In the previous post I interviewed Dave Mahan on poetry. Dave mentioned a formative teacher in Peter Hawkins. Here is a short video where Hawkins talks about a number of things, but I want to draw your attention to “careful reading” and really falling in love with great texts.
My latest interview at Jesus Creed:
Answer: Read poetry!
From Philip Yancey:
“I find that poetry helps. You can’t zoom through poetry; it forces you to slow down, think, concentrate, relish words and phrases. I now try to begin each day with a selection from George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, or R. S. Thomas.”
The rest is below (HT: Thomas Kidd’s email letter)
Recently, I listened to a sermon by Howard Hendricks. Hendricks taught for sixty years at Dallas Theological Seminary. He died in 2013. In the message, Hendricks described one of his favorite poems, “The Night They Burned Shanghai” by Robert Abrahams. It tells of a couple driving to play Bridge with some of their friends. As they are en route they survey what is going on in the world. The luxury of playing Bridge is juxtaposed with various world tragedies. The poem ends with these arresting lines:
Tonight Shanghai is burning
And we are dying too
What bomb more surely mortal
Than death inside of you
For some men die by shrapnel
And some go down in flames
But most men perish inch by inch
In play at little games.
Several important and far-reaching insights about our human nature:
“…in later years he made a point of quoting Georg Christoph Lichtenberg: ‘There is a great difference between still believing something and believing it again.’ All his beliefs were beliefs again.”
As one who has experienced some severe seasons of doubt about the Christian faith, I definitely resonate with this quote.
Like many I guess, I came to appreciate poetry as an adult. As this blog develops, I plan to share many of my favorite lines of poetry.
Since I benefit greatly from analogies and illustrations, perhaps the following will help you when it comes to the value of poetry:
Most everyone I know loves turkey stuffing. And it seems there is never enough. Good cooks know how to jam as much of the tasty concoction as is possible into a very small space.
Good poetry is like turkey stuffing. It compresses language to create something tasty intellectually. With few words, a good poet can create big, explosive, wonderful, and yes, even delicious ideas. Ideas that spark the imagination, stimulate the love of virtue, transport us to new worlds, and so much more.
One last thing before you pick up that dusty volume of poetry: read slowly! Poetry should not be sped read anymore than you should wolf down great stuffing.