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Poetic Favorites

Poetry is a form of communication that is largely lost on me, and in fact, seems to be lost on our society as a whole (unless it is printed within the pages of a CD cover and is sung to us). Most of us do not read much poetry after we have finished with our educations. We have to study it in high school and college and usually have to make a few half-hearted attempts at it ourselves, but once we have our diplomas in-hand, most never think about it again. It is a shame, really.

It strikes me as strange that a form of writing used so much in the Bible is largely ignored by Christians. If it was so important to God that He would write book after book as poetry, it would seem to make sense that we would emulate His emphasis.

I recently compiled a few quotes about poetry. Here are a few of them. T.S. Elliot once said that “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” Interesting, isn’t that? There is something powerful in poetry that allows it to communicate to us even when we do not fully understand it. Music is similar – we may not understand it, but it can still move the bravest man to tears and the weakest man to bravery. John Masefield suggested that “Poetry is a mixture of common sense, which not all have, with an uncommon sense, which very few have.” Even Plato has chimed it, saying that “At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet.” And he is right (or he is right in my case – I wrote my wife some of the world’s worst poetry when we were young and infatuated).

While I rarely read poetry these days, I do have a few favorites left over from the days when I did. Death, Be Not Proud by John Donne and Ben Jonson’s On My First Son stand out as a couple that have meant a lot to me in the past as I have contemplated man’s mortality. I’ve always been partial to Robert Burns’ A Red, Red Rose (“As fair thou art, my bonnie lass, So deep in love am I. And I will love thee still, my dear, Till a’ the seas gang dry.”)

On a less-serious note, I have also often enjoyed Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red.
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

I do not recommend a husband provide the preceding poem to his wife. Recently I came across another poem that I will be adding to this exclusive list of poems I very much enjoy. It was written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning for her husband and was never intended for publication.

If thou must love me, let it be for naught
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say
`I love her for her smile -her look -her way
Of speaking gently -for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day’ –
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee, -and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry –
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou may’st love on, through love’s eternity.

D.A. Carson, in The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God suggests that this poem exemplifies the love Christians are to have towards other people. Having spoken about God’s perfect love with which he loves the unlovable, Carson says, “At our best, we know that that is the way God’s image-bearers should love too.” God does not love us for those attributes we consider most loveable. And we ought to be thankful that this is so, for those attributes can come and go. If God loved me for my thankful spirit, He would have to stop loving me when I refused to give thanks. If God loved me for my steadfastness, He would have to cease loving me when I became complacent. Praise be to God that He loves me for love’s sake – which is to say for His sake, since He is the very embodiment of love.

So let’s talk poetry. Do you read poetry? Did you in the past? Do you have some favorites you would like to share?


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