In the beginning was the Word
“In the beginning was the Word…” (1)Then why is it so hard to write poetry on sacred themes?
Having come to write poetry as an outcome of counselling, I began by exploring my faith, and yes, Bible characters sprang to life: poetry could paint poignant pictures of them and their interactions; you heard their voices; you wondered at limitations in narrative perspectives, especially regarding women. Yes, narrators could be blinkered by the contexts of their times; even so, that ‘Word’ was there from the beginning of Genesis, speaking of His saving function in the New Covenant, and there, at the end, in Revelation. At least, this is the Christian tradition, and linked to Hebrew tradition, even, in part, to Islam.
But who cares? It is like getting out that photograph album … You still have them? Fascinating, perhaps, if you know the characters in them, but unrelated audiences may be left cold. Not always, though: there may be other connections … like an interest in history. Readers interested in Ancient History might search Scripture. Some readers might respond to the imagery and cadences of the Prophets … As for the Psalms, well, all human feeling is there, already, poetically expressed … What can you add?
Well, that is it: you relate to those who share something of your experience. Pope (2) may have argued that what is thought before may as yet be ne’er so well expressed but I was not up to the competition. You communicate faith through who you are, even your failings, not through what you write, in my experience … only … you do so because of a longing to connect on a spiritual plane … and words come out of that.
Those words tend to be passed down through orally related experience, like stories of when ancestral spirits seem to speak to the bereaved, for example, rather than written down in sacred writings. Stories would evolve, like flashes of light from the moors being seen as signs from former folk, still living, as fairies, perhaps, in caves underground, though survival of the human race depended so closely on knowledge of the world around them, that it is hard to believe that people really believed in these tales, not as factual.
Curiously, that brings me back to that ‘Word’. Sacred writings may argue that the Word links us to eternity, to the life of the whole world, even the universe. Archaeologists, too, explore these ideas, as through the tiny figurine that they named Cernunnos, (3) linking him to possible deities, or expressions of the human desire to seek the source of life and meaning. Yes, I could write a poem on that.
And I could write poetry linking us to archaeological evidence of the significance of the evolution of empires, as in Homo Hunter, in the Locked Down Anthology published by Poetry Space, in March this year. Now, history can link that with sacred writings … and flesh the significance of archaeological finds.
But perhaps, today, Climate Change reveals our strongest link with eternity. Survival depends on grasping our links with the dust of the stars and the water vapour of the clouds and rivers and seas. Engaging with the cycle of needs of every living thing is crucial to see ways to save the planet, not just ourselves. And that is why my poetry has evolved to explore restorative relationships with all living things. Interesting, though, how those scriptures relate the life of the planet, and our role in it, from beginning to end, as deriving from the ‘Word’…
Cernunnos, they called him,
this small figurine:
five centimetres of copper alloy
or the god of wild things …
found in the ground,
the only one in this land.
Google calls him the god of many things,
linked with Herne the Hunter and The Green Man,
with male energy.
But could this figurine
of two thousand years ago
be but a symbol
created by someone
searching for the source
of life and meaning?
M. Anne Alexander
1 N.I.V. Bible .John 1:1-3; 17:5; 1John 1:1-2; Gen.1:1; Rev.19:13
2 Pope A. 1688-1744, on “true wit”, in An Essay in Criticism
3 National Trust magazine, Summer 2019, page 18: article on a figure found by archaeologists at Wimpole Hall.
M. Anne Alexander’s poetry generally explores restorative relationships with Nature, especially in landscapes with spiritual, historical and contemporary significance. Her background is as a lecturer in English and teacher of Music. She began writing poetry as an outcome of counselling. Poems are published regularly in the Bury Free Press and in Poetry Space, including in their recent Locked Down Anthology. Other poems are to appear in the August and September issues of Dreich. She is also author of Thomas Hardy: the “dream-country” of his fiction – a study of the creative process (Vision Press/Barnes & Noble).