Why do people write poems? W. H. Auden said he wrote poems simply because he saw something that he thought others should see too. My poems plant themselves, not in my mind, but in my soul. Seed-poems germinate faster than sunlight racing. Startled, I watch them grow at time-lapse speed.
Poems wait on no one. When they are ready to be born, when the urge comes to push them out onto paper, cooperation is imperative. The birth canal of the pen is narrow, but sufficient. Poems ignored and left till tomorrow die, shrivel, and vanish.
Carl Sandburg said, “Ordering a man to write a poem is like commanding a pregnant woman to give birth to a red-headed child.” Yes, it is almost impossible to produce a poem at will. Poems just appear in a basket on your doorstep when you least expect them. For me, they have all been “given,” yet born out of my own pain, or my own exultation in God and his creation.
What exactly is a poem? Many try to define it, but its elusive properties defy capture. Samuel Taylor Coleridge said a poem presented “the best words in their best order.” (In contrast, prose for him was simply words, but not the best ones, in their best order.) Good poetry cries out to be printed in fancy fonts, not simple up and down sticks. It is too beautiful, too exquisite, to dress in plain clothes. Poems demand pages of wide, white fields on which to display their shape and grace.
Poems are condensed thoughts, often with a shake of esoteric salt. Good ones beg to be pondered, yet are not beyond understanding. Some people don’t care for poems. They haven’t the patience to meditate on them and decipher the message. But apparently God in his Word hopes the reader will do exactly that. Fully one-third of the Old Testament is written in poetry. Donald K. Berry adds, “Poetry provides imagery and tone for inspired writers to drum God’s word home to his people.” Like songs with a beat that stick in our heads, God uses poems, with their silent melodies, to make us think.
God writes his poems in nature too as expressed by Phillips Brooks: “I saw God write a gorgeous poem this very morning. With the fresh sunbeam for a pencil, on the broad sheet of level snow, the diamond letters were spelled out one by one, till the whole was aflame with poetry.” Poetry expresses the overflow of our heart, the ecstasy of our experience. No wonder our big-hearted God of Love uses it daily.
God created poetry in the Scriptures with words. He created it in nature through sunbeams and snow. He has also created it in us, his creatures. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his (God’s) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” The word workmanship comes from the Greek word poiema, “anything made.” We are God’s workmanship! We are God’s poem! We are his living, breathing poem in Christ Jesus. Each one of us was made with God’s best words in the best order. Even before the world was created, we were a seed-poem planted in his Spirit and born out of his heart. Let us rejoice, going out into the white harvest fields to display the beauty and poetry of Christ and cause others to think.
Carl Sandburg, poet and biographer (1878-1967)
Donald K. Berry in The Holman Bible Dictionary under Poetry
Brooks, Phillips (1835-93), U.S. preacher, born in Boston, Mass.; internationally famous orator,
Episcopalian bishop of Mass.; wrote hymn 'O Little Town of Bethlehem'
Excerpted from Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia. Copyright © 1994, 1995 Compton’s NewMedia, Inc.