism to Christianity. Ed. That is where the poet enters the picture,exploring the problems, ambiguities, and paradoxes of God in a variety ofways. The imagery is the hunting of other birds--pigeons, the heron, and, ultimately, the "wild white swan of the beauty ofthings" (l. In the first quatrain, the god takes the form ofa preying female hawk that hunts down and kills intangibles that areconsidered important to human experience, peace, security, honesty,confidence, and liberty. Paradoxically, however, the poet isin dialogue with the God of Judeo-Christian tradition, projecting that atthe last judgment every "chum" is going to be told that he "should haveguessed that I do not exist" (l. The hunt for the wild swanthat begins the third quatrain articulates the destruction of the remnantof sentience--beauty--following physical destruction. The very situation described--"God tried to teach Crow how to talk"--carries the suggestion not only that the Creation is still in early days(it is not some crow or other but elemental Crow) but also that God isdefinitely not omnipotent. "God, a Poem." Modern Poems: A Norton Introduction. 14). He closes by praying for divine inspiration and creativity, asking Godto "send my roots rain" (l. It is also a way ofarticulating despair, and the poet watches Shiva assume solitarysignificance, "alone, pure destruction, achieved and supreme, / Emptydarkness under the death-tent wings" (l. To one extent oranother, and irrespective of the religious tradition that they invoke, thepoems suggest that, after all--and, importantly, irrespective of God'sexistence or moral character--humanity is pretty much left to its owndevices and is completely responsible for whatever, including evil, befallsit. Thetreatment is somewhat ironic, for the poem's principal focus isdestruction, not creation. Norton, 1989. 5. Works CitedEllmann, Richard, and O'Clair, Robert. involvement in World War II (Ellmann and O'Clair 247). But things do not go well for this good God, and Crow's retching getsso out of control that the waste material morphs into Man and Woman, whoare themselves immediately out of control and already finding the sexualitythat is bound to cause trouble--trouble that itself is likely to morph intowhat has come to be called evil. Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair. 31 . 2. New York: W.W. Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair. 85 -1.Hopkins, Gerard Manley. New York: W.W. "Shiva" The creative principle of God is given treatment by Robinson Jeffersin "Shiva," a sonnet that develops that concept through meditation on thebehavior of the Hindu god of destruction and subsequent creation. 7-8). "Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord, If I Contend" Hopkins's poem, which is a divided sonnet consisting of two quatrainsand two tercets, presents the problem of the difficulties that human beingswho desire to behave decently face to God in a pious and humble way. 6. The piety of the poet is seen in the trouble he takes to celebrate theCreation, citing the lushness of flora and fauna. Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair. 2 ), how is it that the poet is so busy projecting howGod views humanity? But if God did not exist at Creationor Flood and will not exist at the last judgment "to sort out the sheepfrom the cud" (l. 251.Levertov, Denise. That idea is paid off in the fourth stanza, whichfirst cites the undoubted culture shock of local social mores and then endsenigmatically, "Earth is too harsh for Heaven to be / One little hour injeopardy" (l. Ed. Norton, 1989. 4.
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