When we entered the poetry unit in my undergraduate literature class, the girl who sat in front of me seethed about how much she hated poetry. I am certain that my eyes were wide as I listened to her talk about how much she abhorred something I have always loved. Homegirl went as far as to say poetry is “stupid.” If you’re reading this, girl from literature class, I still pray that the eyes of your heart would be opened.
But, seriously, I didn’t know people like her existed. I thought that everyone could appreciate the beauty, creativity and relatability of poetry. It is an art form that has survived throughout time and across cultures. Poems capture the human experience in a way that others can find themselves in. Even people who would say they don’t like poetry would probably say they have a favorite song. The late poet Maya Angelou said, “Human beings love poetry. They don’t even know it sometimes…whether they’re the songs of Bono, or the songs of Justin Bieber… they’re listening to poetry.”
God gave me poetry as a release when I was a fourth grader—around the time that my young heart was beginning to recognize that sometimes life is hard. And because I have never been good at verbally expressing how I feel, putting words on paper has been medicinal. Writing poems is a grace to me, whether in joy or grief.
I love poetry’s ability to say so much while saying so little. A personal favorite of mine is Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay.
Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold
Her early leaf’s a flower
But only so an hour
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay
Frost never mentions how hopeless we all are without Christ or the hope we have that one day only what is gold will stay. Yet, these verses cause me to reflect on things that are not stated explicitly. Poems do that. They take what is abstract and make it familiar enough for us to feel it.
God Is a Poet
I’m not sure if my love for poetry inspired my love for scripture or vice versa, but I do know that because my childhood pastor habitually quoted the Psalms, I learned to hold them high and close. I still remember the way he would pray Psalm 90:2 (King James Version, of course).
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
For followers of Jesus, being able to interpret poetry as a genre is a part of faithful exegesis. So much of the Bible is filled with poetry, whether we recognize it or not. God Himself is a poet. Scripture is brimming with poetry inspired by the Holy Spirit. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament contain some form of verse. We are familiar with Psalms and Proverbs, but there are so many more. Take a look at John 1 or Colossians 1. Adam was the first man to write a love poem for his wife.
This one, at last, is bone of my bone;
and flesh of my flesh…(Genesis 2:23)
Ephesians exhorts us as those who are filled with the spirit to speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (5:19). How life-giving it is to encourage a brother or sister with poetry God has given us himself; to say to our family in Christ, “How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!” In this way, we remind each other who our God is and who we are in Him. I encourage you to commit the poetry of the Bible to memory to encourage your soul and the souls of those around you.
From Minor Chords to Metaphors
I believe God created poetry for us. We cannot wrap our limited minds around Him, so He gave us the lofty and formed poems in His word, likening Himself to what is familiar to us. In this, He gives a sliver of His character and heart for us. In the same way, our human language is limited, so we make art with our words. We craft similes and metaphors, rhyme and rhythm in hopes that we can offer the world just a glimpse into who He is, what He’s done and how we feel about Him. He deserves to be the One to whom we aim our verses of praise and doubt and lament. More than anything, God is worthy of every creative expression—from minor chords to metaphors.
Author’s Note: Last semester I drafted a book proposal on poetry for one of my classes. After some nudging from the Lord and a few friends, I decided to self-publish. I Still Can’t Swim is a short book of poems that I wrote in hopes that readers would be drawn nearer to God through my reflections on my experiences. Being able to write these musings has helped me process loss, unmet desires and the joy of belonging to Jesus. These pieces have been to me what I believe God intended poetry to be and I pray they will be the same to others. Learn more about I Still Can’t Swim.