Category Archives: poetry

Consciousness, Culture, and Art: Informal Comments on an Imagist Poem by William Carlos Williams

In part of this post on William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Pot,” Thomas F. Bertonneau suggests meaning is bigger than mere associations between things, images, ideas, etc. He seems to be saying the ability to make meanings has its source in common grace. “Meaning is not only a type of synchronicity; it is a type of Grace. It takes an occasion, such as the careful composition of ‘The Pot,’ to bestow itself, although undeserved, on the percipient. A sense of this drove the humanities at their constitution, but as Western culture has gradually repudiated basic notions like the beauty that is truth lauded by Keats in his Ode, as it has expelled the supernatural, the Christianized sacred, and the pre-Christian sacred, it has impoverished itself of meaning, which it now in fact disdains, pretending to ‘deconstruct’ it. In the 1980s, when I attended graduate school in Comparative Literature at UCLA, the old guard of the professoriate still clung vestigially to the institutions of meaning; they still urged their young acolytes to acquire as much knowledge as possible so that as many things as possible might at any moment be brought into constellation by an instance of meaning.”

The Orthosphere

flowers-in-pot-01 Ou Li Da

The poem to which this essay’s subtitle refers is one of the much-excerpted and much anthologized verse-interpolations in the Menippean combination of verse and prose, Spring and All (1921), that the New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) produced at the acme of his self-consciously Imagist phase in the years after the First World War.  The poem carries no title, but, according to the tenets of Imagism, presents itself to the reader as an instance of res ipso loquitur or “the thing speaks for itself.”  In a later phase of his insistent creativity, Williams would adopt as his poetic motto the formula, “no ideas but in things,” the implication of which is that experience is not solipsistic, nor consciousness hermetic, but that any self-aware navigation of the world presupposes an intentional relation between the navigator and the world that he navigates, which he records as…

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Tavern Song

And this I know: whether the one True Light,
Kindle to Love, or Wrath consume me quite,
One glimpse of It within the Tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright.

— LVI, Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 

Happy G.K. Chesterton on Sad William Cowper

In his book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton begins an illuminating passage on madness, predestination, reason, and poetry with some observations about the English poet William Cowper:

“[O]nly one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination. Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine; poetry partly kept him in health. He could sometimes forget the red and thirsty hell to which his hideous necessitarianism dragged him among the wide waters and the white flat lilies of the Ouse. He was damned by John Calvin; he was almost saved by John Gilpin. Everywhere we see that men do not go mad by dreaming. Critics are much madder than poets. Homer is complete and calm enough; it is his critics who tear him into extravagant tatters. Shakespeare is quite himself; it is only some of his critics who have discovered that he was somebody else. And though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators. The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion, like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”

Auden Explains Poetry, Propaganda, And Reporting

“Poetry is speech at its most personal, the most intimate of dialogues. A poem does not come to life until a reader makes his response to the words written by the poet.

“Propaganda is a monologue which seeks not a response but an echo. To recognize this is not to condemn all propaganda as such. Propaganda is a necessity of all human social life. But to fail to recognize the difference between poetry and propaganda does untold mischief to both: poetry loses its value and propaganda its effectiveness.

“Whatever real social evil exists, poetry, or any of the arts for that matter, is useless as a weapon. Aside from direct political action, the only weapon is factual reportage—photographs, statistics, eyewitness reports.”

—W.H. Auden, in “A Short Defense of Poetry,” an address given at the International PEN Conference in Budapest, October 1967

Waiting for the Eternal Easter Day; glimpsing the eternal while living between the crucifixion and the resurrection

Here’s an excellent take on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter:

We exist in a Saturday world. Between Friday and Sunday, when the world was still, the tears fresh, the grave sealed—the darkest day past, a brighter morning imminent—but until then … waiting,” writes Brett McCracken in this post.

Sometimes, we have a glimpse of what the Eternal Easter will look like. The late English poet Ruth Pitter once described such a moment to her BBC Radio audience:

“I was sitting in front of a cottage door one day in spring long ago, a few bushes and flowers round me, bird gathering nesting material, trees of the forest at a little distance. A poor place, nothing glamorous about it.

And suddenly, everything assumed a different aspect, its true aspect.

“For a moment it seemed to me that truth appeared in its overwhelming splendor.

“The secret was out, the explanation given, something that had seemed like total freedom, total power, total bliss — good with no bad as its opposite, an absolute that had no opposite.

“This thing, so unlike our feeble nature, had suddenly cut across one’s life and vanished. What is this thing? Is it, could it be, after all, a hint of something more real than this life? A message from reality, perhaps a particle of reality itself?

“If so, no wonder we hunt it so unceasingly, and never stop desiring it and pining for it.”

Professor and C.S. Lewis scholar Don W. King says in an interview about his book on Pitter that her comments are “very, very similar to what Lewis has to say about his own pursuit of joy.”

We live in a Saturday world, indeed, but not without the occasional glimpse of what’s in store for those who accept, by faith, the promise begun at the Resurrection.

-Colin Foote Burch

Recommended reading: Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

iTunes U has theology; get a free education in theology

Got iTunes? Then you’ve got access to a free education in theology.

Go to the iTunes Store and look for the “iTunes Store” menu. At the bottom of that menu (at least on my version), you’ll see the link to “iTunes U.” Click that link and you’ll be amazed at the number of lectures, courses, and seminars available from dozens of universities.

If you’re looking for theological education while running down through the list of schools, the two biggies are Reformed Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary.

Reformed Theological Seminary has what appears to be a three-semester lecture series in systematic theology, among other interesting courses and lectures.

Fuller has several discussions and panels on iTunes U.

And, if you pop in “theology and literature” into the iTunes Store search box, you’ll be able to navigate to a free, full-length reading of In Tune with the World by the German Thomist (Catholic) philosopher Josef Pieper.

The Pieper reading is technically in the regular podcast section rather than the iTunes U section, but there is plenty to explore in both zones of iTunes. Give it a shot — I’ve been surprised at what’s available.

Granted, all of the above, combined, doesn’t amount to a comprehensize theological education, but the courses, lectures, discussions, and seminars offered are the real deal, not offered merely as podcasts. 

Amazing times for education, to be sure.

Speaking of which, don’t miss our interview with Don W. King about his new book, Hunting the Unicorn: A Critical Biography of Ruth Pitter, which is posted on our home page. King is a C.S. Lewis scholar, and editor of the Christian Scholar’s Review.

-Colin Foote Burch

New book offers first critical biography of C.S. Lewis’ friend Ruth Pitter, first woman to win Queen’s poetry award has posted an interview with Don W. King, author of Hunting the Unicorn: A Critical Biography of Ruth Pitter (Kent State University Press). The book is due in May.

In 1955, English poet Ruth Pitter became the first woman to receive the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. She had previously won two other major poetry awards.

Pitter was admired by W.B. Yeats and C.S. Lewis, as well as other members of the Inklings.

Don W. King discovered references to letters between Lewis and Pitter while he was doing research for his 2001 book, C.S. Lewis, Poet: The Legacy of His Poetic Impulse (Kent State University Press). After that, he continued to research Pitter, and the result was Hunting the Unicorn.

You’ll find the interview prominently displayed on our home page.

(Mac users, if you happen to notice any strange breaks in the text of the interview, please let us know by leaving a comment on this post.)


Colin Foote Burch