Poetry

Yes, you will find a little poetry scattered here and there throughout this humble blog.

I am a fan of the classics (however you’d prefer to define that); even more so the late nineteenth and early twentieth century poets. The current genre, whatever it is called with technicality (perhaps “postmodern”), has lost my interest. I’ve experienced lots of poetry websites and blogs in the furthest reaches of the humanisphere. I don’t mean to be critical, only observational. Much of what is out there appears to be trite in the sense that the writer desires only that he be heard and received as being on the cutting edge of a world without objective truth. In this, the poem may be thoughful, well-written, and full of wonderful opportunity, but it dies a gruesome death of self-centered uselessness that fails to communicate anything useful to the larger society.

I believe that there is objective truth. I suppose that in one sense, I’m like-minded to the book of Ecclesiastes, where the writer offers in chapter 1:9-10: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! There is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” The poets have the opportunity to probe the “nothing new” and to reveal or express what is yet to be known of that which is already so firmly established, and by this, to show poetry as commonly necessary and practical to the human existence as a whole.

Please consider poetry closer to its beginnings, first from the perspective of a theologian, and then from a preacher attempting to flex the muscle of poetry…

From early on, the Christian church was familiar with poetry and used it in dialogue. Even the Apostle Paul was not unfamiliar with poetry. He reaches out to offer quotations in Acts 17:28, 1 Corinthians 15:33, and Titus 1:12.

Into the earliest centuries of the Christian church, we find the church and her preachers recognizing the necessity for being well versed in poetry with the end result being that pursuing higher fields of academia meant actually studying poetry and being cultivated by this grammatical art in order to think creatively toward better communication. This cultivation was to begin very young. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-216) reveals this somewhat as he discusses Moses by relating what Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C.-A.D. 50) apparently superimposed upon the Old Testament prophet’s upbringing what was common in Philo’s own day:

“Having reached the proper age, (Moses) was taught arithmetic, geometry, poetry, harmony, and besides, medicine and music, by those that excelled in these arts among the Egyptians; and besides, the philosophy which is conveyed by symbols, which they point out in the hieroglyphical inscriptions. The rest of the usual course of instruction, Greeks taught him in Egyptas a royal child, as Philo says in his life of Moses.”

As we look back and survey the historical data, we will find that our earliest Christian fathers studied the poets and their works for a reason. They used the writings of the secular poets as stepping stones for teaching eternal truths. And they did this, not necessarily because the words of the poets were objective truth, but because of the poets’ unique ability to observe and to fashion rhetoric that drew people to actually listen, be convinced, and most importantly—remember that which the poet had observed. In the end, the Church Fathers showed the pagan philosophies for what they were: falsehood nevertheless, but convincing, well-wrapped rhetoric.

Poetry was not just for entertainment; rather it was a significant means of communication and served the people as a memorable and reliable delivery system for critical information. The early church knew this and considered the writings of the poets when working with theological truth.

In this blog, I intend to further dissect this yarn, most likely in the Theology postings.

But please consider further… I am a preacher. It is my job to communicate. The preacher must be creative, grasping language and choosing the “best words.” And this takes great linguistic care. Practicing and writing poetry can help to foster such a careful eye. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poet of the English romantic genre, commented quite profoundly while observing Dante, referring specifically to his De la volgere Eloquenza:

“Dante was very sensible in his own excellence, and speaks of poets as guardians of the vast armory of language, which is the intermediate something between matter and spirit…”

Coleridge comments further:

“I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose,—words in their best order; poetry,—the best words in their best order.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes remarks:

“Language!—the blood of the soul, sir!—into which our thoughts run and out of which they grow.”

Even better, Mark Twain once said:

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—‘tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Coleridge, Holmes, and Twain are describing care with language and the importance of word choice; Coleridge more specifically as it serves the nature of poetry, both Holmes and Coleridge the connection between spirit and flesh, while Twain as it serves general clarity in communication. Certainly we could say (and these men might agree) that any writer putting pen to page is expecting to complete a piece that will later be described as “words in their best order.” But poetry is unique in the same way that preaching must be considered unique. Both are to be careful, selective, prejudiced processes within language, and the process is to choose the “best” words and then to cast the others aside as inadequate because they lack the substance necessary to carry the idea. The poet and the preacher must be extremely selective in language.

The poetic postings here in this blog will be my renderings as they surface; not necessarily trying to entertain, but always trying to teach and become better in the craft, to bring about contemplation by others where perhaps it was missing before. In other words, a poet observes the “usual” just like everyone else; however he deliberately seeks to define and congeal images toward permanence by using multihued bits of language. A poet does this quite often because he is describing not only what is already known or is assumed to be known, but also the substance and meaning of that which is known. He wants his reader to see what very well could be received as the “usual” and “common” as less of an opportunity for a somnolent nod of concurrence and more of an opportunity to engage. The poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson said cleverly and succinctly that the “invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” As a preacher, I am free to do the same as I prepare the sermonic stage for the reception of God’s inherently unusual and extraordinary purpose delivered in the commonality of language.

I hope that you will enjoy what I offer and find a certain level of appreciation therein.

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