It should be no surprise that poetry is an ideal artform through which to worship God. Large parts of the Bible are written in poetic form, plus of course there is a long tradition of worship through hymns and songs, many of which started out as poems.
This anthology of poems has been selected by Richard Harries, especially to lead the reader in a poem each day throughout Lent, and a little bit beyond. It includes “secular” poets as well as those with a strong faith who clearly write for a Christian audience. It offers background to the poets, insight into their faith, which is often surprising, and their reasons for writing. But it is also clear that, first and foremost, many of the poets are writing for themselves, stretching their abilities to use the beauty of words to express their innermost thoughts and communicate some profound truths through the beauty of language.
This collection helps to make the poetry accessible, especially with the fascinating insights and explanations provided by Richard Harris, who intelligently compiled this collection. He is clearly immensely well read, wise and a spiritual authority for us to listen to.
The book leads the reader through the emotional journey of Lent. The first poem, Surview, by Thomas Hardy, is a sobering start, made so much more impactful by the explanation of Hardy’s background, that gives context.
There are poems from well-known writers like Shakespeare and Donne, along with some that may be a bit more obscure and a mix of ancient and modern. Overall it creates a well-balanced selection, featuring centuries of creative contemplation on the topic, from many great thinkers and communicators.
In the commentary that follows each of the 50 poems, Richard often references the Bible passages which have inspired the works, which is helpful additional reading each day, as well as highlighting the influence of faith on so many great writers and the inspiration for so many classic writings.
Many of the poems are examples of writing as true heartfelt worship, using the beauty of language to bring the glory to God and express profound truths succinctly. Nature and its beauty is a common theme for inspiring poets, and there and many fine examples here too, especially from some of the poets who don’t necessarily have a strong faith, but still communicate much of the beauty of God’s creation.
Of note also is one of Richard’s own poems, which is a delightful and clever presentation of the gospel in one short poem.
The pattern laid out in this book, of reading the poem and then the commentary, is such a helpful way to approach poetry and creates a beautiful devotional to carry the reader through Lent.
Hearing God in Poetry, by Richard Harries, is available here.