Contemporary Poetry and the Still Small Voice
And [the angel] said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
1 Kings 19:11-12
"The poet Jean Valentine once said in an interview, `Of course all poetry is prayer. Who else would we be addressing?' Part of me wants to agree with her, but I don't know that it's that simple. There does seem to be something essentially unsecular about poetry: both in traditional, oral cultures and in our own, people rely on poetry to convey truths about matters of life and death that are accessible in no other way. In contemporary America, poetry offers many people-including poets-the consolation they no longer find in traditional religion."
-Cseslaw Milosz, The American Poetry Review, November / December, 1998
What doest thou here, Elijah? Can a Poet doubt the Visions of Jehovah? Nature has no Outline, But Imagination has. Nature has no Tune, but Imagination has. Nature has no Supernatural, and dissolves: Imagination is eternity.
Eve Grubin: Your poems are saturated with religious curiosity and yearning. Has that always been central for you?
Jean Valentine: Always. Ever since I was a child. Jane Kenyon had this, too. Not everyone has. I'm very grateful. It wasn't particularly in my family. Maybe one has a guardian angel. It's really a mystery where that comes from. Here, in America, you would never presume that the person next to you would share your religious feelings. I went to a poetry reading in Ireland where Seamus Heaney read, and he was quoting one of the gospels in his poem, and the gospel was so familiar to the audience that I felt how close an audience can be with a poet, and it wasn't only because they knew the poem. Sometimes that happens, but it was the Catholic culture. Over here you can feel something like that at an anti-war reading, or a rock concert. But for the most part, as a culture we are not woven that way, for better or for worse. Ireland is.
Through its power of symbolic expression, art thus gives the spiritual energy that is being produced on earth its first body and its first face. But it fulfills a third function in relation to that energy, one that is the most important of all. It communicates to that energy, and preserves it, its specifically human characteristic, by personalizing it. ... The more the world is rationalized and mechanized, the more it needs poets as the ferment within its personality and its preservative.
-Teilhard de Chardin