The Poetry of God

By: Brian Robertson

Poetry has been defined as "experience condensed and intensified." Never is this more obvious than in spending time with some of the poetry of Christian mystics. One of my favorites is St. John of the Cross This Earth is a Bow.

The very finest of the many sites on the Net that deal with the poetry of the mystics can be found at Poet Seers and I can't imagine that site not being bookmarked and available at a moment's notice from the heart.

The poem by St. John of the Cross is from a collection well worth finding -- Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West (Compass) by David Ladinsky. Please note that Ladinsky is controversial to say the least, and I think much of the criticism is justified. Another of his books on the poet Hafiz shared the same misgivings -- the voice that emerges in the "translations" are not necessarily the voice of the original poet, but what I would call Ladinsky's "re-imagining" of the poem. Still, in many cases, the poems prove a jumping off place for searching for the originals that inspired them.

The question becomes, why does poetry turn to God and, more importantly, why is so much of that poetry so powerful? True, there is more bad poetry in the world than good, more trite or possessed of a forced voice than images from the heart, and that's certainly true in religious poetry!

But the pairing of poetry and God works because poetry is not a newspaper account as with nonfiction, but an often halting attempt to use image and metaphor to point beyond the mundane to the mysterious. An asute reader of that sentence will realize that the Bible itself falls into that category, in spite of attempts by fundamentalists and literalists to flatten it and render it lifeless and tragically one dimensional.

In Zen there is a saying that says, roughly, that the best experience is one that cannot be spoken about. The next best is poetry. The worst is a discourse.

God, like life at its best, is poetry, not prose. No one who is in love, as Albacete said, writes a detailed biological treatise on the attraction of one person to the other, but rather an often silly love poem. Behind that poem is a sea of emotions that each of us yearn to share with another, but find outselves speechless at the brink of the Infinite.