The theme of religion can be widely found in the writings on the modern poets. Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Hardy, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats and many others expressed their opinion on religion. It is remarkable, that most of the poets of the given period were disappointed with the Christian religion. That disappointment can be seen in many of their writings since it was sure to be reflected in their works.
A truly poetic and creative soul couldn’t help but expressing on that issue. However, it is remarkable, that the thoughts expressed by the poets are rather common for the given time period. The romantic ideas on human power over nature and life were sure to influence the poets’ minds and their works. To address the issue more properly it is worth taking several works as an example.
The best thing to start with here is to determine the significance of religious issue for the poet. Probably, one of the best ways to define the poetry is to address the words of Bernetta Quinn who wrote:
Poetry, using the medium of language, seeks to give a living verbal substance and outline to the unorganized feelings, perceptions, ideas and sensations afloat in the personal consciousness of the poet. But any attempt at the elucidation of this process of metamorphosis by which shapeless, untidy, vagrant consciousness becomes what Yeats calls «proud, living, unwasted words,» brings with it the further awareness that «a style, a rhythm, to be significant, must embody a significant mind». (Quinn, 1955)
Perhaps, the best reflection of those “unorganized feelings” can be found in the Eliot’s the Waste Land. The series of questions asked demonstrate the reader the search the author is in. Those question seam to be addressed to the person, while they are touching upon something much deeper then just a conversation between two people:
You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
Those question about “nothing” are asked in search of very particular “something”. They are asked in the attempt to find a substitution for lost faith in traditional Christian believes.
However, probably it is better to address the poem of Wallace Stevens “Sunday Morning” to find out more about the modern poets’ attitude towards religion. Another set of question is asked by the author:
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
It seems that the author didn’t really lost faith, but he is confused and can’t understand the logic of what is happening:
Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
In a manner typical for his time, the author putts to the doubt the basics of the religion:
Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
And at the same time he finds an alternative, another important and magnificent sing to be obsessed with:
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires.
However, probably the best possible expression of the poet’s attitude towards religion can be found in the Emily Dickinson’s poem:
The Bible is an antique Volume
Written by faded men
At the suggestion of Holy Spectres
Subjects – Bethlehem
Eden – the ancient Homestead
Satan – the Brigadier
Judas – the Great Defaulter
David – the Troubador
Sin – a distinguished Precipice
Others must resist
Boys that «believe» are very lonesome
Other Boys are «lost»
Had but the Tale a warbling Teller
All the Boys would come
Orpheus’ Sermon captivated
It did not condemn.
The poem speaks for itself and requires little comment, however, it also gives the idea about another common thing among the poets of the given time period. It is rather often that they refer to the antique heroes in their poems. In Dickinson’s case its Orpheus while in the Stivens’ case its Jove:
Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
It seems that the poets address the heroes as an image of might and strength. The disappointment in the Christian faith leads them to more ancient and more humanized gods that inspire them. The images of those gods sometimes serve as the contrast to the traditional believes and represent the power and might with the human face.
It is also interesting to note, that the poetry serves as an alternative to the religion. One way or another the poets consider themselves as the creator (and in fact they are a creators) who with the power of the word create new worlds in the imagination of their readers and their own imagination as well. The poems also become the place of escape for them. They also are a tool that allows them to express the ideas and concerns that live in their minds and souls and question to find the answers or, at least, try to come close to the answer.
The poems of Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot reflect the poetry of the given period in the best way. They give a good idea about the disappointment and search that poets faced and, as the result, expressed in their works.
It is well known that the poets can be considered the heralds of their time so it is fair to say that they expressed the general ideas that were common for the society they leaved in. The reasons for that abandonment of the religion can be found in the rapid development of the technology and increasing faith in the power of the human intellect that still wasn’t able to give the answers to the main questions of life.
Eliot, T.S. The Waste Land
Dickinson, Emily The Bible is an antique Volume
Wallace Stevens Sunday Morning
Quinn M. Bernetta, 1955 The Metamorphic Tradition in Modern Poetry: Essays on the Work of Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, Randall Jarrell, and William Butler Yeats. Rutgers University Press. New Brunswick, NJ. 1955. P 132.
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