Thursday, March 14, 2013

Poetry - again

The Writer’s Almanac provides a nice poem about simple join today (March 14, 2013).

by Wendell Berry

It's the immemorial feelings
I like the best: hunger, thirst,
their satisfaction; work-weariness,
earned rest; the falling again
from loneliness to love;
the green growth the mind takes
from the pastures in March;
The gayety in the stride
of a good team of Belgian mares
that seems to shudder from me
through all my ancestry.

"Goods" by Wendell Berry, from New Collected Poems. © Counterpoint Press, 2012

The Writer’s Almanac provides a nice poem about simple join today (March 14, 2013).

Berry’s poem feels like a grandfather’s address to his grandson. “Hunger is the best sauce,” he says. “There is nothing like lemonade under a shade tree when you’ve been really working for a few hours.” He extols the real satisfaction that comes from real need. We need this poem because our culture extols entertainment. Lemonade doesn’t thrill us because we are not thirsty, we’re bored.

He then moves to more subtle needs, the satisfaction of companionship, the satisfaction that comes from the yearly renewal of the earth in Spring, and the pleasure he takes in the beauty of horses.

Is Berry riffing on Psalm 147? He might be. The Psalm also extols the gifts of creation, including food and Spring. It then has these famous verses speaking of the Lord’s pleasure:

Psalm 147:10–11 (ESV)
      10        His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
      11        but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

I don’t think, however, that Berry’s sentiments are contrary to the Psalm. The point of these verses is that the Lord delights not in physical beauty or strength but in faith. Yet there is something beautiful and pleasant in the athleticism of Belgian mares and Olympic runners. It is not as though the Psalmist says, “The Lord’s delight is not in bowel movements.” Of course it isn’t. The point is that the Lord’s delight is not in what men, in their conceit, find delightful and even what is objectively good, but in those who believe in Him. In fact, the Lord does delight in the strength of the horse, some, even as He delights in the beauty of all His creatures, just not as much as He delights in faith. The Psalms are poetry and the statement here that the Lord does not delight in the strength of the horse is not literal. It is set up parallel to what the Lord does delight in as a comparison. What this means is that the delight the Lord takes in faith is so great, that it is as though there is no other delight, even in a horse.

Here is what the Psalmist wants to get to:

Ps 147:2-3 (ESV)
      2       The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
      3       He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Thinking in terms of Berry's poem, we might say something like, "In all the delights of creation, I like the simple and solid things best. There is nothing on earth like solid food when you're hungry, cold water when you're truly thirsty, and rest when you're tired. But those things, as good and satisfying as they are, pale in the satisfaction that comes from the Absolution. If hunger is the best sauce for food, repentance is the best sauce for faith. Nothing satisfies the bone-weary sinner like the good news of the Father's acceptance in Christ." 

Poetry can often help us with preaching. This Berry poem certainly got me thinking. The Writer’s Almanac is wonderful and free resource. Sign up and they will send you a poem a day by e-mail. My advice with poetry is to not try too hard. When the  poems arrive, read them out loud. If your mind wanders and it bores you, finish it and drop it. Don’t try to understand or love every poem. Just let the poem wash over you each day. Once in a while, something will catch your ear and get you thinking.

The Writer’s Almanac also provides literary history for each day. Once in a while, I find that stuff even better than the poems. But if you don’t want to take the 5 minutes to read that, just read the poems. And please, read them out loud.

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