Friday, August 11, 2017

The Oxford Book of Christian Verse by Lord David Cecil

If I had two lives, I would have a separate blog highlighting classic poetry. (In 2013 I even had a contest to choose a name for a poetry section of this blog that never materialized.) The thing about good poetry books is that they take a long time to read and savor. So they don't lend themselves to my book-a-week book blog format. Maybe there is a poem-a-week in my imaginary future...

I've been reading the The Oxford Book of Christian Verse for over a year and have enjoyed the rich theology and beautiful language. My copy was printed in 1941 so it mercifully avoids any modern rubbish. (Not all modern poets are bad, but that's a subject for another post.) It starts with Chaucer, works through 600 years, and ends with T.S. Eliot.

I underlined many a delightful turn of phrase (George Herbert calling prayer "the soul in paraphrase" and John Milton calling the Magi "star-led wizards" for example). Andrew Marvell describes how affliction turns us back to God by writing that we are "shipwrecked into health again."

I loved the astounding economy of language used by Richard Crashaw as he described Christ's birth:

Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter. Day in night.
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little one! whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav'n to earth.

Christian poetry tends to be sentimental and this anthology was collected with the distinct purpose of avoiding such fluff, which means that it must be read slowly and carefully. Occasionally I had to visit an online poetry site to clarify an author's meaning.

This is a lovely book, but it cannot be appreciated by those who want a "quick poetry fix." These devotional selections are meant to make you pause, think, and even pray. As such, they can't be read in a hurry.



Anonymous said...

Thank you, Hope, for sharing this. I have a new book to hunt for! I love poetry but it's a fairly recently learned appreciation.

Star-led Wizards indeed. You have to read slowly to have time to get a feel for the picture that is being painted with words.


Michele Morin said...

I think John Piper has recommended this book of poetry as well. I do love "the good stuff" and am going through a Gerard Manley Hopkins phase myself these days.
Blessings to you!