Poetry at Your Best

Just before Christmas one year, I was in a graduate poetry seminar in a state university when a soaring soprano voice in a nearby classroom burst into an aria from Handel’s “Messiah”: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given–and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

On the desks before each of us were textbooks opened to John Milton’s poem, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” which begins:

This is the Month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav’ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring. . .

Wow! Try as the secularists might to keep Jesus Christ out of this university, He was right there in the classroom with us, permeating the very words we were reading, perfuming the air we were breathing!

How do Handel and Milton manage to penetrate to the very heart of a secular campus with the Gospel, when sermons, tracts, and personal witness usually meet with hostility, ridicule, or indifference?

By mastering their craft.

If your craft is poetry, master it! Read great poetry. Take classes in literature, grammar, creative writing. Write. Join a critique group. Experiment with rhyme, meter, voice, mood, imagery, counter-motion. They are dancing horses waiting to be reined and trained for your personal pleasure.

Robert Frost was giving a talk at Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. He read them his poem, “The Hired Man.” He asked the audience to identify the meter for him. They sat silent.

He finally answered his own question: “Hendecasyllabics.”

A little old lady English teacher raised her hand and asked, “Surely, Mr. Frost, you don’t use these. . . technical tricks?”

He leaned forward and said, “Madam, I revel in them.”


About Jessica Renshaw

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One Response to Poetry at Your Best

  1. I’m far far behind in blog reading and decided to catch up tonight. This is absolutely delightful and the title was fine with me!

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