Beyond the poet’s pen

from the desk of… 

by Victor Doughty, Major –

These are exciting days for poets everywhere. British entertainment company 57 Productions launched a new website this month which allow users to download and listen to poetry on their mp3 players and iPods. About 1,000 readings from poetry written in English are available at 95 cents for each audio poem and $1.80 for each video poem. The company offers a free one-month trial membership. After that, subscriptions are $18 a year.

And if that weren’t enough, the University of Virginia announced the discovery of a previously unknown poem by the American poet, Robert Frost, entitled “War Thoughts at Home.” Found tucked away in another volume, the poem narrates Frost’s ambivalence about the war that claimed the life of a close friend.

In his book, Good Poems for Hard Times, my favorite author and radio personality Garrison Keillor writes about the interpretation of poetry: “The meaning of poetry is to give courage. A poem is not a puzzle that you the dutiful reader is obliged to solve. It is meant to poke you, get you to buck up, pay attention, rise and shine, look alive, get a grip, get the picture, pull up your socks, wake up and die right.”

Among my valued possessions is an autographed book of poems by former President Jimmy Carter, entitled Always A Reckoning. One of his offerings seems particularly appropriate for Salvationists. The title is what initially captured my attention but the content is well worth our consideration as well.

Itinerant Songsters Visit Our Village

When some poets came to Plains
one night,
two with guitars, their poems taught
us how to look and maybe laugh
at what we were and felt and thought.

After that, I rushed to write
in fumbling lines why we should care
about a distant starving child.
I asked how we can love the fear
and death of war, rejecting peace
as weakness; how a poet can dare
to bring forth out of memory
the troubling visions buried there,
and why we barely comprehend
what happens out in space.

I found
my words would seldom flow, and then
I turned to closer simpler themes:
a pony, Mama as a nurse,
the sight of geese, the songs of whales,
a pasture gate, a racist curse,
a possum hunt, a battle prayer.

I learned from poetry that art
is best derived from artless things,
that mysteries might be explored
and understood from that which springs
most freely from my mind and heart.

Certainly within The Salvation Army there have been many gifted poets during our relatively short history, among them Albert Orsborn, Catherine Baird, Miriam Richards and John Gowans. I learned a long time ago as a cadet that our song book is really a book of poems. It is a wonderful treasury that has been described by Orsborn as “the upward reaching of the soul, the downward reach of the love of God, the incense of devotion, the canticles of praise….” And, of course, Scripture itself, the inspired word of God, is filled with the poetry of heaven.

I don’t know about you but I need a little poetry in my life each day. Something to lift me above the daily grind, beyond the hellish news reports of unspeakable inhumanity, past the petty distractions that tug at my sleeve, away from the selfish desires that cause me to stumble. I need to be transported and transformed each day by the Master Poet.

Arch Wiggins, Salvationist historian, writer and poet, knew of this need and offers to each of us these words of encouragement:

Thine is the Kingdom, Lord,
Thou art the King of kings;
Thy realm enfolds the universe
And Heaven its tribute brings;
Though evil forces seem
On earth to hold the sway,
Thy loyal peoples wait in faith
To hail thy crowning day.

Thine is the power, O Lord,
Nor Heaven nor earth can break;
The oceans move at thy command,
The stars their courses make.
Thou canst the breath of man
Bestow or canst withhold:
Of all the wonders of thy power
No tongue has ever told.

Thine is the glory, Lord,
The greatness and the praise,
The final victory over death,
The end of mortal days.
All majesty is thine,
Beyond the poet’s pen,
For thou art life, and light and love:
Amen, amen, amen!

Arch R. Wiggins (1893-1976)

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