August 26, 2020

Poetry as a Spiritual Exercise

Sara Robinson   

Southern Writers Poet

We are aware that many poets, as their professional and personal lives expanded, felt that there was more to their writing than expressions on love, death, themselves, and nature. Many poets believed that they were on a quest, not just for truth, but for deeper meanings. For them, nature was a tool, a door, to allow them exploration into a spiritual side of their writing and consciousness.

Two notable poets, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and Robert Duncan spent a better part of their lifetimes into research on religion, and even the occult. They maintained that “poetry affects spiritual transactions.” For example, a devastating loss can compel one to seek solace in his/her faith and then write about what this means to him/her. Edward Hirsch, an acclaimed poet, focuses much of his writing on traumatic events in his life. This includes elegies for family members and friends. The elegy can be a meditative reflection on sorrow, remorse, extreme anguish; then how to use this grief to heal. Edward lost his only son, Gabriel, and wrote a masterful 78-page elegy. In this he questions his faith, where God is, and even demanding that God give him back his son.

There were a number of poets of “the greatest age of English verse,” who drew on the Bible as part of their prosody practice. We look to spiritual texts to give us inspiration as well as poetic technical help. For example, the meter, rhyme, and musicality of The Bible influenced many, such as Donne and Whitman. Our challenge today is to bring the antiquity to the present so that phrases continue to be relevant. Look at this line from Walt Whitman (from his poem Memories of President Lincoln): “I cease my song for thee, / From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee, / O comrade lustrous with silver face in the night.” A poet incorporating a spirituality in his renderings must find a balance between being pious and poetic.

Robert Alter’s book, “The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary” looks discretely and intensely at biblical language and how to bring it to modern poetic script, as translation and as poetic thought. Take this example: “The Lord is my shepherd, / I shall not want. / In grass meadows He makes me lie down, / by quiet waters guides me. / My life He brings back. / He leads me on pathways of justice / for His name’s sake. / Though I walk in the vale of death’s shadow, / I fear no harm, / for You are with me.”

When we use monosyllabic words with their modern syntax as we compose spiritual text, we create another kind of beauty. How will you embrace spirituality in your writing?

Author of Sometimes the Little Town (her fifth book and fourth poetry collection), is founder of Lonesome Mountain Pros(e) Writers’ Workshop, former UVA-OLLI instructor on Contemporary Poetry, and poetry columnist for Southern Writers’ Magazine. Published in journals and anthologies, she is a former Virginia Writers’ Club and Blue Ridge Writer’s Chapter officer.  Her most recent book, Needville has now been turned into a play.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this post Sara. Going further inside of ourselves to touch the spirituality to me would bring out better writing whether it be poetry or novels.