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Friday, 19 December 2008
On poetry and religion : After-thoughts
It has occurred to me sinc reading through the comments (including my own!) on my most recent post, Poetry and Empty Heaven, that the debate on what constitutes the finest religious poetry (and particularly Art Durkee's parallel approach to the numinous and his remarks about beliefs being internal to the poem), the aspect which I had set out primarily to discuss was not so much any of those, fascinating though I found them to be, as the reality or otherwise of (as Wallace Steven, for example, saw it) poetry taking the place of religion. This was the reason I decided that, with the exception of the poetry of The Bible, I would not discuss religious poetry per se. I made mention of Nick Laird's quasi-religious return to poetry in a time of extremity, and of the fact that to a degree poetry has supplanted religion in my own experience. Poetry and religion do seem to me to be parallel in many respects, and at times to stand-in for each other. One interesting question that I did not raise might be that of whether poetry replacing religion must of necessity be religious in some generally accepted meaning of the term.
I was fascinated, then (by the continuing synchronicity as much as anything else), having posted that, to read (in the T.L.S.) in a review of the recently published interviews with Seamus Heaney, Stepping Stones, the following:
A Catholicism of the imagination is voiced in the book, in contrast with his position in the 1960's, when he would have been "diffident" in answering questions about the teachings and ceremonies associated with the "first visionary world" of acradle Catholic. So his fresh starts have included reversions, and the book is particularly interesting in its discussion of the scope of his born-again imaginative Christianity - if that is not to overstate, for there was never an outright abeyance or denial.
God is no longer dead, at all events, as Heaney may have been moved, with his generation, to wonder in the 1960s. The poet sees ghosts, and his poetry, when it began in him,was experienced as a "redemptive grace". There is, if not an after-life, an "after-image of life". This does not make him a theocratic defender of Ireland's Catholic Church, but it may be that he has followed a different course from those of its flocks who are now less faithful than they were once.
My thanks to all those who took part in the earlier debate, and particularly to Art Durkee and Sorlil for their contributions.