instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

But I know what I like

There's a Peter DeVries novel in which a character taking a college course on poetry is given the assignment of answering the question, "Is 'Dare I eat a peach?' poetry?"

DeVries uses this as an excuse to slip an undigested lump of praise for T. S. Eliot and "Prufrock" past his editor, but as someone for whom poetry has little appeal, I didn't really understand the point of the question. Doesn't whether "Dare I eat a peach?" is poetry depend on the context?

Years later, though, I now see that not every question can be poetic, regardless of the context. For example, there's this, from a poem called "You have colored outside the lines!":
Am I bold to color outside the lines
    of conformity to strident stale mores
        and theologies?
No context in the world can make that poetry.

I mention this, though, not just to make fun of a really, really bad poem (you color outside the lines? How sassy! You go, girl!) that appears in a newsletter for the Dominican Institute for the Arts, but to point out (for those with Acrobat Reader) what I think is quite a good poem in that same newsletter. It's "mount tabor," by Sr. Ruthann Williams, OP, appears on the last page, and begins thusly:
homespun blushed to gold
your hair in maple glory
and eyes a sacrament
our joy was such
we could not turn aside
but longed to hold the moment still

can this be
the carpenter's son?
The poem pulls out the Gospel questions asked of (more than to) Jesus:
...what sort
of man is this one?

...what wrong
is this man guilty of?
Of course, these are the same questions people ask about Jesus today, and it's as true today as it was when the Evangelists first wrote them down that we need to be able to give our own answers.

Memorized answers certainly have their place, but they also have their limitations. We should not only be able to tell Who Jesus is, but to show Who He is, to be able to introduce Him to those who ask, to recognize Him when we need His help.

Now, I readily admit to knowing little about poetry, and all I'm going on is my own reaction. But the newsletter contains two poems, one about the wonder that is the poet, the other about the wonder that is Jesus. I have no difficulty in figuring out which poem is the work of a preacher.