Poetry’s Print on my Heart.

by Anna Blanch on May 31, 2010

There’s something about words crafting images that have a way of causing those words to in turn wind themselves around your heart. T.S. Eliot consider poetry to be the only form where one can adequately (and then not even) explore the human relationship with God. Before Eliot’s time, earlier in the nineteenth century poetry itself had become a religion for some, where the poet took on the role of prophet, removing God entirely from the equation. Not all poets succumbed to this trend and for many, including George Macdonald and Gerard Manley Hopkins, nineteenth century poetry continued to offer an opportunity to respond to scripture, to reflect on God and his beauty.

A while back Sherry @ Semicolon asked me to participate in her 100 poems project. She asked for me to suggest 10 poems to be included in the list, that the poems be published before 1910, and that I give a reason for my inclusion of each one. It is not the kind of post you see normally here at Goannatree but in a desire to participate in this community activity I thought I would. What I’m not prepared to do is rank these poems 1-10. Sherry asked this but it’s not something I want to do so while I’m participating I’m not ranking! I love all these poems for different reasons.

The Road Not Taken – Robert Frost.
This poem was actually written in 1920, so it is a little later than the meme suggested – but it has to be in my list. I learned this poem by heart when i was at school and it has popped up at many different times during my life.

God’s Grandeur – Gerard Manley Hopkins
The title says it all. It’s a beautiful poem. It was also on the syllabus for the first university level class I taught.

If – Rudyard Kipling
Written for his god-son, this poem is Kipling’s reflection on what it means to succeed.

Obedience – George MacDonald
MacDonald is better known for his fantasy novels, but this nineteenth century preacher and author challenges me with this poem.

Pied Beauty – Gerard Manley Hopkins
Hopkins makes the list twice because this poem is a pleasure. It’s best read aloud, at least that’s how I like it best!

Into the Prison House of Pain – Florence Oates
For a number of years this poem was a very real companion. Able to describe the experience of being in chronic physical pain and offering a description of how visceral and solitary that experience can be Oates presents an amazing approach to reconciling the here and now with a larger plan and a loving God.

Inasmuch as Ye did it Not – Edith Nesbit
Apart from the fact that I couldn’t really write a list like this and not include Nesbit, this poem is a sharp critique of nineteenth century society and particularly challenges the church to act and love those who need and not merely to throw a small amount of money at the problem.

Jabberwocky – Lewis Carroll
Talk about out of left field! This is a nonsense poem. It’s not supposed to make sense. Revel instead at the way the words roll off your tongue. Enjoy, laugh, be a big kid!

Mulga Bill’s Bicycle – Banjo Paterson
This is a fun poem written in 1896 by legendary Australian bush poet A.B. Paterson. I have fond child-hood memories of this poem. I didn’t grow up reading Blake or Browning, I grew up reading Lawson and Paterson! As a note of curiosity, that has nothing to do with this poem, H.G. Well’s Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll was published the same year!

Bush Christening – Banjo Paterson
So like Manley Hopkins, I have a second A.B. Paterson poem to share. Bush Christening is a wonderful irreverent look at the work of the bush pastor and an all-around funny poem. I found this sprightly recitation by Barry Crocker (crazy huh!) which is really worth a listen (his switching between Irish and Australian accents are really well done and he has great comic timing)

Anna Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD student in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland. She grew up reading and listening to Australian bush poets and participating in dramatic readings of bush poetry with her family!

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