Category Archives: Poetics

CLXXXXV

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Complicated stanza forms using rhymed counterpoint (rhymes coming at the ends of lines of different lengths—the very opposite of the royal couplet) are a challenge.  The challenge is to make the thought flow through them without seeming unnatural or forced.  The trick is to make the movement of the stanza just unexpected enough to make the smooth flow of the thought an accomplishment, but not enough to disrupt it.  George Herbert was the great master of this technique.  Let’s see what I can do with it:

George Herbert

THE COMMENDATION

(Rom. 5:8)

In all mankind no greater love can be

Than to lay down

One’s life for a good friend.  But look around,

And you will see

A man, to save his spiteful enemy,

Lie down to die–

No other reason why.

 

And does God then commend His love in this?

While we were yet

Sinners, in our sins still firmly set,

With Judas’ kiss

Still warm on our lips and His cheek, the hiss

Still ringing, “Crucify!”

He willingly did die.

 

And so we hear the glorious decree,

“Reconciled!”

And I, who would have stood there and reviled,

Now on my knee

Search in vain for something that could be

A fit return

For grace I did not earn.

 

And I, who solely by His sacrifice

Now live,

Will never find a single thing to give

That would suffice

To pay back one ten-millionth of the price

He freely gave

To save me from the grave.

 

Ah, well, I must give all;   my grateful heart

Could do no less.

Yet, in so doing, freely I confess

There is no part

To give He has not purchased from the start.

Before His throne,

I give Him but His own,

 

And worship Him for grace beyond my art

To think or tell:

By death and love a double debtor made,

I find all debts in Him forever paid.

He doeth all things well!

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

CLXV

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Music and poetry in the old days were closely allied.  One of my great goals as a writer is to overcome the estrangement that the modern world has caused between them.

Capture9THE MINSTREL

The minstrel struck his golden harp;

The music sounded strong and clear,

Like edges keen and arrows sharp

In hands of warriors bold.

Like rivers swift and mountains sheer,

Like the North wind blowing cold,

It stirred the very blood to hear

Him strike his harp of gold.

 

And then the bard began to sing:

If all alone his melody

Could build so bright and shimmering

A vision in the heart,

What charms of might and mystery

The spoken spell, the subtle art,

The wisdom and the wizardry

Of wordcraft could impart!

 

So deep was the enchantment laid,

So masterful his minstrelsy,

So strong the music that he made,

The story that he told,

That all the gathered chivalry

Would hearken ‘til the night was old,

Entranced and still, whenever he

Took up his harp of gold.

Capture5Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, due out Sept. 30, 2016, from Square Halo Books! 

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

CLI

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

The greatest explanation of why poetry matters is Sir Philip Sidney’s magnificent “Defense of Poesy.”  Sidney defends poetry against those who could see no place in the curriculum for “lies.”  The end of learning, he says, is virtuous action.  The Philosopher writes about the ideal, but does it so abstractly, is so “misty to be conceived,’ that “a man may wade in him until he be old before he find sufficient reason to be honest.”  The Historian, by contrast, writes concretely and tells a story we can relate to—but he is limited to what actually has been.  He cannot talk about what ought to be, the ideal, without departing from his expertise as a Historian.  “But now doth the peerless poet perform both”:  Like the Historian he speaks concretely and tells a story, but like the philosopher he is not limited to what has been but is free to talk about the ideal.  Here I try to add the Theologian to Sidney’s framework.

The Poet

The Poet

DEFINITIONS

Tending to Show that Theology

Is Indeed the Queen of the Sciences

I

Philosopher:  a man who tries to shave

With Ockham’s Razor by the flickering light

That shines behind his back in Plato’s Cave.

He’ll know that’s what he’s doing if he’s bright;

He may take Pascal’s Wager if he’s brave

(Fides quaerens intellectum), and he might

Thus feel his chains fall off and leave that place

And know the sunlight full upon his face.

William of Ockham

William of Ockham

II

Historian:  He deals in documents,

And what he cannot find there he invents.

As long as it fits in with and makes sense

Of what we have of solid evidence,

It’s called “interpretation,” and he prints

It up.  In this there is no vain pretence

As long as we can tell the difference.

 

III

The Poet is a wielder of that Word

Which clothes the unformed thought and makes it seen,

Which sings the silent thought and makes it heard,

Which tells us how to say the thing we mean.

Sir Philip Sidney said it long ago

In his divine Defense of Poesy:

Philosophy’s business is to seek to know

Not just what is, but that which ought to be,

Truth in its very essence, plain and bare

(Though he may leave it hanging in the air);

History can tell us how, below,

The truth has fared and still is apt to fare;

The Poet’s language teaches us to care.

A Theologian

A Theologian

IV

The Theologian has to be all three:

The logos, the divine philosophy

Which was incarnate in our history

Must still be fleshed with words to make men see.

The Theologian simply has to be

All three.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, due out Sept. 1, 2016, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

CXLI

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 

The last poem (CXL, March 31) wasn’t satisfied just to be a sonnet; it wanted to be villanelle too.  When the Muse calls, the Poet must obey.  Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, were the first to attempt the sonnet in English, in the early 16th century, before it was perfected by Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare in the latter half of the century.

 

THE ENGLISH SONNETEERS

Villanelle # 3

 

I come to sing the English sonneteers

(Not worthy, I, to emulate their form).

Wyatt and Surrey were the pioneers.

 

Portrait-Wyatt

Sir Thomas Wyatt

For rules our modern bards have only sneers

And honor Chaos as their highest norm,

But I will sing the English sonneteers.

 

Show me the free-verse monologue that cheers

The heart, a battlefield for love forlorn,

Like Wyatt and Surrey, just the pioneers!

 

 

 

The dulcet sequences first reached our ears

From Italy and France, all full of charm,

But I will sing the English sonneteers,

 

For when in Shakespeare’s tongue the thing appears,

We see the first rays of a splendid morn:

Wyatt and Surrey were the pioneers.

 

Sir Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

Sir Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

The great ones—Spenser, Milton, and their peers—

Would follow and the highest truths adorn.

And so I sing the English sonneteers;

Wyatt and Surrey were the pioneers.

 

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

 

Donald T. Williams, PhD

CXL

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

He who would write traditional poetry in this degenerate age treads a lonely path.  One finds oneself looking for companionship in the past.  At least there one can find actual Poets instead of purveyors of fractured prose!

TO MY PREDECESSORS

Sonnet XLV

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Their glory has not faded!  Though the years

Have been kind to barbarians, and, worse,

Have yielded to their hands the realm of verse;

Though students cannot scan; though I have fears

That Keats may cease to be read by my peers

Except as an assignment and a curse;

Yet still this melody I will rehearse:

I come to sing the English sonneteers.

Portrait-Milton

Their glory cannot fade!  My tongue repeats

The words with wonder, hour after hour,

Of Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Keats,

Of Wordsworth, Hopkins—tastes within their bower

Rich viands, cates, and soul-sustaining meats:

Each line a world of wit compressed to power.

Hopkins

Hopkins

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD