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Richard Wilbur's Lyrics of Christian Sensibility

lyric: "Any fairly short, non-narrative poem [that] expresses a state of mind or a process of thought and feeling" (M.H. Abrams, Glossary of Literary Terms, 4th ed.)

"A brief subjective poem strongly marked by imagination, melody, and emotion, and creating a single, unified impression." (Harmon and Holman,  7th ed.)

(Problem -- both these definitions ignore the narrative possibilities of some lyrics.)

dramatic monologue: "A poem that reveals 'a soul in action' through the speaker of one character in a dramatic situation.  The character is speaking to an identifiable but silent listener at a dramatic moment in the speaker's life.  The circumstances surrounding the conversation, one side of which we 'hear' as the dramatic monologue, are made clear by implication" (Harmon and Holman,  7th ed.)

"A poem in which a single speaker who is not the poet utters the entire poem at a critical moment. The speaker has a listener within the poem, but we too are his/her listener, and we learn about the speaker's character from what the speaker says. In fact, the speaker may reveal unintentionally certain aspects of his/her character." (M.H. Abrams, Glossary of Literary Terms, 4th ed.)

The Christian Worldview and Poetics

In the worldview readings this semester, I have asserted that certainly aspects of the literary experience resonate with Christianity:

  1. Plot and verbal rhythm have their source in God's creation of time.  Both express aspects of what God has created us to be as human beings. (cf. Time )
  2. Doxa, or glory, because it embraces beauty, power, purity, and honor, provides a wider definition of the aesthetic experience and grounds it in God's nature. (cf. Glory )
  3. The experience of mystery in poetry is analogous (but not identical) to the experience of mystery in faith; it shares with it a certain kind of stance towards life. (cf. Mystery )
  4. The skill and beauty of poetry are an expression of God's nature in human beings, for that nature includes a love of craft. (cf. Craft )
  5. Christ's incarnation represents the intersection of time and eternity, history and the universal.  As such, we can never make poetic truth wholly personal and subjective or wholly social and objective. (cf. Incarnation )
  6. Poetry, by the very fact that it seeks to order and explain the world, points to the perfect order of the eschaton.  It promises an understood, even harmonious, world.
  7. Poetry's investment in the concreteness of image and language is an expression of the goodness of God's creation. It uncovers the meaning of the ordinary world.  (cf. Creation )
  8. There is, of course, also the obvious use of explicit Christian themes.

  • Call attention to the way that Wilbur uses narrative or rhythm to heighten a poem's power. (cf. "The Death of a Toad")
  • Does "glory" effectively describe aspects of Wilbur's poetry?  Which aspects of doxa are present more often?  Is there a full-orbed occurrence of glory in any of the poems we have read?
  • How does Wilbur use mystery in his poetry?  Why would he leave some things unexplained? (cf. "Ceremony," "The Mind-Reader")
  • Point out a particularly well-crafted passage in Wilbur's poetry. How does he shape his language to reinforce the poem's meaning?
  • How does Wilbur's poetry seek to balance subjective experience and the objective, concrete value of the world?  How is this an expression of the Incarnation?  (cf. "The Beautiful Changes," "A World without Objects Is a Sensible Emptiness," "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World")
  • How does Wilbur's poetry seek to order and explain the world?
  • How does Wilbur value the world through concrete imagery? (cf. the use of printer's tools in "The Proof")
  • What Christian doctrines are present in Wilbur's work? (cf. "The Mind-Reader," "The Proof")

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding