I grew up believing that Christians were not the ones at the cutting edge of the art world, leading culture, asking questions that push deeper into faith and mystery.
In college, wonderful professors exposed me to Christian poets. I learned that it takes practice and study to understand sonnets and love them, similar to how a person needs to practice weight training or oil painting to learn and enjoy the activity. I learned that any good poem reveals its meaning in shreds, unfurling like a kestrel’s wings.
Here are some of the Christian poets that made me realize that Christians are (and have always been!) a powerful part of the history of poetry and the world.
“Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins (written in 1877)
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
“Arise, Go Down” by Li-Young Lee (published in 1990)
It wasn’t the bright hems of the Lord’s skirts
that brushed my face and I opened my eyes
to see from a cleft in rock His backside;
it’s a wasp perched on my left cheek. I keep
my eyes closed and stand perfectly still
in the garden till it leaves me alone,
not to contemplate how this century
ends and the next begins with no one
I know having seen God, but to wonder
why I get through most days unscathed, though I
live in a time when it might be otherwise,
and I grow more fatherless each day.
For years now I have come to conclusions
without my father’s help, discovering
on my own what I know, what I don’t know,
and seeing how one cancels the other.
I’ve become a scholar of cancellations.
Here, I stand among my father’s roses
and see that what punctures outnumbers what
consoles, the cruel and the tender never
make peace, though one climbs, though one descends
petal by petal to the hidden ground
no one owns. I see that which is taken
away by violence or persuasion.
The rose announces on earth the kingdom
of gravity. A bird cancels it.
My eyelids cancel the bird. Anything
might cancel my eyes: distance, time, war.
My father said, Never take your both eyes
off of the world, before he rocked me.
All night we waited for the knock
that would have signalled, All clear, come now;
it would have meant escape; it never came.
I didn’t make the world I leave you with,
he said, and then, being poor, he left me
only this world, in which there is always
a family waiting in terror
before they’re rended, this world wherein a man
might arise, go down, and walk along a path
and pause and bow to roses, roses
his father raised, and admire them, for one moment
unable, thank God, to see in each and
every flower the world cancelling itself.
“Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent”
by John Milton (written approximately 1655)
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” by Wendell Berry (published 1973)
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
I hope that these poems can encourage and inspire you today, and remind you that indeed, our God is the master artist, master poet, and endless verses can be written by His children about His world, His beauty, and His love.