Friday, July 6, 2018

The One Year Book of Poetry by Philip Comfort

I've raved about this book on and off through the years, but have never actually reviewed it here. I'll share a few thoughts now that I've read it through for the third time.

The One Year Book of Poetry contains some of the best devotional poetry written in the last 500 years. Although I read a lot of poetry, this book introduced me to many new authors who are now favorites. Along with the better known John Donne, George Herbert and Christina Rossetti, there are poems by Francis Quarles, Edward Taylor and Robert Herrick (metaphysical poets from the 1600's).

There's very little fluff here. In fact, some of the poems are too theologically dense for the average reader (even with Daniel Comfort's explanations on the opposite page of each entry.) Although I love rich, gorgeous language, and depth of meaning, I'm a poetry pragmatist at heart. If I can't understand it without significant outside help, I am not inclined to love it. Even if only half of these poems got a thumbs up from me, those 180 deepened my love for beautifully written poetry that expresses life's joys and sorrows in the midst of earnest hope in a faithful God.

Henry Vaughan's (1621-1695) "Easter Hymn" has this marvelous beginning:

Another overwhelmingly beautiful poem is Edward Taylor's "Stupendous love! All Saints' Astonishment!" which is about the power of Christ's blood to cleanse us. He compares the blood to wine and writes,

My soul had caught an ague, and like hell
Her thirst did burn: she to each spring did fly,
But this bright blazing love did spring a well
Of aqua vitae in the Deity,
Which on the top of heaven's high hill outburst
And down came running thence t'allay my thirst.

How shall I praise thee then? My blottings jar
And wrack my rhymes to pieces in thy praise.
Thou breath'st thy vein still in my porringer ,
To lay my thirst, and fainting spirits raise.
Thou makes glory's chiefest grape to bleed
Into my cup: And this is drink indeed.

(ague = fever fit, porringer = small bowl, aqua vitae = liquor)

This is a book to be read and savored slowly and prayerfully.


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