LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Poets of the Past: Through the Eyes of Readers

Throughout the ages, poetry—both the writing and the reading of it—has helped us make sense of the human experience. Poems written by Christians that have stood the test of time often ask difficult questions, exploring the depths of our relationship to a holy but loving God. With beautiful words and images, these poets’ work can still give glory to God and edify and encourage their readers. Here are a few of them through the eyes of readers who admire their work.

John Donne (1572-1631): English poet and preacher who wrote sonnets, love poems, religious poems, songs, sermons, and more.

Crystal Miller, writer and book reviewer: I have a special place in my heart for John Donne who wrote Death Be Not Proud and For Whom the Bell Tolls, Go and Catch a Falling Star, Holy Sonnet XIV and A Hymn to God the Father.

He understood spiritual struggles, and he wrote about them. [When I first studied his work], I didn’t think they were allowed to do that back then—to question and show that they struggled with the battle raging in a man’s heart.

Donne could do puns, could be humorous. So much of his work was picked up into our modern language (like “no man is an island”).

John Milton (1608-1674): English poet best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost.

Bryon Harris, bookstore owner and former English teacher: Paradise Lost is justly celebrated, though falling into the dustbin of literary criticism. But his 23 sonnets live on and boy, are they all great. In #23, blind Milton dreams of his beloved second wife, now passed.

Methought I saw my late espoused Saint
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,
Whom Joves great son to her glad Husband gave,
Rescu’d from death by force though pale and faint.
Mine as whom washt from spot of child-bed taint, [ 5 ]
Purification in the old Law did save,
And such, as yet once more I trust to have
Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint,
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind:
Her face was vail’d, yet to my fancied sight, [ 10 ]
Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shin’d
So clear, as in no face with more delight.
But O as to embrace me she enclin’d,
I wak’d, she fled, and day brought back my night.

William Cowper (pron. Cooper) (1731-1800): popular English poet and hymn writer.

David Bruce Linn, pastor-teacher, radio Bible teacher, and writer: I am moved by William Cowper’s The Task, which is too long to be enjoyed but contains the stunning portion below. Cowper fell cyclically into deep depression which included fears of damnation so he relived the joy of his first salvation experience repeatedly.

I was a stricken deer, that left the herd
Long since: with many an arrow deep infix’d
My panting side was charged, when I withdrew,
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.
There was I found by One who had himself
Been hurt by the archers. In his side he bore,
And in his hands and feet, the cruel scars.
With gentle force soliciting the darts,
He drew them forth, and heal’d, and bade me live.

Excerpt of an article I wrote that first appeared in The Lookout, December 17, 2006.

Next week, I'll be featuring sculptor Ted Prescott.

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