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Poetry. Who Needs It?

Turns out, Christians do.

In “Christianity and Poetry,” (First Things, August/September, 2022), Dana Gioia laments the neglect of poetry on the part of the Christian community. He explains the importance of poetry to Christian life, both from Scripture and Church history, even going so far as to say, “It is impossible to understand the full glory of Christianity without understanding poetry.”

He explains that poetry “is speech raised to the level of song” and is “the most concise, expressive, and memorable way of using words. He demonstrates the importance of poetry to the life of faith, beginning with Mary’s Magnificat: “Christian poetry begins – quite literally – at the first moment in which Christ is announced to humanity. That origin demonstrates the supreme and inextricable importance of poetry to Christian experience.” He says further, “In Scripture, verse is the idiom for the revelation of mystery.” 

A major part of his article reviews the use of poetry in English Church history: “Christianity was not incidental to English poetry; the history of its Christian verse is also a history of its spiritual consciousness.”

He laments the lack of poetry – and the arts in general: “No one now associates the Church with the arts” – in today’s churches and calls for an effort to recover it. He insists that “Our experience of the divine is not primarily intellectual. We feel it with our bodies. We picture it in our imaginations. We hear it as a voice inside us. We are grateful for an explanation, but we crave inspiration, communion, rapture, epiphany.” This is what poetry can deliver.

Recovering poetry begins in a change of attitude, “a sort of Great Awakening.” He concludes, “We need language as radiant as our miracles and mysteries. We have to use words to speak to one another, and to God. Why not speak our truths with joy and splendor?”


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