"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Tell me: Who are your favorite poets?

In reading Gordon's "Why Johnny Can't Preach," I have found his recommendations helpful, from writing theological articles (yea for blogging!) to getting together with other preachers to compare how one organizes a sermon.

One of his recommendations I need some help with. Gordon recommends that those who wish to preach should read poetry. So, I invite comments:

1) Do you read poetry?
(and if so...)

2) Who do you recommend? (religious or otherwise)
I have done a little (very little) religious poetical reading (Donne, Cowper, etc), but are there poets that are good, for their shear skill in saying a thing well, that I should read?


M. Jay Bennett said...

My hands down favorite is William Wordsworth. Of his poems, "I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud" is a personal favorite.

Nathan P. Gilmour said...

1) Why yes I do. :)

2) The best poets are religious poets, I think, but they're often religious in ways that will strike you as alien. For instance, Purgatory is the best part of Dante's Comedy, even if one does not believe in Purgatory as a feature of the afterlife. Homer is at his best in the Iliad when his heroes face the insurmountable wrath of the gods, even if his vision of heaven is completely alien to Christian theology. And Milton, though nobody I know (myself included) can sign on with all of his theology, just can't be beat when he explores the nature of the demonic in the first half of Paradise Lost and the nature of salvation in its last three books.

Those are the narrative poets that won't let you down; if I had to rank them, I'd tell you to read a good translation of Dante first, then Milton, then Homer.

So far as lyric poetry goes, I still think that the best poets are in some way religious. George Herbert, an Anglican priest of the generation after Donne, is a wonderful supplement to systematic theology, though he's obviously got some systematic theology under his own belt. Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit, infuses the world of nature with a complex linguistic texture that takes time to apprehend but rewards close reading. And the Anglo-Saxon elegies, though they're a strange mix of Northern European paganism and monastic Christianity, nonetheless transport a reader to the world inside of which Tolkien dreamed up his own version of Middle-Earth (itself an Old English poetic term), and that can't be all bad.

For plays, I'd actually recommend Marlowe over Shakespeare, just because his plays walk the fine line between Calvinism and nihilism, and they're not only exhilarating but also a spiritual exercise as you struggle to see the difference. Shakespeare's tragedies are obviously wonderful, but I'd suggest as well his Henry plays (the two Henry IVs and Henry V) to see Calvin's political theory in action. It's not always pretty.

This is why I thought Gordon's suggestion that future seminarians become English majors was so wonderful--I'd like to be the one who teaches those future seminarians what God looks like in these texts. :)

Matthew Bradley said...

As simple as it seems, the classics are a good place to start. To name a few of my favorites...Keats, Kipling, and Frost. Another that isn't perhaps commonly read in HS Lit classes is Christina Rossetti. A more modern favorite is e.e. cummings. But he requires some patience, a sense of humour, and occasionally a willingness to engage in the baudy. In his way though, he is capable of some breathtaking stuff that has that wonderful quality of growing on you more at each reading. Start with "Everyone Lived in a Little How Town". And don't forget TS Eliot. One of my fellow pastors also recommended simply reading through your favorite hymnal (Trinity, of course, right?!). With that I'd also recommend a good Psalter that has arranged the Psalms for meter and rhyme.

Hope that helps! Great question...I'm looking forward to your other answers.

Creth said...

yes, I do

Edgar A. Guest.
Leonard Cohen

but what about those poets that set their words to music? a la Bob Dylan

Andrew said...

Kipling, Donne, Wordsworth, and W.H. Auden.

tie.crawler said...

She's more commonly known for her "How Do I Love Thee," but Elizabeth Barrett Browning is quite good when it comes to religious poetry. Her "The Look" and "The Meaning of the Look" really struck me. Quite profound.

Jared said...

David Curzon's Gospels In Our Image: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Poetry Based on Biblical Texts would be a great place for you to find your own favorite. It's a wonderful collection I picked up on my honeymoon more than a decade ago. (It would be perfect for sermon/blog preparation, as it divides the poetry by events in the gospel story. I was just reading Lazarus-related poetry this morning.)