Saturday, January 07, 2006

Theological Poets

Fred K., over at la nouvelle theologie, asked me to offer a list of poets essential for theologians. This is an interesting reqest, as it assumes poetry and theology have a relationship worthy of note. Do poems influence theology? Or is it simply that some poets have religious interests and presuppositions which appear in their poems? My two favorite "Christian poets" are R.S. Thomas and Geoffrey Hill, and yet I doubt they would appreciate the designation of "Christian poet," as it is somewhat reductionistic. I suspect most poets would like to be labelled as simply "poets," or perhaps merely as "artists."

I believe that very few poets have influenced theology. Dante and Milton, of course, are the great exceptions. Most theologians seem uninterested in aesthetics, and poetry is especially conspicuous by its absence in summas and theological monographs (which makes the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar even more important, given his emphasis on aesthetics). We suffer from an Aristotelian utilitarianism, where jargon and methodology have replaced beauty and poetry, and thus theology is mostly barren and incapable of moving the heart.

So here is my list, which I know will have many omissions, and which I will desire to revise when names bubble up into my brain later in the day. Since the other lists are chronological, I will try and follow suit.

Anonymous - this guy (or girl) wrote an enormous amount of poetry about Christ!
St. John of the Cross
John Donne
George Herbert
Henry Vaughn
Thomas Traherne
William Cowper
Charles Wesley
Isaac Watts
William Blake
John Henry Newman
John Greenleaf Whittier
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Emily Dickinson
Gerard Manley Hopkins
T.S. Eliot
C.S. Lewis
John Betjemen
W.H. Auden
R.S. Thomas
Geoffrey Hill
Jane Kenyon
Anthony Hecht
Richard Wilbur

Please be kind when you point out a glaring omission!


Blogger Deep Furrows said...

Thanks for your list! I appreciate your mention of Hans Urs von Balthasar, who indeed has been one of the few modern theologians attentive to poetry, music, literature, and the arts. From him, I take Dante, John of the Cross, Holderlin, Peguy, Rilke, Claudel. From Luigi Giussani, I got Leopardi and Lorca. With living poets, there are many including Mark Jarman, Andrew Hudgins, and others. I'm also surprised no one has mentioned Seamus Heaney.

3:51 PM  
Blogger homo unius libri said...

John Bunyan?

4:48 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

Fred K.
I am ashamed to have forgottem Peguy! Being such a fan of Geoffrey Hill, how could I have forgotten him?

I heard Hudgins read his poetry when I was in college, and bought his volume, "Saints and Strangers." Some fine stuff, but also some absolutely blasphemous lines which exclude him from my list.

I love the "Progress" as you know...but I usually skip the poetry parts! The good Tinker was not made famous by his poesy. ;)

9:38 PM  
Blogger Ben Myers said...

Well done -- this is a great list.

9:49 PM  
Blogger Deep Furrows said...

One of my favorites by G. Hill is a poem called Tenebrae.

By the way, the question your posts asks is a worthy one. Dante and Milton both studied theology and expressed in in poetry. I'm more interested in the full human expression of the poets which includes the religious dimension. And I would aagree with Bathasar that the theologian and other Christian folk do well to read the poetry that wrestles with God and asks the profound questions, even if the resolution falls short of revealed truth. And Hudgins is blasphemous at times, but I was intrigued by the little that I've read by him (After the Lost War).

11:26 PM  
Blogger Miss Eagle said...

Could I commend to you the British poet, Thomas Blackburn, who I would describe as a modern metaphysical poet. There is the the Australian poet, James McAuley. A Catholic but a fine poet. If I could make so bold as to contribute one of mine:


When did the world call me?
When did I move from your love?
What did I seek that I couldn’t find in you?
Turn, turn, turn away

Where did my feet go?
Where did I send my love?
What did I receive that I couldn’t find in you?
Turn, turn, turn away


Unmarked the turning of the heart
When does milk begin to sour
Soon it is that feet will follow
Soon it is that love will flee
Turn, turn, turn away

Now you say to me:
I am here as ever I was
My voice speaks as ever to thee
But you call me not ‘Beloved’
And turn, turn, turn away

12:16 AM  
Blogger Scribe said...

Very nice, Eagle's Child. Bless you.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Scipio said...

I'd add David Michael Jones, a Welsh-English poet: His Anathemata are just great, deal with Creation, History and Salvation History, Eucharist - and London!

10:19 AM  

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