The Benefits of Learning Poetry
Guest post by David Henry, a student of Liberal Arts and Culture at NSA.
POETRY is a basic part of human culture, and a key element in man’s effort to glorify his Creator. When God planted Adam in the garden, he presented that first specimen of humanity with a world half-named: sea and land, heavens and earth, birds and creeping things. Then the Lord brought him rank upon rank of creature and told him to name them. From the very beginning God has asked us to use words to describe his creation.
This springs into startling clarity when we take note of the fact that Adam’s first reaction to seeing his newly-formed wife was to burst into poetry—a very fitting response to first woman, I might add. Yes, the first recorded words of humanity are a love poem.
When God gives us the world, it is natural to be thankful. It is also natural to express that thanks in words. When you take an idea, squeeze it to its essence, and then garnish it with rhetorical flourishes, you are putting effort into glorifying the gifts our Savior gave us. By our words we prove how highly we esteem what we have.
While I am personally a prose kind of guy—I scribble stories in my spare time—I have to admit that poems are the best way to praise our Lord. There is an added element there that prose cannot capture, the bones of song. Rhythm and rhyme, the click or pop of consonants, the sound of a vowel well-placed, all harmonize to accent each phrase and give it an added depth of meaning. More powerful than bare prose, yet less inscrutable than painting or sculpture, poetry sets fire to the world and sends it up to God like incense.
For these reasons alone, poetry ought to form some part of the raising of each Christian child. But there are more practical advantages as well. Learning the grammar of poetry increases our knowledge of our own language. You learn the feel of words and how to use them. You learn new meanings for familiar phrases, and fresh metaphors to give life to old ideas. You also learn how the human heart reacts to sounds and beats, adding an element of spice to your prose and speaking abilities. With each new form of verse, with every variation on a meter, your brain is forced to stretch and adapt, creating room for new concepts.
When you embark upon the journey of learning poetry, you embrace a long tradition, stretching from the Garden, through priests and prophets and wise old kings, past Mary’s Magnificat and the Song of Simeon, straight on through eternity. When we gather in the heavenly courts, poetry will spill off the tongues of the saints, and we are called to add our own little verses to that heavenly convocation. As long as mountains stand and the seas abide, we will have reason to give thanks. And as long as there is breath in our lungs, we will have poetry to aid us.
An Evening Spent in Snow
David Henry, 2012
Fresh snow falls below
My white hilltop perch,
Blanketing row on row
Of ash and elm and birch.
The sky is painted warm
With the rising village lights.
This is a gentle storm
Made for quiet nights.
Feel the chill of wind
Winding from the wood.
Watch the fir trees bend
And know the Lord is good.
For here Creation is displayed
In deepest blue and purest white,
Every glory stands arrayed
On this quiet winter night.
Yes, know the Lord is good,
And watch the fir trees bend,
See snow fall on gentle wood,
And here an evening spend.
For if this place is understood,
Even broken hearts will mend.