Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Singing and Poetry - Seriously?

Remember studying poems in grade school? All those flowery rhythms and rhymes never seemed very manly to me. Too bad my teachers didn't expose us to powerful poems like the one Walt Whitman wrote after President Lincoln's assassination. Talk about that dark shadow over the joy at the end of the Civil War:

Captain, My Captain

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Or consider Alfred, Lord Tennyson's (oooh, even his name sounds kind of sissy, doesn't it?) stirring description of a British cavalry unit that is ordered to cross a valley to capture Russian cannons at the other end. Couldn't their commanding officer see the enemies lining both sides of the valley ready to cut them down?

The Charge of the Light Brigade

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Good poetry has power to move us, to motivate us, to open our eyes. That's why it always kills me to see guys sitting in church staring off in the distance when hymns are playing. I know it's tough for men to sing. Some of us never got beyond that cracking-voice thing that happened in junior high or middle school, but if you don't sing, or at least read the words, while others are singing, you don't know what you're missing! Read this hymn text slowly; think about the imagery, and you'll feel how Jesus overcame Thomas' unbelief:

These Things Did Thomas Count as Real

These things did Thomas count as real:
The warmth of blood, the chill of steel,
The grain of wood, the heft of stone,
The last frail twitch of flesh and bone.
The vision of his skeptic mind
Was keen enough to make him blind
To any unexpected act
Too large for his small world of fact.

His reasoned certainties denied
That one could live when one had died,
Until his fingers read like Braille
The marking of the spear and nail.

May we, O God, by grace believe
And thus the risen Christ receive,
Whose raw imprinted palms reached out
And beckoned Thomas from his doubt.

Poetry. Lyric. Their power is undeniable, but for many of us they're an acquired taste. Without a melody to hum along and carry the words, it's easy to dismiss the subtle attention to detail of a well-wrought poem or a tightly constructed hymn.

Sometimes you just have to read the words on the page.

What are you reading these days? Click here and let us know.

1 comment :

Rev. Timothy Vaughan said...

Walt Whitman as "very manly"?
How about John Donne, or John Milton, or T.S. Eliot, or Robert Frost, or even Dylan Thomas?