Associate Professor of English; Senior Fellow, Berkeley Institute
Dear Lord Pay Attention to Me:
How to Read Christian Poetry
What do poetry and prayer have in common? In our contemporary world, poetry is often thought of as an art form of personal expression, or a meditation on personal identity. Prayer, on the other hand, describes the appeal a believer, or possible believer, might make to a deity larger than the self. The title of this seminar comes from Robert Frost’s definition of prayer: “Dear Lord – Pay attention – to me.” When we meet, we’ll try to figure out what poetry has to offer Christian thinking and practice, and, perhaps more radically, what Christian thinking and practice has to offer poetry. Our readings will come from “Christian” poems, and will also argue that there is such a thing – that art doesn’t have to be detached from faith, or, indeed, other Christian ideas, either in its composition or in its study.
The seminar is structured around four Christian “states of mind” and poems/prayers that have used those states of mind as occasions. We won’t have time to talk about all the readings for the week, but it’s my hope that they might lead you into further investigations. We’ll start with close reading a poem and maybe, if time permits, move on to another. Instead of reading towards a historical period, or a set of aesthetic qualities, we’re going to try to read towards these states of mind in an attempt to get familiar with them and see what they might have to do with both poetry and Christian thinking.
Dates: Wednesday evenings on 1.24, 1.31, 2.7, 2.14
1/24: Faith: From “Eleven Addresses to the Lord,” John Berryman; 373 (“This World is not Conclusion”) Emily Dickinson “Good Friday: Riding Westward,” John Donne; “After Apple Picking” Robert Frost; “The Raft,” Carl Phillips; from My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman.
1/31: Mercy: “Love III” and “The Collar,” George Herbert; a few poems by Fanny Howe; “To A Blossoming Pear Tree” James Wright; “The Only Animal,” Franz Wright; from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Matthew 5:3-12.
2/7: Despair: “Eve’s Lament” an old Celtic poem; 320 (“There’s a certain slant of light”) by Emily Dickinson; from “East Coker” in Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot; “Carrion Comfort,” “No worst, there is none,” “My own heart let me more have pity on,” Gerard Manley Hopkins; “Litany,” Chiyuma Elliott.
2/14: Joy: “Holy Spirit,” Hildegard of Bingen; the “Hail Mary” and the “Magnificat;” “Spring,” Gerard Manley Hopkins; “A Blessing” by James Wright; “The Figure a Poem Makes,” by Robert Frost.
Location: Berkeley Institute, 2134 Allston Way
This seminar is free and open to all Cal, GTU, and St. Mary’s students. For more information or copies of the short readings, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.